The global system is increasingly cracking and destabilizing. Therefore, we are in a series of regional transformation processes that include the possibility of a fundamental change in the balance of power, these processes of change being closely related to the foreign and security policy of countries and their related rights and interests. Turkey, meanwhile, is one of the countries that is simultaneously on a geopolitical battle on many fronts from the South Caucasus to northern Iraq and Syria, as a result of power gaps that have emerged in neighboring geographies. The Eastern Mediterranean is one of the fronts that will affect not only the areas of maritime jurisdiction, but also the struggle on other fronts. For this reason, Turkey’s Eastern Mediterranean policy, which addresses all aspects of the pervasive challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean, is becoming increasingly important.
Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean first escalated when the Greek Cypriot side signed international agreements in order to exploit the island’s natural resources. The agreement met with warnings from Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that the island’s wealth should be offered in a permanent solution for the benefit of all. With the discovery of large hydrocarbon fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, the countries of the region that wanted to exploit these riches turned to the exclusive economic zone agreement. Under this agreement, a coastal state will be responsible for exploring and exploiting marine resources in its adjacent part of the continental shelf.
In the meantime, following the warnings of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus against the Greek government of Cyprus, in 2003 with Egypt, in 2007 with Lebanon, and 2010 with Israel, they signed the exclusive economic zone agreements. Even during a period Egypt, Greece, the Greek Cypriot government, and Israel tried to eliminate actors such as Turkey and Libya through the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Association they established in Cairo. However, differences over how maritime boundaries are determined and competition for hydrocarbon resources appeared to give rise to regional and supra-regional geopolitical rivalries in the eastern Mediterranean.
Disputes over maritime boundaries and boundaries
According to the map of Seville, prepared by Juan Luis Suarez Doyuro, a professor of marine geography at the University of Seville in Spain, the Greek continental shelf, or the EU borders, starts from the island of Mississippi and runs south to the lower Mediterranean. This is the clearest example of Ankara’s opposition to the agreements on jurisdiction between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 2011 and the agreements signed with Libya in November 2019. Furthermore, Egypt recently limited its hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean to 28 degrees east of the meridian, the southern border of the Turkish continental shelf, which Ankara declared to the UN in 2019. It also opposed the demarcation of the border with Athens, which begins on the island of Mises. This attitude of Cairo caused satisfaction in Ankara. Nevertheless, Greece has further complicated the conflict in the region by claiming that the dispute between them and Turkey is only a matter of determining the continental shelf. In addition, Turkish seismic research and excavation activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and joint military maneuvers by Greece with France and the United Arab Emirates in Southern Crete are exacerbating tensions.
Challenges and approaches of Turkey
Competition in the Eastern Mediterranean is closely linked to Turkey’s foreign and security policy and related rights and interests, as it involves the possibility of a fundamental shift in the balance of power. For this reason, Turkey’s Eastern Mediterranean policy, which addresses all aspects of the pervasive challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean, is becoming increasingly important. Turkey’s goals for its Eastern Mediterranean policy can be explained in two short-term and long-term approaches. In the short term, the aim is to prevent Greece from harming Turkey’s rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean by blocking Greece’s maximum policy through overt and covert negotiations, especially with Egypt and Israel, so that any transfer of Eastern Mediterranean energy to Europe takes place only through Turkey. The next case concerns the Cyprus problem. Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Cyprus do not accept the unilateral determination of the maritime jurisdiction by Southern Cyprus, as they believe that the Turkish continental shelf and the maritime jurisdiction of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are ignored, which is why Turkey supports the rights of Turkish residents of Northern Cyprus and its area of responsibility for exploration and drilling activities in the fields under its ownership. But at the strategic level, Turkey’s Eastern Mediterranean policy, in the long run, is to prevent any attempt by any other power, whether regional or supra-regional, in the Eastern Mediterranean to limit Turkey’s growing influence and maneuver to encircle Turkey.
In conclusion, given Turkey’s geopolitical battles in the Eastern Mediterranean, it seems weakness at sea means economic bankruptcy for Turkey. Consequently, defense, commercialization and more efficient use of the blue land is the priority of this country in its national maritime policy. We can expect that new doctrines and strategies in foreign policy and defense policy will be developed by Turkey to achieve these goals.
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About the author:
Amin Bagheri is a Research Fellow at the International Studies Association in Tehran. His primary research interest lies in international relations, transnational governance, international peace, and conflicts in the Middle East.