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The Aegean will be at peace again March 22, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Macedonia, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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In light of their punishing economic crisis, the Greeks toyed for a while with the idea of curbing or suspending their multibillion-dollar purchases of expensive war toys, just like the Turks did in 2001. The idea, though not always too explicitly expressed, was to abstain for at least a while from huge spending “exclusively” targeting the country’s top (and perhaps only) security threat, its eastern neighbor, as Turkey was making initiative after initiative to make friends with its former (and present) foes as it marches into the European Union.

One such Greek armament program, already facing technical and financial hurdles in the last couple of years, was an expensive order of four modern submarines. After on-and-off talks with the German shipyard ThyssenKrupp and with a homo economicus mind fixed on the huge debt stock at home, the Greek government could have scrapped the program.

But the usual “oooo-but-we’ll-lag-behind-the-Turks-in-armaments” thinking has in recent days overcome other concerns, and Athens finally reached an agreement with the Germans over the fat order. In a more rational world, the Greeks could have relied on the fact that there will soon be no more than a few Turkish officers to fight a war – since most of them may either be in prison or facing prosecution or the risk of prosecution. Greece is no longer a threat to the Turks in uniform compared to the “asymmetrical war” in which they are too deeply engaged.

Similarly, on this side of the Aegean, the Turks never minded their 14 percent unemployment rate and have merrily revived a $3 billion program for the co-production of six anti-air warships. Will someone kindly remind the Turkish Armed Forces that it will actually need personnel to operate these planned warships or any other weapons system? It looks like a better strategy to avoid prosecution than to buy new weaponry if Turkey is ever to fight a conventional war.

Knowing my words will once again get lost in the Aegean lodos, I am reprinting parts of an article that appeared in this column June 24, 2008:

Submarine (and YouTube) warfare on the Aegean

Who says Turkey’s defense-procurement system is notoriously slow? True, it took the procurement chaps in Ankara, both in uniform and civilian attire, more than a decade to select a supplier of “urgently needed” attack helicopters, a contract worth around $4 billion. But it also took them just eight months to select a supplier of six new submarines, another contract worth $4 billion…

…Why would a country spend a fortune on submarines while it still lacks numerous other war toys its foreign-threat perceptions dictate are a priority, such as attack and utility helicopters, anti-missile defense systems, border-security systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and a military-reconnaissance satellite, along with others that need not be mentioned here? Which threat does Turkey aim to tackle when it decides to buy submarines?

The simplistic answer to the preceding questions is “because Greece had ordered four new submarines for its Navy, so Turkey needs to buy submarines too in order to keep up the naval power balance in the Aegean.” But why did Greece order four new submarines? Because Turkey’s submarine inventory had reached 14 and Greece’s stood at just eight.

Are these seemingly convincing answers really convincing? Why should two neighboring countries spend a combined $12 billion to $15 billion on a specific weapons system that they can, realistically, use only against each other? Because they view each other as a military threat? Probably, yes. But does this mutual-threat doctrine fit the political and economic realities, let alone the reconciliatory political rhetoric their leaders often choose?

We can always reformulate these questions. All that submarine warfare contingency planning across the Aegean targets 2014-15 and beyond, probably covering a timeframe until 2020. But would Turkey not have become a full EU member by 2020? How realistic is it to foresee a naval battle – in which submarines fight the enemy navy – between two EU member states? Even if the Turkish membership by 2020 is too uncertain, we can ask how realistic it would be to anticipate a naval battle between a candidate (or, if the accession process collapses altogether, a former candidate) country and an EU member state.

Or, let’s simply ask ourselves, can Turkey and Greece engage in naval (and aerial and land) warfare no matter what Turkey’s EU status is at any given time? How realistic is it, from a military-contingency-planning point of view, to expect Greek submarines surfacing near Cyprus to torpedo Turkey-friendly vessels, military and civilian, and Turkish submarines to torpedo Greek-friendly (EU-flagged) vessels around the Mediterranean?

The submarine race across the Aegean is not compatible with political realities. The idea may be true for most other weaponry too, but the others cannot be as easily catalogued as “exclusive for an Aegean battle.” Submarines will dive, hide, surface and refuel with that invisible tag on their bodies.

True, the Turks and Greeks are not living in the world of Americans and Canadians. A quick surf on YouTube reveals tons of incredibly absurd material coming from both sides of the Aegean: the Greek idiot who thinks animating Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a gay will honor Greeks and the Turkish idiot who responds in the same language, thinking that will protect Atatürk’s memory. The YouTube wars between Turkey and Greece reflect thinking that would fit children 4 to 6 years of age, and in a retarded children’s school at that. One can despise, yet tolerate them.

But if sane, rational men reflect a serious version of that thinking in their multibillion-dollar decisions, one comes to suspect foul play, since we are not talking about a bunch of homophobic racists who fight virtual wars accusing each other and their sacred figures of being gay.

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