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Turkey can offer Greece priceless breathing room May 12, 2010

Posted by Yilan in NATO, Turkey.
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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will pay a two-day working visit to Greece next week along with nine ministers and an army of businessmen. It is important to have more, and more regular, visits between neighbors. To focus on work rather than cocktails is especially important.

The Turkish ministers for foreign affairs, EU affairs, economy, energy, environment, transportation, culture and tourism, interior and education will all attend the meetings.

Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Drutsas paid an official visit to Turkey at the beginning of April. The governments of both countries wish to have normal relations, to radically change the present “no war, no peace” state of affairs. Drutsas reminded that Greece wants to set a calendar for the solution of the continental shelf question, the apparent reason behind military sorties over the Aegean Sea. He also mentioned some confidence-building measures, including the reciprocal deployment of military units in each other’s armed forces.

As soon as the Greek minister uttered a few words on the dangerous dance of war planes in the Aegean air corridor for incomprehensible reasons, he got a response. Who answered Drutsas? Of course not a government member but Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ. At the 60th commemoration ceremony of the late Gen. Fevzi Çakmak’s death held in the General Staff headquarters, a reporter asked Başbuğ about the flights over the Aegean. The general responded that Turkish warplanes fly unloaded whereas the Greek planes are fully loaded with bombs. He added that both countries have their own rights and no one can rule over the other on international affairs.

“We, as Turkey, always express our goodwill and willingness for cooperation and coordination. For years, our planes have been flying over the Aegean Sea unarmed. Turkey will exercise and protect its international rights,” Başbuğ said.

So instead of commenting about confidence-building measures regarding the exchange of military units as suggested by the Greek minister, the Turkish top commander preferred to issue a statement implying that military flights will continue as part of the continental shelf dispute, which is a purely political matter. The problem, indeed, is not whether flights are loaded or not. The problem is the flights themselves.

Mutual peace dividend

During the upcoming working visit, a “high-level strategic cooperation council” will be set up between the two countries. In addition to bilateral talks between the aforementioned ministries, the foundations will be laid for cooperation on the European Union, Balkans, Caucasus and global platforms. But more importantly, and hopefully, steps will be taken toward a durable peace and non-aggression treaty to slash the defense expenditures of both countries.

The advantages of transforming the Aegean Sea into a peaceful inner sea are endless. The Turkish Aegean region is gradually drifting apart from the rest of the country; it is like a sleeping beauty. So it will rediscover, in a way, its “hinterland,” thanks to the effective reuse of the sea. You go ahead and consider what kind of new opportunities a Thessaloniki-İzmir ferry line could yield. But the real gain will be in mutual reduction of military expenditures.

In the world’s rather poor peace literature, this is called a “peace dividend.” Economically bankrupt Greece will continue to apply tight measures to reduce its budget deficit. In the eurozone, budget deficit should normally not surpass 3 percent of gross national product, according to European Union rules, but in Greece, the figure is around 14 percent of GNP. The most efficient way to lower the budget deficit by 2014 is to lower military expenditures. According to the figures given by Greek Defense Minister Venizelos, 6 billion euros in military spending are planned for this year, which corresponds to 4.8 percent of GNP, plus 2.3 billion euros for arms purchases and the rest for personnel and operation expenditures.

In line with this blossoming new understanding between Greece and Turkey, the biggest contribution we can provide to our neighbor is a permanent reduction in military expenditures. Don’t think, however, that this will only help Greece. In the aftermath of the Cyprus intervention in 1975, Turkey created a fourth army, the Aegean Army. Owing to this new understanding, Turkey will not need the Aegean Army anymore. Dividends gathered from this will boost budgets for education, justice and health. As a bonus, the involvement of the Turkish Armed Forces in foreign policy, such as continental shelf issues, will be relegated to history.

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