Transformation of Security Perceptions in Türkiye-Greece Relations

14.08.2023

Security and security perceptions may change over time depending on the actors involved and the structure of the international system. These changes can be clearly observed in Türkiye-Greece relations.

Türkiye and Greece’s relations and perceptions of each other have been shaped by many factors.   Since its foundation, Türkiye has based its relations with Greece on peace. In the period running up to World War II, the two states acted together in the Balkan Entente against the revisionist states. After the Second World War, the blocs became increasingly sharpened.  In this framework, the US developed projects such as the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, in which Türkiye and Greece were also involved, to prevent the propagation of communism.  The fact that both countries joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) clearly indicates which side they stood on in the bipolar international system.

Starting in the 1950s, the problems that would become central to the way the two NATO allies perceived each other began to take shape: Cyprus Issue and the Aegean Dispute. Since then, Cyprus in particular has become a national issue for the Turkish public. The 1960 Treaty of Nicosia and the establishment of a Federal Republic of Cyprus under the guarantorship of Türkiye, Greece, and the United Kingdom did not provide a solution to the tension on the island, and the violence directed by the Greek Cypriot side against the Turkish Cypriots resulted in Türkiye’s military intervention in Cyprus in 1974, using its right of guarantorship, and from this date onwards, the Cyprus Issue has been at the centre of Turkish foreign policy. Moreover, the arms embargo imposed on Türkiye after the Cyprus Peace Operation also affected Türkiye and the United States of America relations. The influence of the Greek Cypriot lobby in the United States on this arms embargo decision is noteworthy.

Another issue that escalated the tensions between the two countries was the Aegean Dispute that emerged in the 1970s. The Aegean Islands, which were armed by Greece in violation of the Treaty of Lausanne, caused Türkiye to perceive Greece as a threat.   Greece’s desire to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles was considered by Türkiye as a “casus belli”, in other words, an act of war. As a matter of fact, Greece’s 12 nautical miles of territorial waters would prevent Türkiye’s direct access to the high seas. However, the Davos Process, which started with Turgut Özal’s government in 1986, aimed at repairing bilateral relations through dialogue and cooperation. Özal’s preference was also influenced by Türkiye’s desire to become a member of the European Economic Community. This dialogue process did not result in a complete resolution of the existing problems.

Throughout the 1990s, Greece perceived Türkiye as a security threat and tried to establish close relations with the countries with which Türkiye had problems in its foreign policy and to build a strategy through the terrorist organisation PKK. During this period, the Aegean Dispute and oil exploration activities continued and eventually the escalating tension brought the two countries to the brink of war with the Kardak Dispute.

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