Athens, Greece – Greece on Thursday ratified a mutual defense pact with France, the first between two NATO members.
The two countries are already required to help each other against an attack from outside the alliance. But the Strategic Defense and Security Partnership is joining forces for the first time with two NATO members to support each other against an attack originating from within the alliance.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hailed the agreement as the cornerstone of an independent European defense policy.
âThe defense of European interests in the Mediterranean is now acquiring a new substance,â Mitsotakis told parliament. âIf it is attacked, our country will have at its side the most powerful army on the continent, the only European nuclear power.
Article 2 of the Partnership stipulates that the couple will assist each other “with all the means at their disposal, in the event of the need for armed force, if they both find that an attack is taking place against the territory of one or the other”.
Tensions in Turkey
The main threat to Greece’s security comes from NATO member Turkey.
The two came close to opening hostilities in August last year as they argued over their conflicting claims to the eastern Mediterranean.
They almost went to war on the Imia islets in the Aegean Sea in 1996, and on oil and gas exploration in 1987. The greatest threat of war in the last century came in 1974, when Turkey intervened militarily. in Cyprus, in response to a brief sustained blow.
âWe have lived with the reluctance of NATO [to deal with Turkey] since the 1950s, because Article 5 does not cover threats among alliance members, âsaid Athanasios Platias, professor of strategy at the University of Piraeus.
According to Mitsotakis, Greece “has been negotiating since 1974 … for such a treaty”,
The pact is Greece’s second official security guarantee against Turkey. It signed a mutual defense pact with the United Arab Emirates last November.
Turkish-French relations have also deteriorated since Ankara assumed a military role in the Libyan civil war in October 2019. France sees Turkey as a rival for influence in North Africa.
Mitsotakis and French President Emmanuel Macron oversaw the signing of the partnership on September 28.
They also announced that Greece will purchase up to four French-built Belharra frigates and up to four French GoWind corvettes with advanced radar and hypersonic missiles for up to $ 5 billion. Greece has also pledged to buy 24 French Rafale fighter jets for $ 2.5 billion.
There has been no official reaction to Turkey’s partnership.
Oil and gas conflict
Greece and Turkey increasingly clash over rights to submarine oil and gas.
This year, they resumed exploratory talks to delimit their continental shelf, which confers a form of commercial sovereignty over submarine mineral wealth. But while these talks drag on, this is the space where Greek and Turkish clashes are most likely to occur.
Last month Greece lodged an official complaint with Turkey over the alleged harassment of the Nautical Geo, a Maltese-flag investigative vessel.
He was mapping the seabed in southeastern Crete to trace the route of the Eastern Mediterranean, a pipeline that Greece, Cyprus and Israel agreed to build in January last year to transport Israeli gas to Europe. .
Greek diplomatic sources, speaking to Al Jazeera, claimed that a Turkish navy vessel harassed the Nautical Geo “on several occasions, for a period of 4 to 5 days”.
The Greco-French partnership refers to an attack on the âterritoryâ of one or the other.
Strictly interpreted, this would mean sovereign soil, territorial waters and national airspace, where all of a country’s laws apply.
It is not clear whether the partnership could be applied if Greek and Turkish warships shoot at each other in the wider continental shelf space, where the Nautical Geo incident occurred.
If such a confrontation resulted in a shootout between Greek and Turkish naval ships, âit amounts to an armed attack. Greece and France would then enter into consultations on French military involvement, âsaid Greek diplomatic sources.
Anyone who shoots first in such a situation would be breaking international law, experts said.
“Neither Greece nor Turkey have the right to forbid each other from reciprocal polls in an undefined area,” said Petros Liakouras, professor of international law at the University of Piraeus. âYou cannot, under international law, attack someone,â in such an area, he said.
The East Med pipeline has angered Turkey, which has its own energy ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Since 2018, he has sent investigative vessels to find gas fields in what Greece and Cyprus consider their maritime jurisdiction.
“We kept telling the Greeks, the Greek Cypriots, the United States and anyone who would listen to us that the Eastern Mediterranean is not yet demarcated in accordance with international law,” Al Jazeera told Al Jazeera. Turkish Ambassador to Greece, Burak ÃzÃ¼gergin.
âTherefore, we strongly advised to wait for the delineation, or some kind of agreement, before pursuing energy ambitions. The Greek Cypriots deliberately began to interfere in the eastern Mediterranean knowing that we would react. “
Greece and Cyprus have demarcated their continental shelf with other neighbors in accordance with the United Nations Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Greece and Turkey began exploratory talks to officially delimit their continental shelf in 2001.
Turkey is not a signatory to UNCLOS and seeks a discretionary settlement that Greece rejects.
A large-scale pact
Greece and France will be able to mutually use their military ports and airports for a renewable period of five years.
They could launch joint expeditionary forces, including in the Sahel, where France has maintained more than 5,000 troops to fight armed groups for nearly a decade. These expeditions could also take place in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Partnership calls on them to initiate an annual strategic dialogue and align their foreign and defense policies, focusing on energy, terrorism, migration, armaments, WMD and maritime security in the Middle East, in the Balkans, Africa and the Mediterranean.
The defense industries of the two countries will come together.
Experts said the partnership, if successful, can have far-reaching meaning, forming the core of European defense and foreign policy.
“The European Union is struggling to develop a security and defense policy, so we will adopt a model of a group of countries willing to do more than the others,” Platias said. âThis is a core of defense cooperation within the EU. Others will be able to join us, which means that an independent strategic perspective begins to form. “
Greece and Cyprus have repeatedly dominated Eurobarometer polls in favor of a common foreign and defense policy.
“I agree with President Macron that we Europeans must stop naively accepting tectonic shifts in the global geopolitical chessboard,” Mitsotakis said Thursday. âGreece is the last western garrison in the east. Geography dictates it, history confirms it and civilization seals it.