Greece And Turkey To Resume Talks In Late January

News of the decision by Greece and Turkey to resume exploratory talks in Istanbul later this month has been met with optimism by the European Union, NATO  and individual nations around Europe. Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey was inviting Greece to attend the discussions being hosted in Turkey on 25 January. This will mark the 61st round of exploratory talks which came into being back in 2002. The last round was held in Athens back in March, 2016. Energy rights, economic exclusion zones, and maritime rights are expected to be the main topics for the upcoming round.

Since 2016 relations between Greece and Turkey have deteriorated. There has been no shortage of issues fueling the flames between these two rival states. Refugee treatment, energy exploration, and dueling economic exclusion zones have all played significant roles in bringing Greece and Turkey to the state they’re currently at. The EU expressed hope that the upcoming discussions between the two nations will bring about deeper talks and resolutions in the future.  “We were discussing already how important it is for Turkey to behave constructively towards the EU member states because the EU has on numerous occasions stressed its solidarity with Greece, with Cyprus (the Greek Cypriot administration), and stressed also the need to solve all the bilateral issues,” European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano told a recent daily press briefing in Brussels.

Turkey has been softening its tone in recent days. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his country is prepared to repair the damaged relations between Turkey and the EU. The decision to do this could come from the recent setbacks Turkey has endured on the foreign front. Russia has managed to push Turkey out of the post-war picture in the aftermath of the latest Azeri-Armenian conflict in October and November. Despite supporting Azerbaijan with military hardware and mercenaries, Turkish assistance in the peacekeeping process and beyond was politely declined, or in some instances minimized by Moscow. Add to that the continuing difficulties in Libya, blowback from increasingly aggressive energy exploration in the Eastern Med, and the economic exclusion zone issue, and it becomes clear why Turkey could be looking for a breather.

Eastern Mediterranean Heating Up

The Eastern Mediterranean has gone from lukewarm to a rapid simmer over the past week. In Lebanon the political winds of change appear to be descending upon Beirut following the massive explosion at Beirut’s port facility on 4 August. The incident reinvigorated protests, and heavy anti-government sentiment across the nation. This morning the Lebanese government saw the writing on the wall and resigned. In an address earlier today Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his resignation, and his intent to “take a step back,” and “fight the battle for change alongside them.” Diab went on to denounce the political ruling class and lay blame for the explosion squarely on their shoulders. Diab’s cabinet resigned earlier in the day, and it appears now that at least some of them will remain on in a caretaker role until a new government is formed.

The dissolution of Lebanon’s government is drawing considerable attention from Western nations, as well as from some of Lebanon’s neighbors and longtime allies. Questions about the future are being asked, with no answers readily available. What shape will the new government take? Is the present mood in Lebanon one that will see the removal of Hezbollah and its influence from Lebanese government and society? How far is Hezbollah, and Iran willing to go in order to keep the nation afloat and in their corner? Three of many questions that will need to be considered as the situation plays out in the coming days and weeks.

The Greek-Egyptian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) deal is drawing a decidedly negative reaction from Turkey-as was anticipated. The deal is seen as a direct challenge to the EEZ established by Turkey and the Western-recognized government of Libya. On Monday, Turkey issued a Navtex international maritime alert to conduct ‘seismic research operations’ south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo over the next two weeks. The Turkish research ship Oruc Reis and two auxiliary vessels are presently underway to the area. Turkish naval forces are also presently conducting a two-day naval exercise off of Kasetellorizo and Rhodes. The exercise was announced on 6 August, the same day Greece and Egypt signed their EEZ agreement. Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with his military chiefs today as both sides exchanged accusations of fueling regional tensions.

While all of this was going on today the lira continued its tailspin, reaching record lows against the dollar and euro. Despite Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hopes, Turkey’s foreign adventures do not seem to be having a positive effect on the economy. Turkey is dealing with serious economic, and domestic issues. The lira has a history of being influenced by domestic politics. If the economic outlook does not improve soon enough, Erdogan may be faced with the unpalatable choice of either having to request IMF assistance, or call snap elections. Either one will cost him a fortune in political capital and perhaps leave Erdogan and his government in a vulnerable spot at the wrong time.

Cyprus and the Eastern Med Heating Up

53452342

Yesterday in Washington the House of Representatives voted to end the thirty-two year old US arms embargo on Cyprus. The move came as part of the annual defense authorization bill, which has already made it through the Senate. Later in the afternoon the House passed a compromise foreign aid package that increases security aid for Cyprus, and censures Turkey for its oil, and natural gas exploration activities off the coast of Cyprus. The Turkish foreign ministry  responded with a statement warning that the US move “will have no outcome other than hampering efforts towards a settlement on the island and creating a dangerous escalation.” US-Turkish relations are at their lowest point in years and threaten to deteriorate further as a result of Turkey’s activities in Libya, Cyprus, and in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The settlement mentioned in the foreign ministry’s statement refers to the fact Cyprus has been a divided island since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a coup backed by the Greek government. Cyprus has been gaining international attention recently as oil, and gas exploration off its coast threatens to bring about a new crisis. Turkey has been at odds with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel since signing an agreement with Libya that claims extensive areas of sea between the two nations for Turkey. This deal violates international law, and undercuts claims made by Greece, and Cyprus. On Monday, a Turkish UAV landed in northern Cyprus, known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This comes after an Israeli research vessel was intercepted in Cypriot waters by Turkish warships and escorted out of the area.

The deal between Turkey and Libya has raised tensions in the region. If the Libyan government collapses it will be interesting to see how Ankara responds, and how it will affect the oil and natural gas scramble now going on in the Eastern Med.

Wednesday 9 December, 2015 Update: Russian Submarine Launches Cruise Missiles In Anger

russian-sub-attack

Yesterday was a landmark day of sorts for the Russian Navy. For the first time it employed submarine launched cruise missiles in combat. Six SS-N-27A Sizzler (3M-54 Klub) cruise missiles were launched against two targets in Syria by a Kilo class submarine in the Mediterranean. Moscow has claimed that the targets belonged to ‘Islamic State’ positions outside of Raqqa, however, this cannot be confirmed. While Russia has devoted a fraction of its military efforts to hitting ISIS targets, the majority of it appears to be directed against more moderate opponents of the Assad regime.

The strike appears to be part of a major offensive by Russia against rebel targets over the past three to four days. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Russia’s air force has flown more than 300 sorties over Syria and struck more than 600 targets of various types. The numbers could be exaggerated considering the number of aircraft that Russia currently has in theater. Also, 600 is a large number, so what Russia considers a target might be up for debate. In this war, though, public relations are nearly as important as the results on the battlefield. Whether or not the Russians are making headway with their effort remains to be seen, but the appearance that they are will score Putin sorely needed political capital at home and abroad. Further, the impression that Russia using some of its most advanced and lethal weapons effectively in Syria is causing consternation among US and NATO officials.

Russia has been using its involvement in Syria as a defense exhibition of sorts, giving the world an up close and personal look at the capabilities of its military. Vladimir Putin wants to portray Russia’s military as being as technologically advanced and capable as its Western counterparts. To the untrained eye it certainly looks that way, but professional military observers are going to be more difficult to persuade. Yesterday’s cruise missile attack is an excellent example. The US has been using submarines to deliver cruise missiles against hostile targets since 1991. It has become a standard part of US doctrine. For Russia, however, this marks the first time it has used them. If anything, the fact that the number of missiles used was limited and restricted for use against undefended ‘soft’ targets highlights the inadequacies of Russian naval doctrine and weaponry.

The Russian military is improving, but it is not yet anywhere near the United States in terms of capabilities and weapon effectiveness.

The Great 21st Century Sea Grab Part One

22

There’s gold beneath them thar waves, boys!

Well, not literally. But there is an abundance of natural resources underneath the ocean floor at strategic locations across the globe. Oil and natural gas mainly, which does translate to gold for many nation-states. For others, those resources are the lifeblood that sustain their economic growth and national infrastructures. Not all nation-states are blessed with large stockpiles of natural resources and raw materials within their boundaries. By necessity, they must import the needed resources to keep up with demand. China and India are perfect examples of this.

In the military realm, the first thirteen years of the 21st Century have been dominated by armies and airpower. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the 2006 Lebanon War….the conflict list is extensive. Naval power has played a secondary role in these conflicts. Only off the coast of Somalia, in the fight against piracy, has naval power played a major role. Even there, naval power has been applied in a less than traditional sense. Pirates do not have surface fleets, submarines and aircraft carriers to contend with.

The trend might be changing in the near future. The discovery of natural resources in some very important neighborhoods has the potential to bring naval power to the forefront of attention once again. I don’t mean to say that another fleet action off of Jutland is coming soon, however, navies are going to become relevant once again.

In the South China Sea, Eastern Mediterranean and potentially, up at the North Pole, there are copious amounts of black gold and natural gas beneath the waves. Whoever controls the sea space in these areas will control the resources, more or less. A handful of nations are preparing to do just this. Others are only now realizing the need to begin readying their navies to do the same. Russia, China, Japan and the United States are among the nations already preparing their navies. Canada, Denmark, Turkey and Israel are among the ones having epiphanies.

The South China Sea is the logical place to begin. Tensions are high in the region. At current, China is involved in a number of territorial disputes with neighboring nations. The Spratly Islands are the setting for most of these disputes. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and China all have claims on at least some of the small reefs and islands that make up the chain. The Spratly Islands are valuable in the economic sense. They possess rich fishing areas and surveys have indicated potentially large deposits of oil and natural gas. Naturally, all of the nations in the region with claims there want to cash in on the oil if it is there. But only China has the naval power to back its claims up with action if need be. There have been skirmishes there in recent years. In 2011 PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) forces fired on Vietnamese oil exploration ships and fishing vessels on more than one occasion. China and the Philippines have also experienced an increase in tensions and have engaged in a small number of non-violent incidents at sea. The message is clear: What belongs to China belongs to China and what doesn’t will be decided in Beijing.

China is immersed in a more significant struggle with Japan over the Senkaku Islands. Here, the potential for conflict is even more present. Chinese and Japanese naval and air forces have met on a number of occasions. Luckily no shots have been fire yet. It would not take much, though, for a mistake to lead these two nations into open conflict. When the shooting begins, all bets are off. There is much bad blood between these nations.

Half a world away, in the waters of the Eastern Med, the prospect of natural gas deposits beneath the sea bed is offering hope to a nearly insolvent island nation and threatens to further deepen the animosity between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Surveys have discovered the existence of natural gas fields in the Eastern Med. The region suddenly finds itself blessed with gas. Unfortunately, it is an area also cursed by strife and mistrust. Israel and Cyprus stand to gain the most economically from the find. In the case of Cyprus though, it has no naval forces to protect the resources inside of its economic zone. Turkey, desperate to quell its own energy needs and already no great supporter of Cyprus, has stated that it would oppose drilling until the ‘Cyprus Problem’ is resolved. The Turks have also promised to dispatch aircraft and naval forces to monitor Cypriot energy problems. Add to the mixture the strengthening Cyprus-Russia relationship and there is the possibility of seeing Russian warships protecting Russian workers in gas fields off of Cyprus.

**Part II of this article will delve into Arctic security considerations.**