War Looms In The Mediterranean And Threatens To Entangle The Great Powers

War Looms In The Mediterranean And Threatens To Entangle The Great Powers

America and the United Kingdom would be wise to let Egypt, France, and Greece take the lead in balancing a dangerous and resurgent Turkey.
Sumantra Maitra
By

With Americans focused on the anarchy in Democrat-led cities, a cryptic tweet from French President Emmanuel Macron on July 20 went out relatively unnoticed. Macron tweeted he had a great discussion with “his friend” Donald Trump about Libya.

Within hours, the Egyptian parliament declared they had voted unanimous support for Egyptian President Al-Sisi to send in Egyptian troops and armor in support of battered Eastern Libyan forces on their back foot due to Turkish intervention. Anyone keeping tabs on the geopolitics of the region should not be surprised that France and the United States have decided to support Egypt against Turkish expansionism — at least tacitly.

Yet the most fascinating balancing act is currently going on in the Aegean Sea, where war may rear its ugly head soon. I wrote recently that Turkey appears to be on a newfound aggressive streak with interventions in Syria and the reconversion of Hagia Sophia. Turkish warships also recently challenged a French warship. It appears they are not planning to stop there.

Turkey just offered moral support to Azerbaijan for a two-day border conflict against Armenia, which was backed by Russia, giving the unfolding situation an instant religious undertone. But while that incident occurred, Turkey dispatched more than 18 warships to accompany an oil and gas exploration mission near Greece and Cyprus. This led the Greeks to ready their warships and fighters, only to be brought back from the brink by a last-moment intervention by Germany’s Angela Merkel.

The European Union proceeded to warn Turkey, France pondered a response of warships and sanctions, and Greece and Turkey continued their war of words. With their militaries ready, Greek churches rang their bells in a mourning lament of the Turkish reconversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque, just as the Turks conversely celebrated the event as a “reconquest.”

As Greek leaders met with Egyptian and French counterparts, a rattled Turkey formed a military pact with Niger in case war breaks out and met separately with the Russians. Currently, the Libyan government, Turkey, and Qatar are on one side, with Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt on the other, backed by France and — to a degree — by Russia and the United States.

It’s hard to overstate how much of a disaster the combined European Union and Hillary Clinton push into Libya in 2011 has become. It’s a chaotic mess drawing various powers into not just a proxy war anymore. It’s not overly dramatic to state that Egypt, backed by the United States, France, and to some extent Russia, looks like it may well go to war with Turkey, who is backed by Qatar. All the while, Greece stares down Turkish warships.

Put simply, this is Turkish expansionism. For more than a decade now, Turkey has been blackmailing Europe and America. Turkish President Erdogan’s decision to restart Islamic prayers in Hagia Sophia was on the anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty, which fixed the boundaries of modern Turkey after they lost their empire during World War I. The symbolism wasn’t lost on Europeans, especially the Greeks. As Michael Rubin recently wrote:

There has never been any love lost between Turkey and Greece, but the danger of war between the two NATO members has not been this high since the Cyprus conflict more than forty-five years ago… For reasons of ideology, economics, and ego, Erdogan now seeks to undo the Lausanne Treaty: Ideology because Erdogan seeks to regain control of certain Ottoman territories and change the demographics of areas outside Turkey’s borders…

Turkish ships in the Aegean would mean an alteration of the status quo, with hundreds of small islands in the Aegean under potential Turkish rule. Likewise, a Turkish client-state in Libya would mean a relegation of Egypt from the position of a premier Middle Eastern power, and the greatest extent of Turkish aggregate power since the fall of the Ottomans.

It would also mean the entire coastline controlled by Ankara, which would mean the African migrant route open with more human trafficking weaponized by Turkey to blackmail Europe even further. The world can’t afford to let that happen.

The fact that a shooting war hasn’t started in either Greek waters or eastern Libya isn’t due to Turkish restraint, but logistics and weather. Sooner or later, it is very likely there will be a skirmish.

This all leaves America and the United Kingdom with no decent options. The general Anglo-American silence on Hagia Sophia alienated Eastern Christendom, which still has deep-seated historical memories of Ottoman influence and conquest.

While providing France, Egypt, and Greece with tacit diplomatic support, but staying out of the looming conflict, the United Kingdom and America should let their allies in the region take the lead in pushing Turkey back. After the ghastly mistakes of toppling allied authoritarians in favor of revolutionary and Islamist anarchy during the Arab Spring, a secular authoritarian dictator like Al-Sisi controlling the Mediterranean is a comparatively safer geopolitical bet than a closet Islamist and thug like President Erdogan.

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a senior contributor to The Federalist. His research is in great power-politics and neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.

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