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Could Greece and Turkey Go To War? The Answer Is Yes

F-16 Greece
F-16 from Greece. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

Coming Soon: A Greece – Turkey War? The list of countries suffering from Turkish aggression is long. Turkey occupies one-third of Cyprus. It has used its F-16s and Special Forces against Armenians. Iraqi officials say Turkey has now established 68 outposts on its territory, ranging in size from small platoon-level posts to a full-size base. The Turkish Air Force bombs Iraq nightly. Turkey ethnically cleanses entire districts in northern Syria. Its maritime land grabs would make the creators of China’s Nine-Dash Line blush.

Against this backdrop, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing threats against Greece should alarm. Indeed, the tension between the two NATO members is nothing new and predates Turkey’s mercurial ruler for decades. Four factors, however, make the current crisis different.

First, Erdogan is openly revanchist. He seeks to revise—always in Turkey’s favor—the century-old Lausanne Treaty that established Turkey’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria. He falsely claims Greece violates demilitarization agreements, and Turkish politicians up to and including Erdogan coalition partner and nationalist party leader Devlet Bahceli and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar further argue that they should possess all islands east of a median line in the Aegean Sea. Turkey does not limit such provocations to maps. Turkish jets regularly violate the airspace of Greek islands like Kastellorizo. State Department statements infused with bothsiderism make matters worse.

Simply put, Turkey is violating Greek airspace and occupying Cypriot territory, not the other way around. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken should make this clear. Moral equivalence and lies are no basis for peace and justice.

Second, Turkey’s economy is crashing. Erdogan rose to power two decades ago against the backdrop of widespread dissatisfaction with inflation, the Turkish lira’s weakness, and the corruption of the ruling elite. Today, inflation surpasses 80 percent, the Turkish lira has lost more than 80 percent of its value over the last five years, and Erdogan and his family have, unexplained by any legal means, become billionaires. Because Erdogan has exercised dictatorial control over Turkey and ousted, jailed, or marginalized any effective opposition, he cannot shirk responsibility for Turkey’s dire straits. Instead, he seeks a crisis to distract. Seizing Greek islands and daring Athens to act would be the perfect diversion.

The same dynamic is in play as Turkey heads to elections. Within the State Department, there is a tendency toward wishful thinking: Many partial to the U.S.-Turkey relationship recognize how problematic Erdogan can be but hope that voters tired of his excesses will simply oust him in next year’s elections. They use such hope to blunt any moves to hold Turkey accountable within the U.S. policy process. The problem here, however, is that it assumes that Erdogan, who has described himself as the servant or sharia and the Imam of Istanbul, would ever acquiesce to popular will. The reality is that if Erdogan believes himself destined for a loss at the polls by a margin too large for cheating to overcome, then he will spark a crisis and declare a national emergency to provide an excuse to avoid elections altogether. For Erdogan, a war with Greece would be the perfect remedy.

Finally, the Biden administration has misplayed its hand. Whereas Joe Biden entered office more resistant to Erdogan’s whispered charms than Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump, his team has taken a significant step backward in recent months, especially with its endorsement of an F-16 sale to Turkey. Perhaps Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan believed this would assuage Erdogan after Turkey’s loss of the F-35 and encourage Turkey to help Ukraine. It has had the opposite effect, though: Erdogan interpreted Biden’s move both as a green light to ratchet up attacks on his neighbors and as a signal Turkey could purchase additional S-400 missiles from Russia without consequence. Meanwhile, Turkey plays a double game with Ukraine, doing as much to help Russia escape the diplomatic and economic consequences of its actions as China, Iran, or North Korea.

A war with Greece is likely coming, not because of anything Athens has done but instead because Erdogan is desperate to distract from failure and bankruptcy. The questions the Biden administration will likely need to answer within a year are what can be done to prevent Turkey’s aggression, what the United States can do to enable Greece better to blunt Turkey’s drone, aircraft, and missiles, and whether the United States can really sit on the sidelines if one NATO member attacks a faithful NATO ally.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Scooter Van Neuter

    September 8, 2022 at 4:36 pm

    Depending on Dementia Joe to do anything of substance is like expecting your mail carrier to event time travel – ain’t gonna happen.

  2. GhostTomahawk

    September 8, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    Oh look another far off conflict that the US should not be involved in. If Turkey and Greece want to fight so what. If Turkey wants to fight Greece and Greece does not… so what? Welcome to geopolitics and its been to long since war got to have its day to redraw the lines on the map in a meaningful way.

  3. Ben Leucking

    September 8, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    Given Biden’s multi-decade track record of failed foreign policy positions, it’s probably best for both Greece and Turkey if Biden stays out of this.

  4. @GT_ure_an_idiot

    September 8, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    @ghosttomacock why don’t we redraw you instead

  5. Old Desert Coyote

    September 8, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    I don’t think we have to do anything. All Greece has to do is arm the Kurds (they make up 20-25% of the population of turkey, and they hate the Turks.) Lets not for get Armenia (Turkey taught the NAZI’s everything they need to know about Genocide in 1915-1918 when the Turks killed a million Armenians. All the Greeks need to do is dump a shit load of weapons on the Armenians and the Kurds and Erdogan will be hanging by his balls from the dome of Santa Sophia. Oh excuse me it is now the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque.

  6. Cam

    September 8, 2022 at 8:19 pm

    If they want to have a War , let them … Why is it , only The USA is allowed to invade and destroy innocent people and children , to find weapons of Mass Destruction , when we are the onlty country that has used a nuclear bomb to kill civilians , two times ….

  7. Bubbbba

    September 8, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    The big question would be, is the Big Guy or one of his handlers receiving 10% from any of these places? That will determine our level of involvement.

  8. John Theodossakos

    September 8, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    Thank you for your great analysis on this subject. Very insightful and certainly a dangerous time for the alliance. I am afraid even if there is a new leader after Erdogan, things will not change much in Turkey. Greece has been a long time ally of the US fighting together in WW1, WW2, and the Korean Confkict.

  9. 403Forbidden

    September 8, 2022 at 10:58 pm

    Greece almost went to war with turkiye in 1974 when greek f-4 phantom jets headed for turkish targets in cyprus UNTIL a tough mafia-class warning from US forced them to turn back.

    Back to present. Greece has bwen unhappy with endless brazen behavior by ankara BUT america stands in the way of redress. US stands solidly with ankara due to close military-political connections.

    In early october 2014 vp joe biden without thinking blurted out at harvard university that ankara was in complete cahoots with ISIS.

    Erdogan demanded an APOLOGY from biden for opening his maw and letting huge big cat out of the bag.

    Biden was quietly reminded by his boss that CIA & pentagon handlers at turk-syria border operated with permission from ankara. He quickly apologized to Erdogan two days later.

    CIA (& DoD) operatives are everywhere when there’s chaos and war, from ukraine to libya, syria, yemen and mali… etc.

    In syria, CIA & DoD supported different jihadist factions. Real messy & dirty. Real evil. This was once reported at (byline) latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-cia-pentagon-isis-20160327-story.html

  10. Steven Zore

    September 9, 2022 at 12:51 am

    Thrasymachus; Might Makes Right, is that the way it works ghost?

  11. MortenHJ

    September 9, 2022 at 4:46 am

    I have been to Cyprus (greek part) last May, and went to the northern turkish part. I wouldn’t be surprised is the greek cypriots are just happy to have the hijab-people on the other side of the fence.

  12. Hamza

    September 9, 2022 at 8:11 am

    Wow, the article doesn’t relate to the title at all. The author is crying over turkish demands and spitting claims and accusations without evidence. It could had been a better and more believable anti-Turkey article with more logic and less hatred.

  13. Mike Joneson

    September 9, 2022 at 8:55 am

    If there’s war it’s because of Greece’s absurd, maximalist maritime and EEZ claims.

  14. Al KUS

    September 9, 2022 at 11:02 am

    It is time US policies are influenced by US interest. We should not care for things that don’t effect us in any meaningful way.

    More importantly, it is time that people who migrated to US disassociate with their country of origin and stop trying to influence the US Government in favor of the country where their true loyalties lie. To me that is not only unethical but is treason!!!

    We have enough internal struggles to handle that other than China, no other foreign nation’s policies and actions should warrant any response from US.

  15. HAT451

    September 9, 2022 at 11:43 am

    In the past, Turkey or it’s predecessor the Ottoman empire has been at odds with both Greece and Imperial Russia / USSR in the past. These conflicts will continue into the future with temporary alliances formed, based on nationalistic needs or convenience.

    Both Turkey and Greece are members member nations of NATO, but Turkey is not a member of the EU. If the conflict does heat up between Turkey and Greece, what is the risk of it pushing Turkey into the Russians corner regarding the Ukraine / Russian conflict? What will NATO’s or UN’s reaction be to a war between Turkey and Greece?

  16. tz

    September 9, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    I agree with most of what the author said. Erdogan is desperate, but did not President Trump help enable Erdogan. Last I remember Trump dumped the Kurds for Erdogan. Azebaijan (Turkey’s Puppet state) went attacked Armenia and annexed territory. Be as it may since Turkey is the aggressor and now that Finland and Sweden are in NATO how about kicking Turkey out of the organization once and for all.

  17. Panos

    September 9, 2022 at 1:35 pm

    You guys are the most clueless bunch of idiots I have ever seen outside of Yahoo stock boards. The reality is that when Turkey attacks Greece, France will get involved quickly and England will likely follow. It will rapidly expand. Why??
    Because the waters around Crete have enough gas in the ground to make Russian oil irrelevant to the whole of Europe
    As for moving the Turks and Russians closer, LMAO. Do any of you honestly think that Russia can remake/supply hypersonic missiles or other modern equipment without western chips? Even the mighty China can not replicate the high-end chips.

    As for the bootlicker Trump who just wanted to build another hotel in Turkey, he is pathetic.

  18. Matthew

    September 9, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    Yes lets blame the Greeks for being in the way of Turkey and their dreams of Aegean domination.

  19. Balthasar

    September 9, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    What would you people say if the Germans talked about their Nazi past gloating with pride, because that is the case with Turkey and the extermination of all Christians who lived there. The majority revels about it, and those few decent people who dissent are persecuted.
    Turkey is a terrorist regime, an anachronism in 21st century and an abomination.

  20. Pano

    September 9, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    Let’s not forget Greece signed a defensive pact with France in 2021. The terms are similar to article 15 of NATO i.e. if one party is attacked both parties are attacked. U.S. renewed its security agreement with Greece in October 2021. U.S bases in Greece help protect US interests in Eastern Med and provide Greece some security from Turkey. Greece also signed several agreements with Cyprus, Egypt and Israel and it would likely get support form EU allies if something were to happen with Turkey.

    Some factual/timeline issues with article. US pulls out of agreement to sell f 35 with Turkey only after Turkey agrees to buy S-400 missiles from Russia. Also, Turkey demanded that it would only vote for Finland and Sweden to enter NATO if US sold F16. Nonetheless, the question is after all of Erdogan betrayals to US, Kurds, Not allowing US to invade Iraq through Southern Turkey, its aggressions on Greece, its pro Russia Stance, its intrusions in Syria/Middle East, North Africa, is Turkey still a friend to the west?

  21. SG

    September 9, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    You sir are a clown. I come across your nonsense articles from time to time. Not sure what sort of hatred you have against Turkey, perhaps your Megalo Idea you keep dreaming will never come to realization.

    One thing for sure, in the event of a possible war between Turkey and Greece, there should not be a doubt in anybody’s mind Greece as we know it today will no longer exist.

  22. SG

    September 9, 2022 at 6:24 pm

    My previous comment got deleted magically. You can’t event stand opposite opinion.

  23. Peter

    September 10, 2022 at 9:20 am

    Well written opinion piece

  24. Nam62

    September 10, 2022 at 10:19 am

    Biden is trying to figure out how to get his 10% from both sides!!

  25. MN

    September 10, 2022 at 11:52 am

    Well written and to the point.
    A conflict between the two could force Turkey to the side of Russia, making that a block of military power no other Nato country can challenge by itself, not even the US.
    Any idea of the US not getting involved is quite strange, since the US is responsible for setting up en maintaining this part of Nato. Nato is invented to protect the US and ensure it of allies in case of, at that time, a conflict with the USSR. Nowadays it needs any ally to be able to face the military might of China.
    So this potential conflict needs to be solved, right now! By the usual NATO diplomatic channels. Make sure that Greece, Turky and Cyprus all can benefit from that enormous natural gas field, that is the cause of this situatian in the first place. Share the wealth and these poorer members of Nato can move forward a little more prosperous, guarding the south flank of Nato territory.

  26. Texan

    September 10, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Great article – witness the absurdity and hatred of the Turkish trolls – why does 1945 allow them to post?

  27. Lucius Severus Pertinax

    September 10, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    Greek vs. Turk has been going on for a Thousand Years…..
    The Battle of Manzikert, 1071, was one of the most pivotal battles of all time, like Marathon or Hastings. It radically altered the course of world history, with far-reaching effects; but few in the West have ever heard of it.

  28. James T.

    September 10, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    SG, probably a Turk or Turkish admirer, is imagining things.
    If the two countries go to war…within 24 hours the Greek Air Force will send Turkey back to paleolithic times. Turkey’s naval bases and military infrastructure will be demolished. Turkish Neo-Ottoman designs are a fantasy that sustains the illiterate masses of a bankrupt economy.

    As for the other comment by Mike Joneson about “Greece’s absurd, maximalist maritime and EEZ claims…” the truth is that Greece has signed and ratified the Law of the Seas-the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea-UNCLOS TREATY- and her claims to EEZ are based on the rules defined by the treaty. On the contrary, Turkey’s lawless behavior is based on the irrational, unfounded sea claims of Mavi Vatan-the Blue Homeland-and the pseudo–Turkish Libyan maritime agreement both of which defy everything that the Law of The Sea has been based on.

    That is all for now!!!

  29. David Guy

    September 12, 2022 at 10:30 am

    How will this effect Israel? Israel has signed a Status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the United States, Greece and Cyprus. That is less than mutual defence agreement but still significant.

    It is my belief, for what it is worth, that in a fight with no other participants Turkey would overwhelm Greece. True Turkey has economic problems but so does Greece. Could Israel stay neutral given mutual interests in the Mediterranean with both Greece and Cyprus?

  30. Nikos Koukos

    September 13, 2022 at 2:17 pm

    To all American clueless friends wondering why the ol’ US of A should get involved in another conflict far away from their shores I suggest they reread the last phrase:

    “The questions the Biden administration will likely need to answer within a year are …, and whether the United States can really sit on the sidelines if one NATO member attacks a faithful NATO ally.”

    At a minimum any open conflict between Turkey and Greece means the southwest wing of NATO/OTAN seizes to exist in an instant.

    Potentially the end of NATO/OTAN entirely!

    As it’s very likely NATO countries will be divided on support and non-NATO countries, like Israel, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia would get involved.
    Which would raise some interesting questions about Art. 5.

  31. Jas

    September 21, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    If the US does not wake up from the coma, it’s going to end up badly for NATO. Turkey is used to grabbing foreign territory, hungry for the Aegean resources, and too anti-american to gain 100% control of the black sea/east mediterranean route. On the other side, the Greek army is waiting for a chance to get revenge for the Imia incident.

  32. Haluk

    September 22, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    1st World War, belligerent party was Greece obsessed with “Megalo Idea” and wishful politics. Greece survived being manipulated by Imperial England, and were pushed to invade Anatolia to test Turks determination, (which ended up in “Asia Minor Catastrophe”).
    Your referencing to Cyprus is again a futile effort of Greece to annex an independent Island, “Enosis”.
    Please put the readers to right historical perspectives.

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