What are the threats to the Regional Security? How can cooperation be fostered in the region, Hydra Island (Greece) 8-10 October 2004

WHAT ARE THE THREATS TO THE REGIONAL SECURITY? HOW CAN COOPERATION BE FOSTERED IN THE REGION

Hydra Island (Greece), 8-10 October 2004

Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to address such a distinguished audience on an important issue, namely “What are the threats to the Regional Security? How can cooperation be fostered in the region”.

Security in the Eastern Mediterranean is affected by a myriad of factors, including Palestinian problem, Arab-Israel conflict and situation in Iraq. However, if we extend our area of interest to such complicated issues we may not be able to spare time for the more specific region of Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore I would like to confine my comments to three titles that may affect the security in the region. These are:

–         Security issues in the Eastern Mediterranean in general,

–         Relations between Turkey and the European Union

–         Cyprus

Security Issues in the Eastern Mediterranean 

            First the security issues in the Eastern Mediterranean. I will elaborate on two factors among many others that shape the security situation in the region. These are:

a)      the line that divides Muslim and Christian worlds goes through the Eastern Mediterranean;

b)      there are intra-regional disputes in Eastern Mediterranean..

The clash of the civilisations described by Huntington in his reputed book may not have started yet, but there are signs that, if the problems are not handled with care, it may break out at any place on the line that divides Muslim and Christian worlds or it may strike the heart of the civilized world as we have seen on 9/11. There are also observers who say that the war in Iraq is already a clash of the civilisations. Putting aside the discussion whether it is so or not, we should be focusing our attention to defuse tension in areas near this line either by bridging the fault line that divides the two worlds and not alienating the other side of the fault line or trying to eliminate as many subject of discordance as possible.

As to intra-regional disputes, we may mention within this framework the Cyprus problem and the catalogue of bilateral problems between Turkey and Greece.

            Cyprus is the title of the next chapter of my contribution. Therefore, under this title, I would like to say a few words on the Turkish-Greek Relations. These relations entered a new phase when the two countries finally agreed to start a new round of exploratory talks. I understand that these talks are advancing slowly but steadily. The talks were initiated after Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs İsmail Cem and his Greek counterpart Papandreu agreed to solve bilateral disputes by starting from the easier ones. This initiative is still under way. The fact that they were not interrupted after that many rounds is an indication that the two sides still care for each other. I sincerely hope that the results of these exploratory talks will pave the way to more concrete steps.

            Since one of the purposes of our session is to identify how can cooperation be fostered in the region, I will be failing my duty if I do not mention some additional factors that may contribute to further enhancing Turkish-Greek relations. The exact scope of the exploratory talks has never been disclosed. However, as far as it was reflected in the national press of the two countries as well as in the international press, the Greek authorities consider certain disputed issues as subjects that fall within the scope of their national sovereignty and do not admit the existence of some disputes between the two countries other than the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea. I don’t see how dialogue and cooperation could be promoted if we ignore the existence of certain problems. Can we say that there is no dispute between two countries when one side says that there are problems and the other side says that there is no problem at all?

Subjects considered by Greece within the purview of its national sovereignty include the following:

–         the demilitarised status of certain Greek islands in the Aegean determined by international treaties,

–         distinction between the Flight Information Region, which is an area delineated for technical purposes to serve the flight security in the international airspace on the one hand and the national airspace of a country where it can exercise unlimited sovereign powers on the other,

–         the question of the geographical formations in the Aegean Sea not ceded to Greece through international agreements.

I presume that the smooth atmosphere created by the exploratory talks will enable us to extend the dialogue, in the future, to all areas of cooperation between Turkey and Greece. Furthermore, Turkey’s joining the EU will become an additional factor to maintain and further develop this dialogue.

Economic cooperation is another factor that contributes to stability in the region. Trade has always played a very important role for the spread of civilisation in the Eastern Mediterranean since the Phoenician and antique Greek times. Promotion of economic relations between the countries of the region and more specifically between Turkey and Greece should be utilized as an additional factor that contributes to the consolidation of peace and stability in the region. There is ample room for more economic cooperation both between Turkey and Greece and among all countries of the region.

In the past, fluctuating political relations between Turkey and Greece had their negative impact on economic cooperation. Since recent years, there is a timid revival of contacts among the businessmen of both countries, but reticence of the past did not entirely disappear. Economic cooperation has to be promoted for its own sake, that is to say because it contributes to the welfare of both of the trading countries, but it has to be promoted also for its contribution to the peace and security in the region.

Relation between Turkey and the EU

I now turn to relations between Turkey and the European Union. These relations date back to late 1950s. Turkey applied for the membership of the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959 and signed an Association Agreement with the EEC in 1963, with the ultimate perspective of becoming full member. In 1999 Turkey’s full membership was officially recognised by the EU in the Helsinki Summit. Furthermore Turkey was promised to be treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries but this promise has never been kept.

Unlike the other candidate countries, the fulfillment of the political criteria of Copenhagen is put forward as a precondition for the start of accession negotiations of Turkey, while the EU concluded the accession negotiations with certain candidate countries in the past despite the fact that the EU Commission’s Progress Report pointed out that some of these countries were still failing to fulfill the political criteria two years after they started accession negotiations. Furthermore, the Copenhagen criteria read as follows:

Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the respect and protection of minorities…”

This text is clear enough to say that the Copenhagen criteria are a prerequisite for full membership and not for the start of accession negotiations.

In December 2002, the EU Summit in Copenhagen decided that accession negotiations with Turkey would start without delay if the Turkey fulfils the political criteria. Now that the EU Commission has recognized that Turkey fulfils these criteria and that it recommended to start the accession negotiations, we have every reason to expect that the EU Council to be held on December 17, will not attach new conditions to the start of these negotiations and that the negotiations will actually start without delay.

Since the main theme of this session is the Regional Security, I will dwell only on the impact of Turkey’s EU membership on the Regional Security.

NATO has identified 15 hot spots in the world that may threaten the security of the alliance. 13 of these 15 spots are located in areas adjacent to Turkey or in areas where Turkey has ethnic, historical or cultural ties. These regions are the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East and the Central Asia. All European members of NATO except Norway are also member of the EU. Therefore we are talking of the security of almost the same countries whether they are members of NATO or EU. I do not want to imply that the EU cannot carry out its goals in these areas without Turkey’s contribution. However, I may say without undue modesty that these goals could be achieved more easily, with less effort and resources and with much less acrimony, if it is done in cooperation with Turkey.

Furthermore, Turkey’s membership in the European Union will surely be a symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures and enriching the spiritual fabric of the European Union. If the EU gives the impression that it is a Christian Club, this will give a pretext to the fundamentalist organizations to claim that the EU excludes non-Christians and that the world is divided on the basis of the religious fault lines. Such a scenario will look like a reconfirmation of the theory of the Clash of the Civilizations developed by Huntington. I believe that this theory is detrimental to peace and stability in the world and more specifically in the Eastern Mediterranean since the fault line between these two civilisations goes through this region. Experience of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq suggests that the Clash of the Civilizations does not make the world more secure.

Turkey is a country with a predominantly Muslim population. But it is also a secular country. Secularity in Turkey is not a principle enshrined only in the Constitution and forgotten there. It is properly grasped and digested by the Turkish people. Democratic institutions function properly, at least as satisfactorily as in many of the existing member countries of the EU. Many participants in this meeting may have had a chance to observe it for themselves in Turkey. These unique features make Turkey a special case in the Islamic world. Turkey’s accession to the EU will give to the Islamic world the message that democracy and Islam are not incompatible and that the EU is not closed to countries of others faiths if they comply with the required standards.

Once Turkey becomes a member of EU, it will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.  With its experience and capabilities in the military field, Turkey will definitely increase the weight of the EU in the global arena and more so in its own region that is to say in the Eastern Mediterranean. The recent Progress Report of the EU Commission on Turkey makes a pertinent observation on this subject on behalf of 25 member countries of the EU. It reads as follows:

   “Turkey’s population, size, geographical location, economic, security and military potential…give Turkey the capacity to contribute to regional and international stability”.

With Turkey as a full member, the Union will no doubt have a stronger voice.  The prevention and settlement of conflicts that involve the western community of nations and other countries will be easier.  The world will be safer; the region where Turkey is located will be safer. Above all, it will be a serious blow and an outright response to radical terrorism shaking the world today.

For the reasons explained above Turkey will be able to bring a valuable contribution to the security and stability of the region.

Cyprus

            I now turn to the Cyprus problem. This question is the sole item in the debates of another session of our meeting. Therefore, it is difficult to say new things in this session in addition to what has already been said in the session on Cyprus. Furthermore the most knowledgeable persons on this subject shared their valuable assessment with us. I would like to acknowledge especially the presence of Lord Haney. However, since I was asked to comment on this subject as well, I will do so.

The rejection of the Annan Plan by the Greek Cypriots brought about a new situation. Mr. Verheugen, the EU Commissioner in charge of the enlargement is on the record for his undiplomatic remark where he said that he felt “cheated by the Greek Cypriot Government”. Before the simultaneous referenda of 24 April 2004, Turks of the Northern Cyprus were promised the moon in case they vote in favour of the Annan Plan. The EU Council of Ministers met 2 days after the referenda and expressed its determination to put an end to the isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This decision is made before Cyprus joined the EU. It is part of the EU acquis and binding for all members of the EU including the ones that joined on 1 May 2004..

The Annan Plan was far from meeting the expectation of the Turkish Cypriots. However, with a view to laying the foundations of a lasting peace, the present Turkish government took a political risk by making a bold decision to encourage the Turkish Cypriots to vote in favour of the Annan Plan. It was a political risk because an overwhelming majority of the Turkish public opinion was opposed to the Annan Plan. However the government thought that Cyprus question had to be pulled out of the stalemate in which it was bogged down for decades. Leadership requires sometimes not to be driven by the emotion of the masses and to make them swallow bitter pills. It may not be always sufficient to be right. Bold decision may be required to break the deadlocks. The bold decision of the Turkish government was not rewarded by the international community. I believe that a golden opportunity is missed on the 24 April, because Turkish Cypriot leadership, motherland Turkey and motherland Greece were all on board for a lasting solution in Cyprus. The EU, US and UK were all supporting the solution, but it failed because of the rejection of the solution by the Greek Cypriots. After the failure of the 24 April referendum, it has now become extremely difficult for any Turkish government to take a positive step except for reciprocating a concession to be made beforehand by the Greek Cypriot side.

Is a second referendum possible? I don’t see how the Turkish Cypriots could be convinced to go once more to the polls. Any alteration in the Annan Plan would give the other side the right to ask to be compensated with a comparable advantage. An alteration that does not involve such a give and take will neither be equitable nor ethical.

The solution of the Cyprus problem requires creativity but also a lot of courage and effort to comprehend the worries of the other side. When both sides demonstrate that they have these qualities we may have reasons to be more hopeful about the future. Otherwise innumerable advantages of the cooperation between Turks and Greeks of the island will remain unexplored.

The role of economic cooperation is important in Cyprus as well. Here again one may start cooperation in less controversial areas without making political consideration a precondition. With the momentum to be created by the positive outcome of such cooperation one may extend it to new areas. The advantage of having politicians with business background in the new leadership of the Turkish Cypriot side has to be fully utilized.

Conclusion

            Eastern Mediterranean is surrounded by hot spots and regions of instability. Each conflict has a different background or source. Some are easier to solve, some are not. Strong leadership, sustained effort, perseverance and respect for the worries of the other side of conflicts are required to solve them.

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