Building on Greek-Turkish Detente

The world remains focused on the Greek financial crisis, but an important positive spin-off could be a deeper Greek-Turkish détente. Greece’s high defense spending has fueled to its economic woes, and better relations with Turkey would enable Prime Minister George Papandreou to cut spending, thereby helping to rescue the economy while promoting regional stability.

Greece’s high defense spending has contributed to its economic woes. Indeed, the country has Europe’s highest military expenditures relative to GDP. Improvement in relations with Turkey could enable Prime Minister George Papandreou – who hosts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this week – to cut defense spending and make it easier to rescue an economy on the brink of bankruptcy.

Improved Greek-Turkish ties would be welcomed not only by foreign investors and European Union officials, but also by Greece’s NATO allies – above all the United States. Clashes between Greek and Turkish military aircraft in the Aegean remain frequent. In 2006, a Greek fighter pilot was killed in a mock dogfight with a Turkish fighter aircraft.

These incidents could lead to inadvertent military conflict between the two NATO allies. This nearly happened in February 1996 during the crisis over the islet of Imia/Kardak, which was claimed by both countries. At a time when NATO faces growing challenges in Afghanistan, the last thing it needs is a conflict in the Aegean.