An alternative paradigm for the Greek-Turkish maritime dispute

An Alternative Model for the Greek-Turkish Maritime Dispute

The α rig is located in the Tamar natural gas field off the coast of Israel. The author says the overall economic benefit of extracting hydrocarbons in Greece is questionable. [AP]

In particular, the constantly turbulent Greek-Turkish maritime dispute is going through another hot phase from 2020, which culminated in late 2022, when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reminded us of the threat of Turkish casus belli, which Greece must exercise its inalienable right. to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles south and west of Crete. The reason behind Athens’ possible move and Turkey’s reaction is their intention to explore for hydrocarbons in the area.

The same region, however, is already experiencing some of the most glaring climate changes in the form of unprecedented wildfires and extreme heatwaves that have fueled mega-fires and released high levels of carbon dioxide, exacerbating global warming. Due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, the climate in the Mediterranean basin is changing, both historically and as predicted by climate models, faster than global trends. The Mediterranean region has been identified by international organizations and climate experts as a “hotspot” of climate change – meaning it is expected to experience broad and long-term environmental reverberations. In the future, this region is expected to be one of the most affected by climate change, especially when it comes to precipitation and the hydrological cycle. Temperatures are rising 20% ​​faster than the global average, and this is already having real and serious consequences. In this context, the two countries’ insistence on the exploration and production of hydrocarbons has geopolitical competition to expand their economic exclusive zones at the expense of their neighbors instead of prioritizing control over fossil fuels or combating a common existential threat. Seems like an obsolete praxis.

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It is worth mentioning that the release of natural gas into the sea can have serious environmental consequences, as most of the exploration for hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean has focused on natural gas. While a portion of natural gas evaporates, another significant portion dissolves in water and is highly toxic to marine life, especially when it occurs near shore, in shallow water, or in areas with slow water circulation. the Mediterranean Gas leakages from pipes cause great environmental problems in terms of groundwater levels (and also on the surface). Combustion and use of natural gas is more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel because it emits less carbon dioxide than conventional oil or coal-fired power plants. However, air emissions should not be ignored, as combustion releases methane and degrades air quality.

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Furthermore, the overall economic benefit of the extraction of hydrocarbons in Greece is highly questionable. The costs associated with oil and gas extraction can lead to economic losses, as tourism and recreational activities directly affected by an oil spill or gas leak near the coast are high. The semi-closed nature of the Mediterranean Sea, the strongly clientelistic character of the Greek political system and the risk of environmental degradation in a country where the tourism industry accounts for 20% of its GDP raise serious doubts about the overall benefit of development. Hydrocarbons despite legal guarantees and previous experience in Prinos fields. After all, production started in Prinos in 1980, humanity did not know about the consequences of oil and gas on the climate and there was no substitute for hydrocarbons, today in terms of renewable fuels, Greece and Turkey have wide opportunities to develop. (solar, wind, water etc.).

The legal regime governing the development of offshore hydrocarbons is tricky, as Greece and Turkey have not demarcated their maritime zones. The provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provide a more or less clear legal regime for installations and structures in the exclusive economic zone (Article 60), in which the coastal state has the exclusive right to construct and authorize. Regulates construction, operation and use of installations and structures for various purposes.

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However, Turkey is one of the 16 states that have not signed the treaty. Greece claims that UNCLOS codifies customary law that also binds non-signatory states. Turkey, in contrast, believes that the treaty binds only the signatory states (res inter alios acta). In case of interstate hostilities, history shows that offshore units have become targets of attacks. Protecting such installations from external threats is logistically and administratively very challenging, requiring the transportation of men, weapons, ammunition and equipment around a wide geographical area.

Against this background, a common struggle against existential natural and environmental threats is a matter of survival, which will sooner or later confront Greece and Turkey. Anything else is literally just an attempt to prevent the future.


Andreas Stergio is a professor at the Department of Economics of the University of Thessaly and author of the book “The Greek-Turkish Maritime Dispute: Resisting the Future” (Springer, Switzerland, 2022).



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