Issue 231 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
Behind the Nato intervention is the fear of a much greater conflict--between Greece and Turkey. Imperial intervention on behalf of small nations and oppressed peoples usually has two motives. One is greed; the other is fear. But these motives do not always coincide. Nato risks inflaming the conflict between two Nato powers in the region, Greece and Turkey.
It is a conflict which the US dreads, but which its own policies have intensified. Greece and Turkey were seen as important Nato bastions during the Cold War. Military aid was cut off briefly in the 1970s when Greece was under military dictatorship and Turkey invaded Cyprus.
Then in 1978 the US Congress voted a policy in designed to achieve a 'balance of military strength'. This is known as the '7:10 ratio'; for every $7 of military aid to Greece, Turkey receives $10. Both Reagan and Bush resented this constraint, seeing Turkey as far more important to US interests. Nevertheless they were forced to stick with it and it has subsequently been followed by Clinton.
But it is the scale of the arms flow since the end of the Cold War which is staggering. In 1990 the Nato powers agreed the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, obliging members to destroy or distribute a large amount of weaponry. The result of the CFE treaty was a flood of arms into both Greece and Turkey. In the early 1990s the two countries became the world's largest arms importers and even now they are in the top ten.
The UN Register of Conventional Arms describes the two governments as being engaged in an arms race, and like every arms race it is out of control. In 1995 the US sold Turkey a state of the art tactical missile system: 120 missiles armed with the now horribly familiar cluster bombs. In 1996 the US gave both sides munitions designed to destroy airfields and improved radar systems. This coincided with a huge escalation of tension over two long standing disputes: Cyprus and the Aegean Islands.
Northern Cyprus is occupied by some 30,000 Turkish troops, the legacy of the 1974 Greek coup and Turkish invasion when 5,000 people were killed. In the Aegean, Greece has sovereignty over islands which are less than five miles from the Turkish coast and which have been disputed territory since the end of the First World War. In January 1996 the tension boiled over after a Turkish boat ran aground and both sides moved warships into the area before the US intervened.
The stand off was followed by continuous intrusion of Turkish fighters in Greek airspace on average five times a day over the next 12 months, which in turn was followed by provocative moves on the Greek side along the ceasefire line in Cyprus. The US was sufficiently alarmed to call the two sides together to agree not to provoke each other by overflying during military exercises.
In July 1997, the US brokered a 'non-aggression pact' at a conference in Madrid. Yet by November both sides had already broken the overflying agreement and the Greek government was negotiating with Russia to provide a missile system for Cyprus. Turkey's response to this has been to threaten to bomb if any missiles are deployed. In turn Russia informed Turkey that any attempt to hinder the agreed deal would be considered an 'an act of war'. So far the deal has not gone ahead. Meanwhile the Greek government announced in February this year that it was opening negotiations on the purchase of between 60 and 80 Eurofighter aircraft in advance of the delivery of a batch of Mirage jets, scheduled for 2001. Greece has now said Turkey cannot fly over its airspace in Nato bombing raids.
Some of the current conflict between Greece and Turkey is sabre rattling. But it comes at a time when extreme nationalists and fascists have secured 20 percent support in the Turkish elections and when almost the entire Greek population are opposed to the Nato war on Yugoslavia. The Turkish raid on the Greek embassy in Kenya, when they captured the Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, illustrates just how fragile relations between these two 'allies' have become.
Whatever the outcome of Nato's Yugoslavian adventure, the tensions between Greece and Turkey are likely to grow. While the US has favoured Turkey, and Turkey now has a military/economic alliance with Israel, it would be completely wrong to think that the situation is under US control. On the contrary, politics in Turkey are increasingly polarised between opposing Islamic and nationalist/fascist forces, and the government has become much less malleable to US interests. The potential for conflict is becoming more explosive and US and Nato policies have ensured that the adversaries are capable of doing each other enormous damage.