Late this week the US and Greece signed a defense pact aimed squarely at repelling Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean, after a year of soaring tensions over Turkey's oil and gas exploration inside Greek and Cypriot waters.
The deal was signed in Washington by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, and crucially authorizes expanded use of Greek bases by American forces. It gives the legal greenlight for US troops to be invited in by Greek military forces at any time, particularly if the small US Mediterranean ally should find itself under threat.
The US military can now train and operate "in an expanded capacity" across a handful of additional bases - a significant expansion of a prior pact - according to FM Dendias' description of the deal.
One of the Greek bases in question is a mere few miles from Turkey; however, perhaps not wishing to poke and provoke the number two largest military in NATO, the Greek FM sought to assure the following:
"This is not an agreement…against anybody else," Dendias said in an interview with The Associated Press after the signing ceremony, although he noted the new agreement put a U.S. military presence just miles (kilometers) from Turkey. ”It’s an agreement between Greece and the United States of America, and the purpose of the agreement is the stability and prosperity of both our countries.”
The caveat comes after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused Athens of "competing with" and "duplicating" NATO - given its deepening military cooperation with France.
Dendias had in turn defended military pacts and drills with France as "an agreement that is complementary to NATO" and further stressed "It does not diminish the role of NATO."
Meanwhile Turkey has for years accused Greece of recklessly "militarizing" Aegean islands close to Turkish mainland...
Greece militarizing Aegean islands close to Turkey's mainland poses national security threathttps://t.co/J0F2r0McQb— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) October 2, 2020
But Greece and Cypress have long charged both NATO and the EU with being lukewarm in their response to expanding Turkish territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean. For example, Turkey is using its decades-long occupation of Northern Cyprus to claim rights to the entirety of waters circling the island.
In some instances, Greek and Turkish vessels have rammed each other, or nearly entered into live fire incidents. However, the prospect of a 'hot war' may diminish given the increased US and French military presence on Greek island bases. Despite the worsening US-Turkey relationship, Ankara would likely think twice before allowing things to escalate into major military confrontation.