15. Interagency Intelligence Memorandum1
- The Likelihood of Conflict Between Greece and Turkey
Greek-Turkish relations are currently troubled over conflicting claims to the right to sovereignty and potential minerals in the bed of the Aegean Sea. These claims are longstanding, but did not gain serious dimensions until early in 1974 after oil was found off the Greek island of Thassos, suggesting that the Aegean might overlie other significant deposits. The Turks have issued claims to sovereignty over areas of the seabed that the Athens government regards as Greek. The Greek Government has thus regarded the Turkish request for negotiations to delimit the continental shelf as a challenge to Greek sovereignty and has maintained that even to agree to negotiate would grant unacceptable validity to the Turkish claims.[Page 71]
The posturing of both sides in the last two months has heightened tensions. Although these moves and countermoves could touch off an armed conflict, neither Greece nor Turkey is actively seeking to trigger hostilities with the other. Neither wants to risk dislocation of its relationship with the US and NATO over this issue. Current international meetings where both the Greeks and the Turks are represented may offer an opportunity for direct but informal contacts to defuse the issue.
While deliberately initiated war thus seems unlikely in the near future, some sort of armed clash or incident remains possible. With present inflamed tempers, incidents could lead to a localized engagement. Should Athens unilaterally declare a 12 mile territorial limit, the danger of incident would increase. But it seems likely that Athens and Ankara would seek to prevent larger-scale conflict from developing.
Even if negotiations were to begin, the issues would not yield easily to satisfactory solution and the controversy is likely to be prolonged. Thus the issue of delimiting the continental shelf boundary and of oil exploration in this disputed area is likely to drag on, carrying with it potential for future damage to NATO.
The recent period of heightened tensions raises the question of the relative military capabilities of the Greek and Turkish armed forces. Turkey has a clear numerical superiority in its military forces, particularly in its ground and air arms. This superiority probably would permit a successful but limited Turkish offensive in eastern Greek Thrace and seizure of some Greek Aegean islands near the Turkish coast. Neither side, however, has the capability to support a prolonged and intensive military campaign. Both would require extensive resupply from other countries if fighting lasted more than a few weeks, even at relatively low levels of intensity.
[2 lines not declassified] Both countries, even in the event of hostilities, would be vying for US assistance and would probably avoid any actions which would almost certainly cause a rupture of relations with the US.
I. The Likelihood of Hostilities Between Greece and Turkey
Genesis of the Dispute
1. Greek-Turkish relations are troubled over conflicting claims to the right to sovereignty and potential minerals in the bed of the Aegean Sea. But the controversy is heightened by centuries of latent hostility reflected in the last 50 years in conflict over the treatment of respective minorities and Cyprus. Even common membership in NATO has not dissipated this mutual mistrust.
2. The present governments in Greece and Turkey have had less contact than their immediate predecessors and have yet to establish an [Page 72] effective dialogue to compose their differences. From the start, the Ioannidis regime in Greece has shown itself to be narrowly nationalistic and parochial in its views. It has not pursued an easily discernible approach to the Cyprus problem. While worried about a military confrontation with Turkey, Ioannidis may have viewed dispute with Turkey as helpful in solidifying his personal military support as well as in distracting popular discontent with his government. And indeed, there is evidence that the current controversy with Turkey is a popular cause within the Greek armed forces. At the same time, the Greek regime has avoided brash moves that would risk armed conflict with Turkey.
3. The formation of the Ecevit coalition government in Turkey in January 1974 also added momentum to the rise of tension in Greek-Turkish relations. While Ecevit has little in his background to suggest particular animosity toward Greeks and has publicly renounced aggressive intent, the weakness of his coalition regime and his inexperience in government leadership may have given more scope to popular nationalist suspicions of Greece. In any event, the coalition government protocol committed him to pursue the exploitation of offshore mineral resources and to accelerate prospecting for basic energy resources. In addition, his initial government policy proclamation endorsing a federated state in Cyprus contradicted earlier assurances that the Turks were not seeking a “federal” solution and that they accepted the principle of a “unitary” Cyprus.2 Ecevit’s statement, therefore, was read in Greece as provocative.
4. It was the discovery of oil, however, that triggered the present crisis. Conflicting claims to the seabed in the Aegean are longstanding, but this controversy did not gain serious dimensions until early in 1974 after oil was found in what promised to be substantial quantities off the Greek island of Thassos in the northern Aegean. The seabed here is undisputedly Greek, but the presence of oil suggested that the Aegean might overlie other significant deposits. The Turks have long been frustrated by seeing valuable oil reserves discovered near their borders (in lands formerly part of the Ottoman Empire), while Turkey has had only minor success in finding oil in commercial quantities within its own boundaries. The Turks granted concessions to the Turkish Petroleum Monopoly; and in order to press its claim to the Anatolian shelf, the Ankara government in February 1974 sent Athens a note formally [Page 73] asserting sovereignty over the seabed up to the 100 fathom line, notwithstanding that the area in question lay to the west of the numerous Greek islands that line the Aegean coast of Turkey. And the Turks asked for negotiations to delimit the continental shelf.
5. The Greek Government regarded the Turkish request for talks on this matter as a challenge to Greek sovereignty. Athens maintained that even to agree to negotiate would be tantamount to admitting that Ankara’s position had some validity. Hence, the Greek regime delayed answering the Turkish démarche. Greek contingency plans for military action against Turkey were dusted off, some troops were moved to the islands off the Turkish coast, and in general the Athens regime took steps to prepare to defend its claimed rights by force if it should deem necessary.3 At the same time, informally, the Greeks sought to enlist US backing for their position. And on May 24 Athens finally replied to the Turks in an ambiguous fashion, hinting that it might entertain some sort of preliminary discussions, though not agreeing to formal negotiations. A subsequent note on June 14 reaffirmed the basic Greek position.
6. Greece has for some time indicated an intention to extend its territorial waters from the present six miles to 12. Since such a move would apply to its many islands, it would effectively transform the Aegean into a Greek lake. Athens is not likely to act before the Law of the Sea Conference in Caracas has considered the question of territorial waters, but a unilateral extension by Greece would be viewed by Ankara as a serious challenge to its claimed rights in the area.
[Omitted here is a map of the Aegean seabed.]
7. The Turks throughout have sought to force Athens to agree to negotiations over the status of the disputed seabed. In April, the Ankara government publicized its decision to permit oil exploration in the seabed west of the Island of Lesbos. When this announcement failed to induce the Greeks to negotiate, the Turks increased the state of readiness of their forces and prepared to send a Turkish hydrographic vessel into the Aegean to conduct surveys of the area in question.4 And after the Greek Foreign Office rejected Ecevit’s hopeful interpretation of the May 24 note as acceptance of negotiations, Ankara announced [Page 74] that it was dispatching the hydrographic vessel accompanied by Turkish naval units, some of which were on route to participate in the bilateral NATO exercise “Good Friendship.” This move was calculated to demonstrate Turkish determination to press for Ankara’s alleged undersea rights. Subsequently, the Turks announced that the hydrographic vessel was returning to the Dardanelles after five days in Aegean waters.
8. While these Turkish tactics contributed to the increase in tensions, they have not yet accomplished the aim of securing full-scale negotiations. Ioannidis, although viewing the Turkish actions as provocative, decided to ignore the Turkish hydrographic vessel and has assured the US that he would not consider military response unless and until actual oil drilling began. Athens cites the precedent of having tolerated Soviet surveying operations in international waters over the Greek seabed. Moreover, Ioannidis may have adopted this more relaxed position because there is geological evidence from oil company reserach indicating that oil is highly unlikely to be found in the research particular area under dispute. The Greeks are relying on what they regard as a strong legal case, improving their military readiness but avoiding action that would provoke the Turks.
The Likelihood of Armed Conflict
9. Although these moves and countermoves could touch off an armed conflict, neither Greece nor Turkey is actively seeking to trigger hostilities with the other. The leadership in both countries is aware of the far-reaching implications of military conflict between NATO members. Both states would like to be less dependent on the US, but still regard their relations with the US as the central facet of NATO membership and of their defense strategy. From past experience in crises over Cyprus they fear dislocation of this relationship if war should break out. What pressures emanate from the respective military establishments to have recourse to arms have not reached proportions so far that would lead the decision-making levels deliberately to initiate armed conflict.
10. The pressure for war is also reduced by current high-level diplomatic contacts. The respective foreign ministers discussed the problems at the NATO meeting in Ottawa on June 18–19.5 The Law of the Sea Conference now convened in Caracas provides another opportunity for discussion. From the start, Athens has wanted to await the outcome of the Caracas Conference before considering the possibility [Page 75] of substantive negotiations with the Turks in hopes that the general principles worked out here would bolster the Greek case. The Turks, on the other hand, pushed for negotiations before the Conference.
11. While deliberately initiated war thus seems unlikely in the near future, some sort of armed clash or incident remains possible. Greek and Turkish naval units in the disputed area could through some miscalculation exchange fire. With present inflamed tempers, other incidents (say over fishing rights) could lead to a localized engagement. Should Athens unilaterally declare a 12 mile territorial limit, the danger of incident would increase. But even in these cases, it seems likely that Athens and Ankara would seek—undoubtedly through US mediation—to prevent larger-scale conflict.
12. The present crisis has demonstrated the mutual mistrust between Greek and Turk. Even if negotiations were to begin, the issues would not yield easily to satisfactory solution. The controversy is likely to be prolonged at least in part because it will be particularly difficult for the Turks to force the pace of mineral exploration. The amount of actual exploratory activity that the Turks can perform is extremely limited. Oil drilling rigs are in short supply and are already committed to drill elsewhere. Moreover, as long as the area remains in dispute, oil companies will be unwilling to make available the oil rigs necessary for actual drilling. Thus the issue of delimiting the continental shelf boundary and of oil exploration in this disputed area is likely to drag on, carrying with it potential for further damage to the NATO alliance.
[Omitted here are sections II, “Balance of Forces” and III, “The Likelihood of Seizure of U.S. Nuclear Weapons.”]
IV. Impact on Other Countries of Greek-Turkish Hostilities
On the US and NATO
39. Active hostilities between Greece and Turkey would have a serious adverse effect on intra-NATO relationships and on the military balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Some NATO countries, particularly those in northern Europe, would likely make strong diplomatic overtures to both combatants in the search for a cease-fire. If one participant were seen clearly to be the aggressor, there might even be some public comment calling for its removal from the alliance. Should either Greece or Turkey suffer serious military reverses, it might come to feel abandoned by its allies if they did not bring pressure to bear on the “victor” to restore the situation.
40. Under any circumstances, in the aftermath of full-scale hostilities between these two NATO partners there would be a weakened NATO posture against Soviet political and military pressures in the area. Continued bitterness between the two could extend for a [Page 76] considerable period after the end of hostilities and seriously disrupt allied efforts at combined military planning for the region.
41. Even a widening split between Athens and Ankara that did not lead to open hostilities would, at the least, exacerbate the isolation that, because of geographic location, characterizes southern NATO. At the worst it would cause a serious breakdown of defenses on the southeastern flank.
42. Considerable pressures would be exerted by both sides to enlist the US as an ally to the disadvantage of the other. Each side would be likely to cast the other in the role of aggressor as it appealed for US assistance and perhaps even direct military support. The situation is further complicated because US forces are stationed in the two countries.
43. Greece and Turkey have several times threatened to go to war over the Cyprus question, but Cyprus stands a reasonably good chance of escaping direct involvement in hostilities between the two over other issues, especially in a conflict of short duration. A Greek-Turkish conflict would, however, raise intercommunal tensions and increase the chances of serious strife on the island. It is within Turkey’s capabilities to cut off Cyprus from any Greek access, and to launch a successful landing on the island, if it chooses. Ankara would take such action only in the unlikely event of a Greek attempt to take over the island or in order to protect a threatened Turkish minority on the island.
44. If hostilities did break out on Cyprus, it is doubtful that the two British Sovereign Base Areas or the aircraft located there would be attacked deliberately. It would not be in the interest of either Greece or Turkey to take provocative action against the British, some of whose aircraft there are NATO-committed.
[Omitted here are several maps and annexes.]
- Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Secret. This memorandum was prepared under the auspices of the National Intelligence Officers for Western Europe and Conventional Forces. It was principally drafted by DIA and CIA with the participation of representatives of INR and the intelligence components of the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.↩
- Telegram 834 from Ankara, February 2, relayed the Turkish preference for a “confederation.” The Turkish Government position tried to link the concepts of federalism with a unitary state by stating “that the government’s objectives had all along been to achieve a result which was ‘in effect a function of federalism without using that actual name’.” (National Archives, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1974)↩
- Intelligence cables, May 20, 23, 30, and 31, reported Greek troops reinforcing the Greco-Turkish border and the Dodecanese Islands. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1312, NSC Secretariat, Contingency Plans 1974, Cyprus and Greek-Turkish Contingency Plans)↩
- Intelligence cables, May 26 and 28, reported the Turkish General Staff’s issuance of a national general alert to all military forces. (Ibid.)↩
- As reported in telegram 3700 from Athens, June 13; telegram 4684 from Ankara, June 14; telegram 3744 from Athens, June 15; and telegram 3776 from Athens, June 17. (Ibid.)↩