34. Defense Intelligence Agency Intelligence Appraisal1
GREECE–TURKEY: THE AEGEAN SEABED DISPUTE
The discovery of oil in the Aegean in January 1974 and an undemarcated seabed has resulted in overlapping claims of continental shelf rights by both Greece and Turkey. The Cyprus crisis preempted a possible conflict over the seabed issue last summer, but the problem has again surfaced as the principal point of contention between the two NATO allies. The Aegean issue is potentially more explosive than Cyprus since both Greek and Turkish national interests are deeply involved. Many Greek military officers believe a confrontation with Turkey in the Aegean is inevitable this summer and have prepared extensive defense plans for the Aegean islands as well as Greek Thrace. Athens views the islands as an integral part of the mainland and can be expected to defend them at all cost.
For its part, Turkey is determined to resume oil exploration in the Aegean this spring and can be expected to react firmly to Greek threats or military ventures undertaken to prevent such activity. If it could be agreed upon, the most feasible solution would be a joint exploration and exploitation agreement between the two countries.
Barring negotiations on the seabed issue, there is danger that an incident will escalate into a major confrontation as a result of misinterpretation or overreaction on the part of either side. Although the issue may be submitted to the International Court of Justice, prospects for a full settlement in the near future are not encouraging.[Page 127]
The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 defined the Greek-Turkish mainland boundary and ceded the eastern-most Aegean Islands to Greece and the Dodecanese Islands to Italy. Italy subsequently turned the Dodecanese Islands over to Greece in the 1947 Treaty of Paris.
Greece discovered oil off Thasos Island in January 1974. The size of the oil reserves has not been established, but estimates range up to 300,000 barrels per day. Greece’s current national consumption runs about 200,000 barrels per day. As a result of the discovery and its own need to find new sources of energy, Turkey issued several oil exploration contracts that centered on areas previously selected by Greece, principally near the islands of Limnos, Lesvos, and Khios. The Turkish Government thereupon proposed that negotiations be undertaken regarding the seabed demarcation between the two countries, but Greece was unwilling to negotiate and took the position that sovereign rights are nonnegotiable.
Despite Greek threats to oppose exploration with force, Turkey began preliminary oil surveys in the Aegean in the spring of 1974. A Turkish navy hydrographic ship, the Candarli, conducted limited seismic surveys under cover of a naval exercise, and tensions heightened as both countries placed limited forces on alert. Greece refrained from taking any military action, claiming that any country could survey on the open seas but that actual explorative drilling would not be permitted in the disputed zone. The Aegean issue quickly abated with the Cyprus coup and the subsequent Turkish invasion.
Although the Cyprus conflict temporarily took the spotlight off the Aegean issue, animosities were increased between the two countries that have substantially lessened the possibility of a negotiated solution on the issue. Turkey now claims that Greece has violated the spirit and intent reached at Lausanne by fortifying several of the Aegean islands and by proposing an extension of its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles.
Political and Legal Aspects
The Greek legal position is based primarily on the 1958 Geneva Convention, which acknowledges that a coastal state has the sovereign right to explore and exploit natural and mineral resources on its continental shelf. Greece maintains that its mainland continental shelf rights are equally applicable to the Greek islands. Since the irregular and somewhat undefined continental shelf in the Aegean has not been demarcated, Greece claims that the islands are an extension of its own continental shelf and that the Turkish continental shelf drops off abruptly close to that country’s mainland. The 1958 Geneva Convention states that in the absence of any negotiated agreement, the boundary should [Page 128] be a median line, every point of which is equidistant from the territorial sea of each state. Since Greece, a signatory to this convention, views the islands as an integral part of the mainland, it believes the median line should be drawn between the mainland of Turkey and the easternmost Aegean islands.
Turkey did not sign the 1958 Geneva Convention and claims a continental shelf to a depth of 600 feet in accordance with the latest legal concepts regarding the Law of the Seas. This contour interval encompasses several of the Greek islands. Although Turkey accepts the concept of a six-nm territorial-waters limit surrounding the Greek islands, it rejects the idea of the islands maintaining individual continental shelves and regards the Greek islands in the eastern Aegean as a geological part of the Anatolian landmass of western Turkey. The Turks therefore claim the area outside the six-nm limit surrounding the Greek islands lies within their own continental shelf.
Ankara believes the Aegean should be divided by an equidistant line that uses only the respective mainland coastlines as basepoints but allows the Greek islands to retain their six-nm territorial waters limit. It will not accept the Greek position because that would leave Turkey virtually no Aegean area under its sovereignty. Ankara would therefore be deprived of any large economic gain should oil be discovered in the Aegean near its shores.
[Omitted here are comparison tables of Greek and Turkish Armed Forces.]
Under the Ioannidis regime, the Greek armed forces took an extremely hard line in the 1974 Aegean dispute. As a result of the humiliation suffered over Cyprus, the present Greek Government will be forced to do likewise. Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis, however, is a sophisticated politician and, unlike his predecessor, can be expected to seek a political solution. If the Turks deny him this option though, he could not refuse to go to war over the issue that involves sovereignty, and remain in power. Many officers in the Greek armed forces believe that war with Turkey over the Aegean controversy is inescapable and that possession of the easternmost Aegean islands—not oil—is the real issue. They believe the Turks, because of their success on Cyprus, will force a confrontation to justify a military takeover of the islands.
Military inferiority, made manifest in the inability to defend Cyprus, has been one factor that has deterred Greece from war with Turkey. However, efforts are being made to improve Greek military capability as quickly as possible. Numerous arms acquisitions—jet aircraft, medium tanks, armored personnel carriers and antitank weapons—have been made since the Cyprus invasion, and many items are now beginning to [Page 129] enter the Greek inventory. The army now believes it can successfully defend Greek Thrace and major Aegean islands.
[3 lines not declassified] Since last summer, the Greeks have fortified the Aegean islands and increased their military strength there and in Greek Thrace, and have conducted reconnaissance of potential areas of conflict. While it is not seeking a military confrontation with Turkey, Greece will fight for its claimed rights if peaceful efforts fail in negotiating some kind of settlement.
The Greek military can be expected to take an extremely nationalistic role and to overdramatize the possibility of war with Turkey. They believe fear of war would ease civilian pressures aimed at purging any lingering junta elements from their ranks. The military view such purges as detrimental to their ability to defend the homeland.
Last spring Turkey maintained a low profile in the Aegean dispute and described the controversy as an economic rather than political or military problem. Since the Cyprus invasion and as a direct result of the current impasse in forming a viable government, this is no longer the case. The Irmak government is not supported by the political parties and therefore is susceptible to statements made by them against it. Consequently, the government must respond to these statements in order to retain any vestige of power.
Recent charges by former Prime Minister Ecevit that Turkey was not safeguarding its rights in the Aegean prompted the Irmak government to announce its intentions to accelerate oil exploration. Even though the politicians are at odds over domestic and foreign issues, they are united when national interests are concerned.
The Turkish military, enjoying their victory on Cyprus, would welcome a Greek military action in the Aegean as they are only too eager to teach the Greeks another lesson. While there is no evidence of a Turkish military build up or intent to force a confrontation with Greece, selected air force and Jandarma units were swiftly placed on alert in reaction to recent aggressive statements made by the Greek Minister of Defense concerning the Aegean. Actions of this nature will most likely continue as each side reacts to statements and any military exercise that may be perceived as a threat.
Turkey is determined to explore for oil in the Aegean and will provide security with naval forces as required. Should military action be necessary, the Turks have contingency plans for invading the major Greek islands off the Turkish coast. The annexation of these islands would be a major Turkish objective in any military confrontation.
Prospects for a Settlement
The prospects for a settlement in the near future are not promising. Neither side is willing to grant concessions on what it considers [Page 130] its legal rights and claims. Events on Cyprus have influenced the situation considerably and have aggravated age-old animosities. Prospects for a joint Cyprus-Aegean “package deal” in which each side would make offset concessions apparently is not now acceptable to Turkey. Any such deal would require some Turkish concessions in the Aegean since they are not expected to accede to Greek demands on Cyprus.
The Greeks recently proposed that the Aegean issue be taken to the International Court of Justice to which Turkey has agreed “in principle”. Turkey has previously utilized court decisions to support its claim to the Aegean, but in recent months it has pressed for direct bilateral negotiations.
There are two principal approaches for resolving the Aegean dispute. One calls for a negotiated agreement involving adjudication and arbitration to determine the seabed boundaries. The other is a joint exploration and exploitation agreement for the disputed areas without attempting to delimit boundaries. The latter is viewed as most feasible since it is unlikely either will concede rights they already consider theirs.
Both countries are anxious to continue preliminary seismic and magnetometric surveys to determine the extent of oil reserves, but actual exploratory drilling will probably not take place until 1976. Should large reserves be found, each side will become more adamant in declaring its rights, thereby greatly increasing the possibility of a military confrontation.
Greece has previously balked at negotiations not only because of national pride but also because it firmly believes its position is fully supported by international law and the 1958 Geneva Convention.
Turkey has expressed a willingness to hold negotiations on the issue at any time but is not likely to make any substantial concessions, particularly under the aegis of its caretaker government. In the event negotiations are not undertaken there is the danger that either side will overreact to, or misinterpret the other’s intentions, leading to an incident that could escalate into a major confrontation.
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Staff for Europe, Canada, and Ocean Affairs: Convenience Files, 1974–1977, Box 9, Greece, Greece 19751, NSC. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Prepared by Robert P. Myers (DI–5). Two maps were attached but are not printed.↩