21. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

RP M 78–10231


  • NATO’s Troubled Southeastern Flank: Greek and Turkish Foreign Policies


The quarrels between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the Aegean have triggered significant changes in the two countries’ broader foreign policies. Their efforts to outmaneuver each other have weakened NATO’s southeastern flank and disrupted the harmony of the Western defense and economic systems in general. At the same time, the critical importance to both countries of their Western ties puts limits on how far they can go. Neither—but especially the Greeks—can afford to leave the field to its rival by bolting the West altogether. And Turkey will be cautious in pursuing its self-proclaimed intention to adopt a more independent foreign policy.

When Greece and Turkey have quarreled in the past they have moved in fairly predictable ways. The pattern followed by the Greeks has been to secure external involvement, believing that this can only help them against their more powerful adversary. This strategy has served them well. Their independence from the Ottomans and all subsequent recoveries of territories from the Turks have been won with the help of outside intervention.

Precisely because of the Greeks’ success, the Turks for their part, have constantly opposed the involvement of other powers in their disputes with the Greeks. Indeed, it is their experience of constantly being “ganged up” on by the West that accounts for the Turks’ [less than 1 line not declassified] ambivalent feelings toward their allies in NATO.

Differing Strategies

The two countries have exhibited similar behavior in their present rivalry over Cyprus and the Aegean. The Greeks have sought to mobilize and involve all their friends and allies in their behalf. Their withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military command in 1974 and their decision to revise defense relations with the US were aimed in part at nudging both into playing a greater role in settling the disputes. These [Page 89] moves have been measured, and have been partly compensated for by a concerted drive to “join Western Europe” by way of membership in the European Community. While that move is aimed mainly at bolstering Greece’s economy and its Western democratic tradition, it is also seen by Greeks as another “security blanket” of sorts against the Turks. In that context, the rush to join is part of the broader Greek-Turkish rivalry.

The Turks, on the other hand, have consistently maintained that Greek-Turkish problems must not be linked to Turkey’s relations with its US and West European allies. Believing that Turkey has other options by virtue of its size and strategic location, the Demirel government underscored this point in 1975 by suspending US base operations in Turkey in response to the Congressionally imposed arms embargo. Beyond that, the Turks have sought to counter Greek maneuvering within the Western orbit with some of their own. They have tried to obstruct Greece’s effort to negotiate a new relationship with NATO, in part because of a genuine concern that the Greeks are trying to get a free ride but also in retaliation for Greek lobbying in behalf of the US arms embargo.

And while the Turks have not officially opposed Greece’s prospective membership in the EC, they are clearly upset at the prospect of being isolated from that institution and they have insisted that the Community must include Turkey in its political consultative process once the Greeks get in.2 More important, the Turks have sought to increase their leverage with their allies—and also to carve a new niche for Turkey in international politics—by dangling the threat of a further loosening of ties to the West and a closer relationship with the Soviet Union and the Third World.

Greece—A “Hooked Fish”

Greece, on the other hand, has been reluctant to wander outside the Western orbit because of the close cultural, ideological, economic, and security ties with the West that prompted John Foster Dulles to refer to Greece as a “hooked fish.” Dulles was speaking in the context of the East-West conflict; but the fact is even more relevant in the Greek-Turkish rivalry since the Greeks cannot afford to concede Western support to the Turks. Indeed, “We belong to the West” has been a consistent slogan of the Caramanlis government even as it seeks to bring pressure to bear on the West to do its bidding toward the Turks.

[Page 90]

Because of this sentiment, the Greeks have allowed US bases to operate relatively unimpeded despite their unhappiness with the US response to their case against the Turks. And most recently, Greek reaction to the Administration’s decision to press for a lifting of the embargo against Turkey has been rather muted and will probably remain so even if Congress lifts the embargo.

Nor has the Caramanlis government felt very comfortable outside of NATO’s integrated military command. A trend toward slowly bringing Greece back into the alliance began in 1976 when most of the Greeks’ nuclear-capable forces were earmarked for NATO use. This was followed by a decision last fall to participate selectively in alliance military exercises. It culminated in a decision last winter to seek full reentry in all but name as soon as possible. To be sure, the latter was also prompted by indications from some West European leaders that Greece’s EC application might be processed more speedily were it to return to NATO as well as Greek concern that Turkey was dominating the alliance’s southeastern flank by default. Indeed, the question of naval command and air control in the Aegean are emerging as the major stumbling blocks in the Greek-NATO negotiations, with the Greeks insisting that their former authority in these areas be restored once they return, and the Turks in particular opposing such a move.

Greece’s troubles with its allies have not led to any noticeable improvement in Greece’s relations with the Soviet Union. The staunch anticommunism of the Greek political, military, and economic elite, the Communist civil war experience, and Moscow’s courting of the Turks are the reasons. And while there may be a slight thaw in the relationship when Greek Foreign Minister Rallis goes to Moscow this summer to sign some minor cultural, consular, and trade agreements, Greek-Soviet relations are not likely to improve substantially. On the other hand, Caramanlis by his “Balkan initiative” has tried to bring about a greater measure of cooperation between Greece and its Balkan Communist neighbors. Designed to secure Greece’s flank in the event of a clash with Turkey and often resorted to by Greek leaders in the past in times of Greek-Turkish friction, the effort has been most successful with Yugoslavia, with which the Greeks have developed closer political, economic, and even a limited amount of military cooperation. Lately, Greek-Albanian relations have also improved.

[less than 1 line not declassified] But it will remain so only so long as it is ruled by conservatives or centrists—such as Caramanlis and his colleagues—who are committed to the West. Someone like leftist opposition leader Andreas Papandreou might seek permanently looser ties with the US and NATO and might also break with the EC were he to come to power—and his prospects will depend in part on the Greek electorate’s perception of Western behavior in the Greek-Turkish con[Page 91]troversy. To be sure, the staunchly pro-West military presumably would be a constraint on Papandreou, but the officer corps might itself acquiesce in a reduction of ties to the West in the event of another humiliation by Turkey to which it felt the West was unresponsive.

Turkey More Assertive

The Demirel government only flirted with the idea of loosening Turkey’s ties to the West; the independent-minded Ecevit is considering it more seriously. But there is a good deal of posturing in Ecevit’s statements. He is fully cognizant that the alternatives to Turkey’s economic and military ties with the West are limited. Moreover, both he and the majority of the Turkish elite prize their self image as “Western” and “European”.

Ecevit has talked about adopting a “new defense concept” for Turkey. The concept’s meaning seems to have been left purposefully vague; essentially, however, it envisages a role for Turkey similar to that of the French in NATO or the Romanians in the Warsaw Pact. Ecevit has noted, for example, that although Turkey will both of necessity and choice, remain within the Western defense and economic systems, it must not act as a military bastion or agent of the West in its region. Moreover, Turkey should make its “own contribution to detente” by reducing tensions in its area and improving relations with the Soviet Union. A corollary is the effort to develop closer political and economic relations with Arab and other Third World states—an effort that has produced few political or economic results so far. Always implicit and sometimes explicit are possible reductions in Turkey’s commitment to NATO, in the size of the US or NATO presence in Turkey, and in the size of Turkey’s armed forces.

The extent to which Ecevit implements his new approach will depend in the first place on whether the US arms embargo is lifted. If it is not, Ecevit would find it difficult politically and psychologically not to take further retaliatory measures, focusing on the US bases in Turkey or on Turkey’s commitment to NATO. Whatever he chose to do, his moves would probably be tempered by the recent willingness of Western governments and financial institutions to help bail out the faltering Turkish economy, which is a far more serious issue in the short term for Turkey than that of arms. They have offered to provide substantial credits and to refinance part of Turkey’s sizeable short and mid-term debt. An even more important reason for Turkish caution is that Turkey will need additional credits and refinancing to solve its economic problems.

Turkey in fact remains heavily dependent on the West in many important ways, and Ecevit will have to take this fact into account as he tries to assert a greater degree of autonomy. Turkey needs Western [Page 92] credits and hard currency to meet its development needs in amounts which the Soviet Union has been unable or unwilling to supply despite its economic largesse to Turkey in other ways. Turkey, moreover, does not have a viable alternative to Western, and particularly US, arms. [2 lines not declassified]—and the military balance would doubtless tilt toward Greece while the process was underway. Even if they could set aside their historic suspicion of the Soviets, the Turks would be reluctant to pay the political price that Moscow would almost certainly demand for such vast amounts of economic and military assistance. Ecevit, therefore, is unlikely during his widely publicized visit next month to Moscow to enter into any agreements with the Soviet Union that would be incompatible with Turkey’s continued membership in NATO.

Nor does it appear likely that Ecevit’s courting of the Third World will produce any more dividends than it did for his predecessor. For example, the Arabs’ reaction to Turkey’s economic plight to date and their attitudes on Cyprus do not suggest a dramatic improvement in relations.

[1½ lines not declassified] to be sure, and one that clearly intends to test the length and strength of the line. The Turks in fact will probably succeed in stretching the line; but a break is not much likelier for Turkey than it is for Greece. Meanwhile, until they are settled, the squabbles between the two will continue to weaken and disrupt Western institutions.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence, Job 80T00634A, Box 3, unlabeled folder. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. A note on the first page reads: “This memorandum was prepared by the Western Europe Division of the Office of Regional and Political Analysis in coordination with the Office of Strategic Research and the Office of Economic Research. ‘Questions and comments may be addressed to [name not declassified].” A distribution list is attached but not printed.
  2. The Greek Parliament ratified Greece’s accession to the European Community on June 28, 1979, and Greece officially became a member on January 1, 1981.