What Mike Pompeo’s statement on Turkish drilling means and what it doesn’t

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statements in Greece have sparked enthusiasm, in part justified, as he made clear that Turkey’s actions were illegal under international law, adding that the US would take all necessary measures “to not militarize the situation”, but also t o achieve mutually acceptable results ”. While this is a clear affirmative statement, it should be realized that it is not tantamount to a warning to Ankara that it will be called upon to deal with … the US Fleet.

by Zacharias Michas *

The reluctance of the US to engage troops to “reign in” Turkey is expected and normal. One should not forget that at NATO level, Turkey is a front-line country, of enormous importance to the eyes of US planners in shaping the US geostrategic approach to planetary affairs.

This is certainly a “cold war” view of the situation, which may be manifestly inadequate to interpret the current reality of Turkish foreign policy. However, it would be a mistake to interpret the Pompeo statements without taking this into account.

It would be a mistake, because, for better or worse, the bureaucracy of American institutions dealing with international affairs (Pentagon, National Security Council, State Department, but also intelligence services) has not – at least for now – been finally released from stereotypes and beliefs of the past.

Everything is showing that all boundaries will be exhausted before such a shift is recorded, which will affect many levels more than those of Greek-American relations, while Washington’s so-called “deep state” can obviously cannot even fathom this.


If one carefully examines the content of the US Secretary of State’s statement, one could clearly see that Pompeo called Turkish activities in the Eastern Mediterranean “illegal” and called for taking all measures to ensure legitimacy, but at the same time underlined the desire for a “non-military” solution. So the US priority is to prevent the military escalation of the conflict in any way.

This is perfectly normal. Should a military escalation occur, this would be a colossal risk that the situation is derailed, thus losing the geostrategic control that the United States still has.

It also means the risk that powerful military countries such as France, whose interests are involved with hydrocarbon giant Total, which has taken over along with the Italian ENI, to exploit potential sites in the Cyprus EEZ, in lot 7 which Turkey disputes.

The involvement of Israel and Egypt would also be possible, as it would create an opportunity to expunge Turkey from the region. But this would result in the risk of a major conflict that would affect the balance in the region in an uncontrolled manner. So it would be deadly risks.

If there was a military confrontation in the Eastern Mediterranean region, it is reasonable to expect that Greece, even if it wanted to, could not remain a spectator of the situation. But that would automatically mean that the conflict would also have a “civil” character within NATO.

If this was considered an unacceptable scenario during the Cold War, and as this perception in the US continues to prevail, it can but be applied to such a potential military confrontation. In the event of Turkey’s defeat, developments could trigger issues that might even threaten its territorial integrity.

Also, in the event of skirmishes between the adversaries, no one can ensure that the interests of eg. Iran and Syria would not dictate the geographical extent of the conflict. This is certainly a low-probability scenario, but it cannot be ruled out. As a result, this would create a situation out of control, where many negative results could occur for all involved.

If all of the above are reasonable assumptions, then what should Greece and Cyprus expect from the United States in the near future? How will the US take initiatives to ensure that “Turkey’s moves in the Cyprus EEZ will be lawful under international law”? How could the rules of international law in the Eastern Mediterranean be respected? ‘

The US has stated through Pompeo that they have made known to the Turks that they consider their actions illegal in the Cyprus EEZ. This is evident from Pompeo’s statements, in Athens, on Saturday. The diplomatic initiatives that ensure that “all actions taken” in the region are legal, are obviously linked to the resolution of the Cyprus problem.

That’s where all the interest lies for American diplomacy, and that’s where it is going to put all its pressure. So the big demand for the Greek (Greek and Cypriot) side is none other than the kind of solution that will be adopted. If there is a desire to reunite the island, avoiding Annan-type experiments. If there will be an end the unacceptable system of guarantees. If no one has have a guaranteed right to intervene on the island.

Incidentally, given the developments with Turkey in recent years, the State Department might have to consider revising its policy towards the late Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos who dashed the Annan plan. If this is the case, there is reasonable hope that the same errors will not be repeated …

Of course, the United States is certainly aware that Turkey’s aim is to control Cyprus geostrategically, and perhaps more than its involvement with the region’s hydrocarbons, it is important for Turkey to control the area and pursue a total resurgence with a strong naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. The “doctrine” of what the Turks call the “Blue Homeland Doctrine” will not be easily abandoned.

The US knows that the Turks do not back down easily. They are also aware that their stance could even short-circuit the exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits that could substantially enhance European energy security by diversifying supplies, of course at Russia’s expense.

The question is how far they are willing to go, should the Turks continue to display a completely rigid attitude and persistence in the new and self-serving, adapted to their interests, interpretation of the provisions of international maritime law. Mike Pompeo might not have been able to answer this at this stage. But even if he could, he would probably never open his cards…

Having said that, it could be said, with considerable degree of security, that the United States has several reasons to consider it in its interest to restore, at least to some degree, the balance of power on the Greek-Turkish front.

And by itself, the presence of US forces in Greece is a powerful deterrent. However, it avoids the possibility of a generalized conflict between Greece and Turkey. However, under the possibility of Turkey using a “hot incident” tactics to wind up at the bargaining table it is not equally effective.

Preventing this threat goes through the immediate reinforcement of the Greek Armed Forces. Of course, we must not forget that the particularities of the Greek-Turkish front leave room for security guarantees that are not to be made public. But the Greek side should always remember that what is said behind closed doors, but not written and signed on paper, is very easy to abandon in practice.

* Zacharias Michas is director of studies at the Institute for Security and Defense Analysis (ISDA)