“We have a sick man on our hands, a man gravely ill, it will be a great misfortune if one of these days he slips through our hands, especially before the necessary arrangements are made.” The phrase is attributed to Tsar Nicholas. In 1853 he talked with the British ambassador in St. Petersburg about the future of the Ottoman Empire.
By Professor Angelos Syrigos
Since then, the term “sick man” has been introduced in international diplomacy, referring to Turkey. The fear that its dismemberment would bring significant benefits to some of the Great Powers led to an artificial prolongation of the life of the empire. Until the storm of World War I came and swept all this away.
A century later, the man who feels like the leader of a shrinking Ottoman Empire and declares directly that he wants to overthrow the Treaty of Lausanne, brings his country back to the status of the sick man. Turkey is no longer just a problem for Greece and Cyprus. It poses a systemic threat to Europe ‘s security.
Discussions have already begun in the West about the problems that the collapsing Erdogan will create in the international system. How will the millions of refugees living in his country be controlled? What will happen to the Turkish-controlled areas of Syria that are full of jihadists? How will Russia react? Who will fill the gap that will be created in western Libya?
But, as in the second half of the 19th century, so now, the problem is the content of the “necessary arrangements” between the Western powers. A clear indicator of the situation is the meetings of the European Council. Everyone agrees that Turkish behavior is unacceptable. They disagree as to what should be done.
An arms embargo as a solution
These are the conditions under which Greece is called to face the Turkish threat, which will continue more intensely after the American elections. Rightly at the last European Council, the Greek Prime Minister raised the issue of an arms embargo on Turkey. It does not belong to the EU, but can be decided by each Member State. It is certain that it will affect Turkey much more e.g. Than European sanctions introduced in August by Commissioner Borrell.
The Turkish war industry has made great strides in the last two decades. It still depends, however, to a large extent on Western countries for high-tech systems. The “Altai” tank needs engines from the German company Rheinmetall to move. The aircraft carrier “Anadolu” is built on the basis of Spanish plans. The T129 attack helicopter is based on the equivalent made by the Italian company Agusta.
Two non-European countries, the United States and Canada, have already banned the export of weapons systems to Turkey. The United States eliminated Turkey from the F-35 program. Canada, after the Turkish involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh, announced on October 5 that it is banning the export of high-precision optical systems and lasers used in Turkish drones.
The sales of these systems after 2017 amounted to the not insignificant amount of 300 million euros. It should be noted that Canada has invoked a violation of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. It has been ratified by all European countries and concerns the international trade in conventional weapons.
The “generosity” of the EU
Nevertheless, Germany announced in July 2020 that it would restrict arms exports to Turkey, except for those related to naval equipment. The exception is apparently linked to the six “214” type submarines that have been manufactured in Turkey since 2015, based on plans and licenses of the German company Thyssenkrupp. It is also unknown whether Turkish drones use technology from European countries. They used to utilize German engines, now they also use Ukrainian ones.
Until the West decides what to do with the “sick man”, Greece must reduce the risk of a military incident through the arms embargo. Finally, we must realize that the crisis with Turkey is not a race for speed. Erdogan wants to be treated that way, but in reality the race is a marathon. The movements are made with the gaze on the finish line and not on the paces within the next hour.
P.S. The British ambassador reportedly replied to the Tsar in 1853 that “Your Majesty is so gracious that you will allow me to make one further observation. Your Majesty says the man is sick; it is very true; but your Majesty will deign to excuse me if I remark, that it is the part of the generous and strong man to treat with gentleness the sick and feeble man.” We come upon this same “generosity” of several EU member states, in 2020 during the various European Councils.