Are Greece and Turkey about to go to war?


Are Greece and Turkey about to go to war?

Plus: Brazil certifies Lula’s victory, protests turn deadly in Peru, and Ramaphosa dodges Farmgate impeachment vote

Hi there Intriguer. And so it is set – the 2022 World Cup Final will be played between Argentina and France this Sunday. Rewind to our 18 November newsletter when we asked you who you thought would win it all: Argentina was the Intrigue favourite with 25.2% of the vote, just pipping France with 23.7%”. Well done, Intriguers – we can only tip our caps and wish we’d put on a little wager. 

So, let’s do it again! Please tell us who will win Sunday’s final, and we’ll give you the results tomorrow!

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Today’s briefing is a ~5.0 min read:

  • 💣 Greece and Turkey: Could words turn to war?
  • ➕ Plus: Brazil certifies Lula’s victory, protests turn deadly in Peru, and Ramaphosa dodges Farmgate impeachment vote.
📰 GLOBAL HEADLINES
🤿 DEEP DIVE

Are Greece and Turkey about to go to war?

In brief:

  • Greece and Turkey are accusing each other of violating agreements related to militarisation and oil exploration in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.
  • Some analysts think each side is posturing ahead of elections this summer, while others worry war may be imminent.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are keeping an eye on each other.

Threatening behaviour

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan woke up last Sunday and chose (rhetorical) violence:

“[The Greeks] say ‘[Turkish missiles] can hit Athens.’ Of course [they] will. If you don’t stay calm, if you try to buy things from the United States and other places [to arm] the islands, a country like Turkey […] has to do something.”

As reported by Bloomberg, 11 December

His comments are the most severe escalation in an ongoing cold conflict between the two NATO members.

The Greeks haven’t been helping matters either. In September, the Greek foreign ministry sent letters to NATO, the EU, and the UN warning that failure to intervene may create a “situation similar to that currently unfolding in some other part of our continent.” 

You started it!

So why has the Greek-Turkey relationship turned so sour?

1. 🪖 Aegean militarisation

When the Ottoman Empire dissolved in 1923, Greece was awarded islands in the eastern Aegean Sea.

  • Because they were so close (only 1.3kms!) to the newly-established Republic of Turkey, these islands were barred from hosting Greek military installations.

But Turkey claims Greece is now violating these agreements – and imperilling the islands’ sovereignty – by placing American-made military hardware along its shores.

  • Greece does not deny these charges, and insists it’s merely responding to Turkish threats.

2.  🛢️ ​​Oil exploration 

The eastern Mediterranean is rich in untapped hydrocarbon reserves. Amid European energy shortages, who wouldn’t be thrilled about the gas exploration deal Turkey and Libya signed in October?

The answer: Greece, which believes the deal is illegitimate because Libya’s governing authority is split between competing administrations in Tripoli and Benghazi.

  • Plus, Greece argues the 2019 maritime border deal that the exploration agreement is based on violates international maritime law.

These protests haven’t registered with Turkey, which sent exploration ships into the contested waters this August.

3. 🇨🇾 Cyprus

Cyprus has a land mass roughly half that of New Jersey, a GDP approximately equal to Zambia, and a population of only 1.2 million. But the island is at the heart of Turkey-Greece tensions. 

  • The island has been divided since 1974 between Cypriots of Turkish heritage in the north and Cypriots of Greek heritage in the south.

In September, the US lifted a decades-old arms embargo on the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus that was designed to encourage reunification.

  • In response, Turkey promised to reinforce the 40,000 troops already stationed across Northern Cyprus, whose sovereignty is only recognised by Turkey.

Real risk

Idle threats have been a hallmark of the Greece-Turkey relationship for decades.

  • Plus, the bellicose rhetoric may be political posturing ahead of Greek legislative and Turkish presidential elections this upcoming summer.

But as Greece’s engagement with NATO deepens and Turkey’s relationship with NATO weakens, some worry Turkey will shrug off the costs of war.

“[A] Turkish attack on Greece would cause potentially irreparable harm to Ankara’s relationship with the United States, the European Union, and NATO […] it is possible [Erdoğan] sees the risks of a rupture as a regrettable but still essential price to be paid in the name of Turkish national security.”

Ryan Gingeras, Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School
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🔦 REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT

The Americas

🇧🇸 Bahamas

Bahamian authorities arrested Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and CEO of the defunct crypto trading platform FTX, at the request of US law enforcement on Monday.

  • The arrest for defrauding investors comes only hours after Bankman-Fried said during a Twitter Spaces event that he didn’t expect to be arrested.

🇧🇷 Brazil

Brazil’s top election commission certified Lula da Silva’s October victory in Brazil’s presidential election amid legal challenges and wide-scale protests.

  • On Monday, supporters of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro attempted to storm federal police headquarters in the capital Brasilia.

🇬🇹 Guatemala

Former Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has been sentenced to 16 years in prison, alongside his vice president, on corruption and fraud charges.

  • The scheme, known as La Linea, allowed importers to evade import duties in exchange for bribes.

🇵🇪 Peru

Seven people have been killed during protests in support of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, who was impeached after trying to dissolve Congress last Wednesday.

  • President Dina Boluarte, who took over from Castillo, has declared a state of emergency and called for elections to be moved from April 2026 to April 2024.

🇺🇸 United States

In the week’s best news, scientists in California announced that they achieved “net energy gain” (getting more energy out than you put in) during a fusion energy test.

  • The result is an enormous breakthrough for a highly-efficient technology that produces zero carbon or radioactive waste.

🚨 Dropping this weekend: our final Diplomatic Club newsletter for the year, which features an in-depth interview with Eurasia Group Neil Thomas. If you’re not a Diplomatic Club member, all you need to do is refer five people using your unique code at the bottom of the newsletter!

🗞 IN OTHER NEWS…

Ramaphosa escapes Farmgate impeachment vote

The buffalo, the president, and the couch.

The news: Opposition lawmakers in South Africa’s parliament failed to impeach President Cyril Ramaphosa this week.

  • Lawmakers voted not to initiate impeachment proceedings following a damning parliamentary report alleging the president kept $580,000 of cash stuffed in a sofa of his private game ranch.

A curious case: Former South African spy chief Arthur Fraser accused Ramaphosa of covering up the theft of a large sum of foreign currency in June this year. An investigation has been examining how Ramaphosa acquired the money.

  • Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing and insists the sofa money was legally acquired through the sale of 20 buffaloes.

Why it matters: The investigation could affect Ramaphosa’s future as head of the African National Congress, South Africa’s most influential political party.

  • Ramaphosa’s survival suggests that the ANC has managed to keep its members in line behind the president for now, but Ramaphosa’s future will depend on how much new evidence comes to light.

“Ramaphosa won, as expected. But his most strident enemies made themselves invisible, knowing he would win; but that means that plots will continue as a constant feature into the future.”

Professor Stephen Chan, SOAS University of London
🤔 WE’RE INTRIGUED BY…

AI Diplomacy

Credits: @DigitalEU/Twitter.

Computers are exceptionally good at games with clear tactics and objectives.

  • Though chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov may have narrowly defeated an IMB computer in 1996, modern chess computers are virtually unbeatable.

But humans have always had the upper hand in tests of reason and bargaining and negotiation ability – until now. 

Last month, scientists from Facebook’s parent company Meta announced that they had created an AI software that consistently outperformed humans in the computer game Diplomacy.

  • The game involves deceit, manipulation, and careful negotiation between up to seven players.

And while it may just be a game, here’s what intrigues us: can this technology be used by diplomats IRL?

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