Nikos Kotzias: Sanctions in international politics and the Greek-Turkish relations

Nikos Kotzias: Sanctions in international politics and the Greek-Turkish relations

By Nikos Kotzias *

The provocations posed by Turkey, an occupying force of Cyprus which is an EU Member State, with a political strategy of reviewing international treaties and geopolitical aspirations using violent means, require that Greece pursues a policy of peace, stability and reconciliation which, at the same time, will ensure that Turkey is prevented from employing military means in their relations. The Turkish government must realize that violence against Greece will engender costs much graver than those that arose in the cases of Syria and Iraq, and will be immediate; that the obligation to choose the path of peace and cooperation with Greece applies to them as well.

The development of Greek-Turkish relations requires the promotion of literally all forms of diplomacy, as always on the basis of principles and rules such as structured dialogue and exploratory talks, the adoption of military and non-military Confidence Building Measures (MOE), the exchange of views, the intensification of contacts between institutions and societies. One of the most important measures that diplomacy can employ is sanctions, as long as they are implemented in moderation and not as a futile PR stunt. It is no coincidence that in our time the abuse of sanctions has led to their differentiation.

A first category of sanctions refers to those with generalized consequences ultimately faced by the entire population of a country, which is pushed together around its “resisting” leadership. A second category of sanctions are the sectoral ones. They work faster and more effectively than other types of sanctions. The application of such sanctions in some key sectors such as the financial sector often entails significant implications. This type of sanctions is systematically used by the United States, taking advantage of its pivotal position in the international stratum. However, the effects of a sectoral sanction can be ambiguous. They could prove effective, yet not to the desired extent, while adversely affecting the population of a country. The third category of sanctions concerns persons, mainly restricting their travels as well as checking their bank accounts abroad. These are sanctions increasingly gaining ground these days. Over time, the sanctions of this third group became more symbolic and seldom had a real impact on the persons on the list. That is why they tend to function now as measures of communication and dissemination of moral messages.

This third category of sanctions usually represents a mild message of dissatisfaction communicated by an institution with no other ways at their disposal to react. At best, it functions as a façade of a mild power. It acts as a substitute for a policy that would require tougher measures, which however are not desirable. The more the sanctions become mildly symbolic, the more they are baptized as forms of “smart sanctions”.

The growing ineffectiveness of sanctions is also linked to the West’s decline in power and its diminished ability to confront the policies of states that use harsh force in response to diplomacy. It is also linked to the fact that both the US and Germany/the EU use sanctions not as a pretext for the restoration of democracy and civil liberties and human rights, but rather as a tool to promote their own interests, predominantly of financial and rarely of geopolitical nature. Their degree of success tends to be limited when the shifting of power dynamics are not taken into account in today’s world.

Today, Greece demands an arms embargo on Turkey. This constitutes a solid choice, because it does not utilize it to promote any Western principles and values; on the contrary. It also calls for sanctions against Turkey, mainly on individuals, as well as on its companies and institutions to a limited extent. Pro-Turkish forces within the EU systematically prevent the decision to impose sanctions on Turkey. This becomes possible due to two weaknesses detected in Greek diplomacy.

– First, under the incumbent administration Greece has at no point made systematic preparations to achieve the approval of these sanctions. The Mitsotakis government should organize a joint front with the European Parliament which supports sanctions, parliamentary groups in Germany and human rights organizations across the EU; it should inform and make use of the media, especially in countries that pose objections to sanctions; negotiate its consent in those interests that are vital to them; in other words, to democratically exert pressure also through those who turn a blind eye to the Turkish provocations and the violation of the rights of the neighboring citizens.

Greece must make it clear from the outset that, while it deems it appropriate that sanctions be imposed against governments that go after their main opposition, at the same time measures must be taken against a government that persecutes its main opposition and imprisons the leadership of the third largest party, the mayors and elected representatives of a community of 18 million citizens. This matter can in no way become the subject of a request or a favor. It must be political and enforced by combining many different forces at different levels. If a government like the New Democracy administration cannot cope with the complexity of the demands of today’s world and cannot find complex answers, it better get up and leave.

Second, in the process of imposing sanctions, one must identify and prioritize to whom they are to be imposed and when. For example, in terms of Turkey’s provocations against the maritime zones of Greece and Cyprus, the perpetrators are not only Turkey. There are also those who assist it in these illegalities such as staff, financiers, knowledge companies and logistics infrastructure from third countries. These are usually western companies. The imposition of sanctions on them does not result to pro-Turkish Europeans directly being called upon to face Turkey. It does, however, impose the law and the rules of International Law on Western institutions and companies, while it temporarily annuls the Turkish illegalities. My assessment is that, in the face of such prohibitive EU sanctions, these companies -several from Norway and Switzerland- will choose to comply with the European acquis.

Therefore, in order for sanctions to entail an actual function, (a) substantial sanctions must be selected from the correct – for each specific case – category of sanctions, (b) for the correct topics and (c) for the “correct” subjects after (d) systematic preparation in all fields and sociopolitical organizations that can contribute to their promotion. Otherwise, they will soon be reminiscent of the Mitsotakis “vetoes” heralded at every chance (from Libya to Albania) but never actually implemented, in contrast to the period when I served as minister. I enforced them, yet I did not use them for PR purposes. /ibna

* Nikos Kotzias is an Emeritus Professor of International Relations-Foreign Policy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of the PRATTO Movement and author.