This article was published by The Weekly Standard.
|Soldiers parade on Greece's national day, March 25.|
The Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey hosts one of the world’s highest concentrations of high-tech weaponry. Sixty-seven surface ships and two dozen submarines are deployed on a body of water the size of Lake Superior. The two air forces command 448 fighter jets armed with smart bombs and guided missiles. On land, 832 heavy tanks and more than 2,500 lighter artillery vehicles—as much tank firepower as in all the rest of Europe combined—could rapidly be brought to bear along a Greek-Turkish border only 105 miles long.
These arsenals, built up over decades and constantly modernized, were not merely a boon to U.S. and German defence contractors. Western policymakers wanted to believe that loyalty to NATO’s mission of containing the USSR, rather than regional rivalries, motivated this exemplary level of Greek and Turkish defense spending. After the Soviet Union collapsed, good diplomacy and Turkey’s E.U. aspirations made it possible, most of the time, to overlook the downsides of an arms race between uneasy neighbors. Recently, however, the Aegean has become a dangerously narrow sea.
For decades, Turkish military aircraft have regularly violated Greece’s 10-mile airspace around its islands, on the grounds that Greece’s territorial waters extend only six nautical miles from shore, and that air and sea borders should match. Turkish ships also ignore the territorial waters around a number of small islands whose Greek ownership Turkey questions. These ships and planes are intercepted by their Greek counterparts, and mock dogfights result. Occasionally fatal accidents occur.