Osman Oğuz Subaşı
On the 28th of September, 2021, France and Greece signed, at the Élysée Palace, a bilateral Strategic Partnership in Defense and Security (ambafrance.org, 05.10.2021). The France-Greece rapprochement is relevant beyond the Mediterranean region. Its impact and outlook encompasses the broader MENA area. The agreement foresees the sale by France to Greece of three frigates with an option for a fourth one and it follows the sales-deal of 6 French-made Rafale fighter jets (on September 12th, 2021) in addition to the purchase of 18 Rafales earlier in 2021 (aa.com, 28.09.2021). The joint public declaration made by both heads of state in Paris underlines the importance given to this agreement. During this press conference, French president Emmanuel Macron stated that “this partnership is perfectly in line with our commitments to the EU and NATO, by strengthening the effectiveness of the protection of our territories and by allowing us to act in a more efficient and coordinated fashion, together, for security and peace in the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, in Africa and in the Balkans. Thus this agreement contributes to European independency, to the strengthening of Europe’s sovereignty and to international peace and security. This partnership is not directed against anyone, but enables to act more efficiently and closely together for peace, cooperation and stability” (ambafrance.org, 05.10.2021).
Macron then made two remarks regarding the reasons lying behind this partnership: to strengthen Europe’s deterrence capabilities in its close environment which stems from the partial withdrawal of the US from the region. France argues, and has been doing so for years, that European countries should be realistic and draw the necessary conclusions from the US’s shifting priorities. As a relatively small country, Greece stresses the importance of Article 2 of the agreement: “The Parties shall provide each other with assistance, with all appropriate means at their disposal, if necessary by the use of armed force, if they jointly find that an armed aggression is taking place against the territory of one of the two, in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations” (frstrategie.org, 26.11.2021).
The French Institute of International Relations (Ifri) in cooperation with the Center for Applied Turkey Studies network (CATS) organized, on January 13, 2021, a conference with representatives from France, Greece and Turkey to try and clarify the rationale and the purposes of the partnership. During the course of the conference, Greek national security advisor Thanos Dokos expressed that the France-Greece partnership is not a new one but a permanent one that needs to be upgraded from time to time (ifri’s Youtube channel, 19.01.2022). According to Dokos, the agreement is an important step towards the concept of European strategic autonomy and the stabilization of Europe’s Southern neighborhood. It is viewed by Greece as a defensive partnership. In contrast, Turkey perceives this development as a threat directed against itself and argues that it will create a negative impact on the stability of the region. This analysis is based primarily on two arguments, which Sinan Ülgen presented as such during the same conference: first, Turkey argues that Greek maximalist approaches to foreign policy will be bolstered because it feels it has the unconditional support of France and secondly, this agreement is encouraging the militarization of the region, therefore increasing the risk of an incident. Indeed, after France, Greece signed on October 14, 2021, a five-year extension of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (renewed each year since 1990) and a Strategic Bilateral Framework “to boost trade, security and digital cooperation” with the UK on October 25, 2021 (gov.uk, 25.10.2021).
The view from Athens and Paris is that Turkey’s rapid rising profile in the region changed the balance of power and is one of the principal cause of the multiplication of bilateral and multilateral agreements and treaties in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the conference organized by the Ifri and CATS, Ifri Middle East and Turkey programs supervisor Dorothée Schmid expressed that “Turkey feels threatened by those who say they want to defend themselves against Turkey”, suggesting that Turkey doesn’t see itself as a power, whereas France and Greece do, stating that there is no more status quo to protect in the region, despite Berlin’s attempts to do so Schmid said that for France, “the partnership has been framed as a deterrence agreement” and that “going to open conflict [with Turkey] was never discussed, and I don’t think it has ever been considered or that it is an option” (ifri’s Youtube channel, 19.01.2022).
There is a need to take a step back and provide a broader perspective on the power balance in the Mediterranean. There has been a clear tendency towards agreements in the past few years, even between countries already part of common alliances such as the EU or NATO. Besides Greece’s steps to strengthen its position, France, signed the Sandhurst agreement with the UK in 2018 (with a focus on border control), the comprehensive Aachen Treaty with Germany in 2019, a cooperation agreement on special operations with the US on the 10th of July, 2021 and the Quirinale Treaty with Italy on the 26th of November, 2021 (fikirturu.com, 09.11.2021). This reminder highlights and supports France’s argument that the Franco-Greek agreement (which is not as strong as a treaty, the highest form of legally binding inter-state document) is not targeting Turkey specifically but rather part of a French-led initiative for a new European leadership on security and defense to palliate the power vacuum left by the US. France has been attempting to form an efficient European task force for many decades with specific European countries having significant military capabilities. The creation in 2017 of the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) marks a slow but definitive progress in that direction.
In this respect, the Clémenceau 22 mission which will be conducted by the Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) of the US Navy, the French Navy and the Italian Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea will certainly help to clarify France’s positioning in the region, especially regarding Turkey, but also Russia’s growing influence in the Mediterranean and even China and the maritime roads of it Belt and Road Initiative (opex360.com, 21.01.2022).
Consulat Général de France à Thessalonique, « France et Grèce signent un partenariat stratégique », 05.10.2021, https://gr.ambafrance.org/France-et-Grece-signent-un-partenariat-strategique-11859, Access Date: 23.01.2022
Lassaad Ben Ahmed, « La France et la Grèce signent un accord de partenariat stratégique », Anadolu Ajansı, 28.09.2021, https://www.aa.com.tr/fr/monde/la-france-et-la-gr%C3%A8ce-signent-un-accord-de-partenariat-strat%C3%A9gique-/2376990, Access Date: 23.01.2022
Bruno Tertrais, « Reassurance and Deterrence in the Mediterranean: the Franco-Greek Defense Deal », Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, Note n°40, 26.11.2021, https://www.frstrategie.org/en/publications/notes/reassurance-and-deterrence-mediterranean-franco-greek-defense-deal-2021, Access Date: 23.11.2022
Thanos Dokos, Sinan Ülgen, Zenonas Tziarras, Dorothée Schmid, Christian Makarian, « The France-GReece, Relationship: A New Strategic Partnership? » Ifri, 13.01.2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFe3MOijy7c, Access Date: 23.01.2022
UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, « UK and Greece agree closer collaboration, October 2021 », 25.10.2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-greece-agree-closer-collaboration-october-2021, Access Date: 23.01.2022
Aylin Ünver Noi, « NATO, yeni savunma hamleleri ve Türkiye », Fikirturu, 09.11.2021, https://fikirturu.com/jeo-strateji/nato-yeni-savunma-hamleleri-ve-turkiye/, Access Date: 23.01.2022
Laurent Lagneau, « La prochaine mission du porte-avions Charles de Guaulle se concentrera sur la Méditerranée et la Mer Noire », 21.01.2022, http://www.opex360.com/2022/01/21/le-prochaine-mission-du-porte-avions-charles-de-gaulle-se-concentrera-sur-la-mediterranee-et-la-mer-noire/, Access Date: 23.01.2022