Greek Business File, June-July-August 2020, No 126
By George Prevelakis
Europe will soon face a demographic bomb from Africa, with its fast growing and younger than Europe’s population, and with East Mediterranean being the most important physical link between the two continents. The control of the maritime space between the two continents provided by the Greek Islands, and especially Crete (and Cyprus), is of vital importance to Europe. This control is challenged by Turkey, using Greece as first target. Professor George Prevelakis presents this new approach to the problem.
Most of the Muslim countries created out of Ottoman territories and societies face political instability. Some, like Iraq, Syria and Libya, are even trapped in violent internal strife. Can this wave of destabilization also hit Turkey? There are serious reasons to fear it. The Turkish society is diverse. It was kept united for a long time by the Kemalist ideology and institutions. Afterwards, moderate is lamist ideology, in combination with economic growth and prosperity, successfully replaced Kemalism in its role of cement of the Turkish society. Nowadays, the effects of this political innovation are wearing out. To compensate this second ideological attrition, a new element of national cohesion is slowly emerging. Announced many years ago in the writings of Ahmed Davutoğlu, the Turkish geopolitical Grand Design is used to create a new form of national consensus. According to this theory, Turkey must rise to the rank of a major regional power; to define its policy independently and to impose its views to the countries occupying the crossroads where Europe, Asia and Africa meet.
Τhe strategic threat
Greece successfully faced the recent tactical Turkish moves. However, the strategic threat which the Turkish Grand Design represents has not been sufficiently discussed, no more than the question of the Greek long-term response to Turkey’s ambitions has been addressed. The Greek (and Cypriot) vision is blurred by the oil and gas deforming glass. For the Turkish strategy, the struggle for the hydrocarbon resources is much more a means to introduce a reformist agenda in an apparently legitimate way than an end itself. For Turkey, challenging the rights of Greece and Cyprus on hydrocarbons is a useful pretext in order to claim a larger maritime zone of infl uence and control in the Eastern Mediterranean. The energy issue functions as a veil hiding the geopolitical ambitions of the Grand Design. Like an illusionist, Turkey attracts the attention of the international community to the energy question, so that her real purposes are not noticed. When focusing on this theme, Greece and Cyprus assist the Turkish Illusionist techniques, even unintentionally.
Internal difficulties may lead to aggressive behavior. However, these are short-term tactical moves in the interest of the actual power holders. The more long-term strategy deployed, in parallel to the short-term tactics, derive from deeper strata of the state and the society.
Widening the geographical scope
Those who worry about the long-term national cohesion, do not think only about the Erdogan present, but also about the post-Erdogan future. Why is the competition with Greece a major issue for Turkey’s long-term geopolitical strategy? To understand it, it is necessary to widen the geographical scope.
Geopolitical prediction is notoriously uncertain. However, one aspect offers an important degree of certainty: demography. To a large extent, the evolution of a population is determined by its present composition. With few exceptions, like the influence of the onechild policy in Mao’s China, demographers can predict the future population of countries and continents.
Europe and Africa
The most striking aspect of these predictions is the evolution of the demographic balance between Europe and Africa. The perspectives of the European population are bleak. Europe is the continent whose population grows less and ages more than all the others. Exactly the opposite is true for Africa, whose population growth is the fastest in the world. The African population will continue growing, even when all the other continents’ populations will have entered into a stagnation period.
What do those observations mean about the balance between European and African Demography? In 1950 Africa’s population was half of Europe’s; already in 2000 it grew larger. In the middle of the 21st century Africa will concentrate at least three times as many people as Europe. Obviously, the African population will be much younger than Europe’s. In 2100 Africa will compete with the most peopled continent in the world, Asia, with more than 4 billion people, seven times as many as Europe’s.
Α demographic bomb around the corner
Our continent has a demographic bomb in its neighborhood. Cultural and historical proximity join geography in establishing major links among these two continents. Both the potential difference and the connection exist. The population current will be great. To contain it somehow, Europe must intervene massively in Africa to help its economic growth. At the same time, Africa can offer a perspective of juvenescence and innovation to an ageing continent.
There is little doubt that Africa will be a major European preoccupation in the future. Migration, diasporas, natural resources, environment, economic opportunities, terrorism, sanitary concerns... All those issues will converge to render the Afro-European question supreme in Europe’s future.
Τhe importance of the Eastern Mediterranean
Europe and Africa have many physical links, the Eastern Mediterranean being undoubtedly the most important. The Suez Canal offers to the Eastern Mediterranean communications a global role, since it opens the way to India and China. However, this wider function does not diminish the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean for the Afro-European relationship; on the contrary, it reinforces it. In this perspective, Greece offers a valuable geoeconomic, geopolitical and geostrategic asset to Europe. The control of the maritime space between the two continents provided by the Greek Islands, and especially Crete (and Cyprus), is of vital importance to Europe.
In challenging this control, Turkey is in fact targeting Europe, not Greece. She could raise a lot of trouble, if she obtained the possibility to interpose herself between Europe and Africa in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey could obtain advantages by threatening to influence, positively or negatively, the flow of people and goods. Such advantages would be much more important than the ones extorted today by using the refugee menace. In addition, she would appear as a dominant maritime actor, capable to oblige the old European powers to submit to her wishes. Such an evolution would constitute a major boost to the national moral, a revenge for the Ottoman defeat in Lepanto. The consequent national prestige would enhance the prospect to keep the diverse Turkish population together. For this reason, “Deep Turkey” will not abandon her Eastern Mediterranean strategy easily.
The power and the Mediterranean experience of Europe’s naval forces, in comparison to Turkey’s, should not create too much of a reassurance. Turkey using alone the advantage of her presence in the Eastern Mediterranean may be seen as a minor danger. However, things would be different if she decided to ally with other powers wishing to interfere in the relationship between Europe and Africa. The precedent of the 1956 Suez crisis, when Egypt frustrated the eff orts of France, the UK and Israel, should not be forgotten.
The maritime influence of Greece
Greece is faced with a threat which can hardly be restricted to the share of energy resources. She is involved in a much larger struggle, conditioned by the major future geopolitical shifts of power. If Greece can hardly accept to lose its maritime influence, thus becoming a marginal Balkan country, Europe cannot tolerate a Turkish interposition between the European and its vital African space either.
Greece cannot cope alone with the mid- and long-term Turkish threat. The backbone of the Greek strategy must be the Europeanisation of the Greek-Turkish maritime struggle. Only by raising the awareness of Europe about the Afro-European challenge, the necessary critical mass can be assembled in order to control the Turkish maritime threat. Europe must realize that the question is not about who, Greeks or Turks, will benefit most from the energy resources hidden in the sea bottom of the Eastern Mediterranean. This is a minor issue towards which the Europeans are more or less indifferent. They are not ready to sacrifice their own economic interests in Turkey to defend the Greek economic interests. However, when they realize that their vital interests are at stake, their attitude towards Greece and Turkey will become radically different.
Greek diplomatic eff orts must shift to geopolitics, leaving behind the appeals to solidarity and the incantation of the rules of the international law. Greek diplomats, intellectuals and think-tanks must mobilize their forces, in cooperation with similar European actors, in a common effort to reveal the importance of Africa for Europe and to contribute in clarifying the strategic significance of this reality.