Greece's return to NATO doesn't end Turkish feud
Brussels — The return of Greece to the Western alliance military command is widely regarded in European circles as a political gesture that may not resolve the deep-seated issues that caused the breach in the first place.
The announcement earlier this week that both Greece and Turkey had accepted a proposal to end Athens' six-year withdrawal from the NATO military structure was greeted "with unmitigated joy," according to a well-placed NATO source.
It meant that after years of delicate, and sometimes aborted, maneuvering by a succession of allied diplomats and officials, a major absence in NATO's increasingly vulnerable southern defense was about to be corrected.
Because of previous attempts to sabotage earlier settlement proposals, all parties refused to disclose details of the formula that ended the impasse. Greece was nevertheless expected to have to disclose some of the specifics during a crucial debate in its parliament this week.
But according to most informed sources, the accord accepted by Athens and Ankara was primarily a political compromise to bring Greece's symbolic six-year hiatus to a conclusion. According to these officials, the secret plan probably did not resolve the thorny Greco-Turkish debate on control over military, air, and other operations in the Aegean Sea. Turkey had vetoed previous accords negotiated by NATO commanders that did not provide for an end to the Greek control in the disputed region.
In turn, Greece refused any plans that tilted too far in favor of the Turks. Greece had withdrawn from the NATO military structure, but it had not renounced its general alliance membership following the 1974 Turkish military intervention in Cyprus.
Most experts here feel that this week's plan failed to bridge this gap and has not resolved the two Mediterranean countries' dispute over Cyprus, which many saw as a pre- condition to a settlement. But it has provided a much-needed immediate accord that will perhaps give the parties more breathing space during which to come to grips with these divisive issues.
Virtually everyone involved, except the Greek Socialist Party led by Andreas Papandreou, wanted a settlement. The United States and most NATO allies had been ardently striving to end the dispute between Greece and Turkey that undermined the common defense on the southern flank. This need had become urgent in the eyes of many in recent months since the death of Yugoslavia's President Tito, and the political and military turbulence in Afghanistan and the Gulf area that created potentially destabilizing influences in the general region.
Greek Prime Minister George Rallis wanted to patch up its NATO relations at roughly the same time it was entering the European Common Market. The moves would be twin victories and defuse a potential political issue before next year's election campaign.
The Turkish civilian government of Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel and the military regime that overthrew it last month had both signaled a desire to improve the atmosphere: They lifted their veto on Greek re-entry into the NATO military command until the Aegean command problem had been settled.
While of probably limited military utility, this week's agreement is seen as being politically important -- if it can break the deadlock on the remaining issues.
"Everybody wants to show how cohesive we are," noted one European official, "especially in this region." But he notes that Greece's military presence, some 160,000 troops, is not of major significance. And he says responsibilities for the regional defense were fragmented even before the Greek withdrawal from the NATO command. Even the participation of Greece in the NATO NADGE air defense and communications system has been partly replaced by other means. Greek involvement in other military and intelligence systems will be nevertheless useful. But the six-year split between Greece and the alliance is one that had to be repaired to maintain the credibility of the alliance and to keep from further deterioration.