German mediation between Turkey and Greece should be considered as a serious diplomatic engagement. Traditionally, the US has acted as a mediator and facilitator in disputes between Ankara and Athens. However, nowadays under the quite possibly weening days of the Trump Administration, Washington has no real intent or political bandwidth to espouse this role. This gap allowed Germany, both as a NATO ally and the current president of the EU Council, to launch these diplomatic efforts. It is also important to emphasize that these efforts proved to be effective given that the delegations met for the first time after the bilateral talks between Turkey and Greece were suspended in 2016 last July in Berlin in the wake of the botched coup attempt in Turkey. The visit of the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to Turkey and Greece this week aims to resuscitate these talks.

Bilateral talks with Greece are part of the Turkish government’s strategy to resolve this dispute. However, ultimately the dispute will need to be resolved by an international adjudication. The bilateral talks, though, will prepare the ground for seeking a judicial assessment. For instance, the parties will need to clearly define the areas of dispute. They will also need to define the concerned geography, namely whether the adjudication will be limited to the Eastern Mediterranean or will also include the Aegean. Finally, Athens and Ankara will need to agree on the specific legal norms that will be taken into consideration by the international court. Given that Turkey is not party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), the UNCLOS terms will not be sufficient enough to settle this dispute. As a result, Ankara will want to include broader legal norms, such as equity, in the set of criteria to be used by the court.

In the meantime, Turkey will continue to use hard power tactics in the Eastern Mediterranean with a view to, firstly, challenge the maximalist claims of Greece. Then again, these tactics are generally more aimed to persuade Athens that there can be no non-conciliatory solutions to these disputes. So, in that sense, the political aim of these hard power tactics including the reliance on the Turkish Navy is to force Greece into bilateral negotiations. That is also the motivation behind the November 2019 maritime delimitation agreement with the Sarraj government in Tripoli. Viewed from this perspective, the German diplomatic initiative should essentially be welcomed in Ankara.

Turkey sees no real role for NATO in this dispute, but NATO can be used as a political platform to exchange views with the Allies on the ongoing crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean. In particular, the NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg could play a role in defusing the crisis given the involvement of other NATO countries like France which decided to firmly side with Greece.