22 September 2020

Coercive diplomacy in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Sergiu Medar

The coercive diplomacy applies to some states, groups inside some states or non-state groups and works based on active deterrence, force threat only when the context demands it or even using limited and minimum-duration force, excluding the occupation of territories belonging to another state.

Image source: Profimedia

The coercive diplomacy is a type of diplomacy by which, in the last resort, war is avoided by using force methods and threats, to push the possible attackers to get back to the diplomatic negotiations table. Coercive diplomacy is not war’s diplomacy. It involves, however, that the state that uses it to be both a state with a trustable economic and financial force, and a military one. The coercive diplomacy’s methods can be applied by international organizations and coalitions and alliances.

Coercive diplomacy relies on passive and active deterrence concept:

The actions that could be included in the passive deterrence field are:

-military parades which want to highlight the technical equipment and the troops’ training level;

-drills and exercises with troops and ultimate technique;

-the reveal, for the media, of sensitive secretes of the target state, which aim at provoking chaos among the intelligence services and, thus, decrease the defence and counterattack capacity;

-the tendency to provide the famous “Jane’s” catalogue information about a bigger number of military equipment than the real one, to deter the enemy.

Actions to be included in the active deterrence field:

-financial sanctions applied on an enemy (people, companies or state), followed, in some cases, by reciprocity. Sanctions can be applied by international organizations in behalf of the member states;

-economic sanctions to states (embargo on certain products, annulment of some economic contract between the companies of states at conflict, the nationalization of foreign investment, blockage of private or public accounts etc.).

-limiting the freedom of movement of certain people for a certain time;

-political sanctions, which can include: the exclusion from certain international organizations, blame statements on attitudes or possible aggressions, etc;

-the dislocation of military forces close to the borders of the opponent state.

-developing military, air or naval, drills close to the borders or the exclusive economic areas of the opponent state;

-trying new types of strategic weapons;

-executing new intimidation operations, air or maritime ones, through repeated transitions close to enemy’s territory;

-small-scale, precise strikes, yet not seeking major damages or human loses in opponent’s territory;

-quick raids in opponent’s territory, followed by withdrawals, with no intention of occupying territories belonging to the enemy. The difference between coercive diplomacy and coercion is that in coercive diplomacy states do not ever stay in the territory of the possible enemy for a long period of time.

In terms of methods of preventive diplomacy and the onset of coercive diplomacy methods it is extremely important to know the environment the conflict takes place in. Besides the information provided by special services, necessary to leaders to make the decisions demanded by the context, it is essential to track the diplomatic encryption from the public analysis and presentation of personalities in both states at conflict.

Diplomatic encryptions that might emerge during the intensification of a conflicting situation, following the chronological phases, are:

Phase 1: “Our government cannot stay listless regarding …”, must be interpreted as “the government is certainly going to use the diplomatic methods to solve this issue”;

Phase 2. ‘Our government is worried …” must be interpreted as: “the government will apply a harsh policy on this issue”;

Phase 3. “Our government is forced to elaborate constraints on…”, must be interpreted as: “the government will not allow”;

Phase 4. “Our government will be forced to reconsider its position on …”, must be read as: “the normal diplomatic relations are about to turn into hostile relations”;

Phase 5. “Our government will be forced to think about our own interests”, must be interpreted as “the government is analyzing the possibility of breaking the relations between the two states”;

Phase 6. “Our government is forced to decline any responsibility for the consequences”, must be read as: “the government is ready for war”;

Phase 7. “Our government waits for an answer to our proposals until…” means that that is an “ultimatum”. From that date and time, the military actions of a country against another can start.

We can identify an entire series of mutual threats between Greece and Turkey, from blunt diplomatic messages to force demonstrations made by the maritime forces of both countries. These maneuvers involve maritime exercises made by both parts in the Aegean Sea. This is where they simulate ship attacks on enemy’s fleet. Turkey’s military ships are accompanying the exploration vessels, in their way to or from the exploration areas in West of Crete Island. These transitions are monitored or even escorted by Greece’s ships. The ships get closer one to another quite often, from a smaller distance than the one following the rules and norms of maritime navigation. A security incident, which might take place, is enough to create a major conflict between the two countries.

On 26th of August, Turkey started maritime exercises whereat have participated two Turkish ships and a US destroyer ship. In order to average out the political balance with the parts at conflict, the US participated also to a drill alongside Greece, France and Italy.

These manifestations are obvious parts of coercive diplomacy. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyp Erdogan, thinks that this type of international relations is the proper one for Turkey’s situation. The fact that Turkey has a strong army provides it the necessary credibility to apply coercive diplomacy methods. Thus, many times, it can manifest outside the diplomatic norms and language. The threat of using force, in this case also, is the preferred way to approach these tensions. This behavior has led to Turkey’s political and diplomatic isolation abroad.

In order to cope with Turkey’s aggressive manifestations, Greece tried to create adhoc alliances, calling on European Union’s states, like France, Cyprus or NATO’s members, such as the US. Apart from these states, Egypt and Israel is supporting Greece, as they also exploit oil and gases in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Shortly after Turkey sent the first exploration vessel in the exclusive economic waters of Greece (May 2019), in July 2019, the EU introduced the first set of sanctions against Turkey. So there is a new way of using the coercive diplomacy, now used on Turkey.

As the EU has two member states involved in the conflict, it has manifested its “strong solidarity” with them, asking Turkey to stop exploring the disputed areas. By applying the foreign policy tool imposed by Erdogan, Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Minister has stated that the EU sanctions “will not affect Turkey’s determination to continue with its hydrocarbon explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea”.

To such an attitude, Greece’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Nikos Dendias, stated that the Turkish diplomacy is “the diplomacy of all warships”. Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Heiko Maas, warned that the two countries “are playing with fire and any spark, as small as it can be, can lead to a disaster”.

These discussions are, also, part of the coercive diplomacy.

Russia is extremely interested in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea situation. Through its naval base in Tartus, Syria, Russia can directly get involved in a possible confrontation. In order to underline Russia’s perspective on the tensions in the area, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, officially visited a series of countries in the region. He expressed Russia’s availability to mediate the tensions between Greece and Cyprus, on one hand, and Turkey, on the other. The Cyprus visit took place a few days before the US partially raised the embargo on weapons acquisition for this country. Most likely, this was the result of Cyprus cancelling the approval given to Russia to use the Cypriot ports for the Russian military ships, as well as the monitoring of Cypriot banks for Russia’s money laundering. At the same time, Russia started to develop maritime drills with real strikes in the Mediterranean Sea, close to Cyprus. At the end of the discussions, the two countries signed an agreement against double fees.

Coercive diplomacy is, usually, a successful solution. As for the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, it seems to lead to positive results. The fact that Turkey withdrew one of its exploration vessels and asked to start the negotiations with Greece and Cyprus is an argument to that end.  Without completely cooling down, the security situation in the Eastern area of the Mediterranean Sea will, most likely, have a positive, yet slow development. An armed conflict in this region, to destabilize the South of Europe, North of Africa and part of the Middle East is, however, unlikely to happen.

Translated by Andreea Soare