Global Insider: The Turkey-Greece Airspace Dispute

Last week, Greek forces intercepted Turkish fighter jets while on training flights over the Aegean Sea. In an e-mail interview, Dr. Petros Vamvakas, assistant professor of Political Science at Emmanuel College, explains the context for the airspace dispute between Turkey and Greece.

WPR: What is the nature of the airspace dispute between the two countries?

Petros Vamvakas: The airspace dispute is one component of a more complex quarrel between neighbors. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Seas (UNCLOS) favors Greece, an archipelagic state, since extension of territorial waters to 12 nautical miles would effectively result in 90 percent of the Aegean being defined as Greek territorial waters, along with the corresponding airspace. Due to its relative strength and lack of islands, Turkey favors a political solution, even if this position challenges prevailing international law. In 1995, the Turkish parliament declared that an extension by Greece of its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from the current six would be considered an act of war -- "casus belli" -- even though Turkey has extended its territorial waters outside the Aegean to 12 nautical miles. Furthermore, even though Turkey recognizes Greece's Flight Information Region (FIR) jurisdiction over civilian flights, it refuses to acknowledge Greek authority over military flights, as is the norm in similar situations. Instead, Turkey consistently refuses to submit military flight plans to Athens in an attempt to avoid the de facto implementation of international law, a refusal that Greece considers a violation of airspace.

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