In its recent article, “Drill or Quarrel?” The Economist draws conclusions that are far from natural.
Although the article laments “political fractiousness” as a complication to capitalizing on the Southeast Mediterranean’s natural gas supply, it creates a political issue where there is none. By giving credence to Turkish claims on gas fields between Cyprus and Israel, the article disseminates misconceptions and fails to report that the recently discovered gas could be a factor in uniting the region while offering a viable alternative energy source from which all of Europe can benefit.
The misconceptions stem from the article’s depiction of Turkish claims to natural gas fields in the seabed off the southern coast of Cyprus as having equal force and credibility as those of the Republic of Cyprus, which has an Exclusive Economic Zone that is widely recognized by the EU, the US, Israel, Russia and neighboring states in the region. By branding this an issue of contention between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, the article aims to justify Turkish belligerence in the region that is both unfounded and contrary to international law.
The Republic of Cyprus’ right to an Exclusive Economic Zone is defined in the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). That zone encompasses 200 nautical miles surrounding the island of Cyprus and gives it the right to lay pipelines within that zone. Upon discovery of stores of natural gas stores in the eastern Mediterranean, Israel and Cyprus sought to delineate the boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zones but were met with Turkish interference. As the Economist article correctly points out, Turkey sent a warship to the area, seeking to bully the two countries as they tested drilling in the area.
Such actions are in line with previous acts of non-cooperation by Turkey. The Turkish government is yet to ratify the UNCLOS agreement and rejects Cyprus’ right to its 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone. Furthermore, the government claims that Turkish citizens are entitled to resources of the Republic of Cyprus, a state the Turkish government has been trying to dissolve since its 1974 invasion of northern Cyprus. Turkey has no justifiable right to make claims on the part of northern Cyprus, which is not recognized by the international community.
In interfering with the drilling process, the Turkish government fails to recognize its own potential to benefit from a pipeline that could be constructed from Cyprus to Turkey, funneling gas that Turkey desperately needs from the eastern Mediterranean that would also benefit Turkish Cypriots. Instead, Turkey continues to use the threat of military force to intimidate its neighbors and support its baseless claims.
By propagating Turkey’s claims, The Economist is also guilty of failing to realize the potential for what would be the first energy source in the region to be controlled by a western, democratic nation. It also misses an opportunity to recognize the legitimate rights the Republic of Cyprus to resources within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Instead of encouraging cooperation between countries in the Mediterranean that would lead to mutual economic benefit for all countries involved, the publication enables the Turkish government to hamper drilling in the future.
Rather than decrying “political fractiousness” as an inevitable obstacle to the drilling within Israel and Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zones, The Economist should shore up its preconceptions on the Cypriot issue so that the goal of greater energy independence for the EU can proceed uninhibited.