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Reshaped After the Pandemic: Turkish Aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s shake-up of domestic politics and international relations across the globe, Turkey is expanding its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and creating challenging new conditions on the ground and offshore that the United States could struggle to address, and which threaten regional partners like Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan summarized these destabilizing ambitions last month when he announced “Turkey will be one of the outstanding countries in the world that will be reshaped after the pandemic.” Washington’s own lack of focus on the region has helped invite Ankara’s growing aggressiveness, which in turn worsens security competition in an energy-rich region that increasingly resembles the South China Sea – with Turkey more and more playing the role of China.

Despite its own COVID-related challenges, Washington cannot simply continue to ignore the pandemic’s effects on Turkish-driven regional instability. The United States should enhance its naval presence in the region writ large – including through stronger U.S. defense cooperation with Greece. Washington also should appoint a Special Envoy for the Eastern Mediterranean to promote the collaborative exploitation of regional energy resources – including by creating a clear counterweight to Turkey’s efforts to disrupt peaceful energy development – as well as devise a negotiated solution to the Libya conflict and address the growing humanitarian consequences of COVID-19 in the region.

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Eastern Mediterranean Policy Project Co-Chairs

Amb. Eric Edelman
Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Gen Charles “Chuck” Wald, USAF (ret.)
Former Deputy Commander of U.S. European Command

Eastern Mediterranean Policy Project Members

Gen Philip M. Breedlove, USAF (ret.)
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and former Commander of U.S. European Command

Gen Kevin P. Chilton, USAF (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Strategic Command

Svante E. Cornell
Policy Advisor, JINSA Gemunder Center for Defense & Strategy

ADM Kirkland H. Donald, USN (ret.)
Former Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program

VADM Mark Fox, USN (ret.)
Former Deputy Commander, U.S. Central Command

ADM Bill Gortney, USN (ret.)
Former Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)

John Hannah
Former Assistant for National Security Affairs to the Vice President; JINSA Gemunder Center Senior Advisor

Reuben Jeffery
Former Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs

Alan Makovsky
Former Senior Professional Staff Member at U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee

GEN David Rodriguez, USA (ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Africa Command

Lt Gen Thomas “Tom” Trask, USAF (ret.)
Former Vice Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command

This report is made possible by the generous support of the Gettler Family Foundation. A portion of the research for this report was conducted on JINSA’s 2019 Benjamin Gettler International Policy Trip to Greece.