The Blue Homeland doctrine backfired in the Med

By Fatih Yurtsever*
Oct. 15, 2021

The Blue Homeland doctrine, developed by former Turkish naval officers Cihat Yaycı and Cem Gürdeniz, includes Turkey’s maritime jurisdictions in the surrounding seas as well as the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. It underlines the idea that Turkey, in accordance with long-standing Turkish foreign policy objectives, should pay more attention to the maritime realm, focus on marine delimitation agreements, tap into potential resources as a largely energy-dependent country and be cognizant of its interests.

While Turkey claims that the doctrine is in compliance with the law, referring to maritime jurisdiction areas as “homeland” rather than specific rights in international waters (EEZ) makes the doctrine similar to Hitler’s definition of Lebensraum, or living space, in terms of serving nationalist sentiments.

Initially, Blue Homeland was considered a doctrine introduced to emphasize the importance of the seas and Turkey’s maritimization. According to retired Admiral Gürdeniz, “Blue Homeland” refers to Turkey’s sovereignty and interests in the maritime area bounded by longitudes 25-45 East and latitudes 33-43 North. This doctrine envisions Turkey acquiring sovereign rights over the continental shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the adjacent seas in addition to the exclusive rights granted to states. It views the surrounding seas mentioned above as an expansion of Turkey’s land.

A state is sovereign solely within its inland and territorial waters, according to international law. States possess exclusive rights concerning economic purposes over the continental shelfs and EEZs originating from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). If an area of the seas is to be defined as a homeland, it must refer to both inland and territorial waters. Turkey does not need a new concept to safeguard its rights and interests in the neighboring seas. At this point, it is sufficient to exercise the rights given it by international law and to demonstrate will. The concept of true homeland is eroded by referring to a maritime area as a homeland where foreign naval ships can perform military exercises.

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Though it was announced as an original doctrine, Admiral Gürdeniz seems to have derived the Blue Homeland doctrine from the Chinese concept of “Blue Soil.” China regards the East and South China Seas as its sovereign territory and pursues a “Blue National Soil” policy to dominate these seas. Furthermore, it works to restrict the use of offshore territories and the airspace above them by third countries. China refers to these marine areas as “Blue Soil,” which was initially proposed in China’s 2010 Ocean Development Report from the State Oceanic Administration (SOA).

China’s initiatives terrify the region’s countries. Indeed, the Philippines brought the issue to the international judicial system, asserting that their rights had been violated. As a result, an arbitration tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea found China’s claims to be without legal validity.

Turkey is currently facing the devastating consequences of the military strategy adopted and implemented in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean in accordance with the Blue Homeland doctrine. It ends up being wrong, although it is correct.

Greece has benefited from regional tensions, recently establishing itself as a reliable ally in the Mediterranean for the US and France. The French-Greek alliance was established in response to Turkey, which exhibited aggressive behavior towards the warships of these countries off the coast of Cyprus and Libya last year. In addition, a bloc hostile to Turkey was gradually formed, comprising France, Greece, Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Eager to guarantee French assistance and augment its armed forces, Greece agreed to procure 18 Rafale aircraft from France in January for €2.5 billion ($2.9 billion), followed by six other aircraft in September. Greece also signed a MoU with French shipbuilder the Naval Group for the construction of three Belharra-class frigates, with an option to purchase one more.

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Belharra frigates are equipped with sophisticated sensors, including the Thales Sea Fire AESA radar, Kingklip Mk.2 hull-mounted sonar and a Thales CAPTAS 4C variable depth sonar. The frigates will be armed with 32 Sylver A50 cells for Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles, a RAM point defense missile system, eight Exocet MM-40 Block-3 anti-ship missiles, two triple launchers for MU90 torpedoes, one 76mm Super Rapid gun and two remotely controlled autocannons.

The Greek prime minister pointed out that “the signing of the agreement on the establishment of a strategic partnership for cooperation in defense and security not only reflects but reinforces a reality that is known to all, which is that our two countries, Greece and France, have already developed a solid alliance that goes substantially further than our obligations to each other in the context of the EU and NATO.” Therefore, the agreement puts more outstanding obligations on the parties in mutual defense than Article 5 of NATO’s charter and Article 42.7 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty.

After losing air superiority, Turkey is dealing with the danger of losing naval supremacy to Greece in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. Additionally, the deal with France offers Greece the upper hand at the strategic level; therefore, Turkey is unable to pursue an assertive military policy in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean consistent with the Blue Homeland concept. In order to balance the situation, Turkey now has only two viable options. The first is to rapidly reinforce the Air Force by acquiring additional fighter jets and equipping F-16s with AESA radar and SOM cruise missiles. The second is to expedite the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System submarine project and to have six submarines ready for service in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean as soon as possible. Additionally, these submarines should be equipped with the “ATMACA” cruise missile, which is capable of engaging both land and sea targets. Otherwise, Turkey risks giving up 40 years of progress for the sake of Blue Homeland.

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* Fatih Yurtsever is a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He is using a pseudonym out of security concerns.

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