Cem Gürdeniz; “Maritime Turkey represents the entire Turkish world from central Asia to the Balkans”

Cem Gürdeniz is the mind behind one of the most importan geopolitical doctrines being aplied at the moment; Turkey´s Blue Homeland Doctrine. Gürdeniz has been promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral (lower-half) in 2004 and upper-half in 2008. He served as Chief of the Strategy Department and then as Chief of the Plans and Policies Division at the Turkish Naval Forces Headquarters. He has served as Commander of the Amphibious Ships and Mining Fleet Group from 2007 to 2009. He retired in 2012. He founded the Istanbul Koç University Maritime Forum in 2015. He still serves as Director of the Maritime Forum. He is a columnist of a newspaper on maritime issues and author of eight books related to maritime strategy, maritime history and culture. Quixote Globe have had the honout to have a depth conversation with one of the most important strategists in the global arena.

Dear Cem, thank you very much for attending our request, it is an honour to have this conversation with you. 

How would you explain to the western audience what is the Blue Homeland?

Blue Homeland has three pillars; the first pillar is a symbol, is a symbol of maritimization of Turkey. Turkey should become a maritime state in XXI century in order to develop and sustain the republic. Therefore, we need a maritime state and nation. In Turkey the Navy represents the maritimization; the Navy is the locomotive of the maritimization. And in XXI century, other sectors supporting the maritime power, like shipping, port operations, shipyards, etc… will enrich the level which Navy has succeeded, especially after the Cold War. So XXI century will be a maritime century for Turkey, and for that reason Blue Homeland is a symbol for the maritimization of Turkey.

A second pillar is a definition. Blue Homeland is defining the maritime jurisdiction areas of Turkey, in the Black sea, the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea. It defines the its territorial waters, continental shelf, and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We don’t have any problem in the Black Sea, we already established continental shelf in the 1978 and EEZ in 1987, and after the demise of Soviet Union we struck the deals with Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Georgia. So, there is not a single problem in the Black Sea. Blue Homeland is defined in the Black Sea. The problem starts in the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas. I am sure you are aware of the Seville University map, used by the many agencies of EU; if you go to the EU websites you can find this map with maritime delimitations. This is a fictitious delimitations map, but unfortunately it is imposed and dictated to Turkey. If you go Greece, or Greek part of Cyprus, you can see this map as their holy grail. And for that reason Blue Homeland defies, challenges, this notorious map.

Turkey's 'Blue Homeland' map

And the third pillar of Blue Homeland is a doctrine, a maritime doctrine. This doctrine defines how to defend, how to safeguard, how to develop Turkey’s maritime interests and rights in the blue homeland, through the use of navy, through development of maritime and defense industry, through seismic and drilling ships activities, as well as creating judicial, legal, arguments for striking deals with the littorals for delimitation agreements. And therefore, Blue Homeland in total is a realistic self-defense doctrine for protecting Turkey’s maritime areas for the future generations. If you look to that Seville University map, you can see that around 150,000 square kilometers of the Mediterranean Sea and around 60-70,000 square kilometers of the Aegean Sea are tried to grasp from Turkey, to be stolen from Turkey by Greece and Southern Cyprus. I sometimes define it as the second Treaty of Sèvres, the first Treaty of Sèvres was imposed by the winners of WWI against the Ottoman Empire, almost fracturing all the Anatolia, and leaving Turks in the middle of Anatolia with a very short coastline in the Black Sea. And therefore Blue Homeland is a manifest, a defense against this map supported by EU, plus U.S.A and other so called allies.

Who are the Turkish allies in the Blue Homeland doctrine?

Turkey is seen by the west, the EU and the U.S.A, as a country bon pour l’orient which means a second class nation, with no maritime culture. They think whichever is dictated to Turkey, Turkey should do that. This is no longer valid; I mean, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk defied the western powers in 1922. We stood up against imperialism, which tried to lock down Turks into the middle of Anatolia, with no open sea access. And we won that war, but unfortunately after the WWII Turkey placed itself in the wrong camp; it was the Euro-Atlantic camp. This is my personal idea. Normally Turkey should have stood like Finland, without any block, no soviets, and no western block. But unfortunately Turkey has chosen the western block, and this block, until the end of the Soviet Union, overused Turkey as a bulwark against the southern drive of Soviet Union. We were the southern flank, protecting the NATO allies from that flank against the Soviet invasion. But in fact this threat was over exaggerated in order to sustain the Euro-Atlantic defense needs, what was a treasure for the US defense industry. However, Turkey was not saved by Americans; our constitution was not written by the Americans, but unfortunately we became a NATO member. And the act of Turkey was a bon pour l’orient. And they thought, in London, in Washington, in Paris, after the demise of the Soviet Union that Turkey would do whatever they decide. But Turkey did not follow the suit. Turkey drove a different geopolitical approach from Balkans to the walls of China. That geopolitical approach, focusing on Turkey’s national interest was not welcome by NATO allies. They still wanted to see Turkey following their geopolitical objectives. This Seville University map is a reflection of that geopolitical vision. They wanted Turkey in XXI century locked, landlocked, separated from the Mediterranean Sea. For instance, Kastelorizo Island, with 20km of periphery, versus Turkey with 1700 km of coast line; Kastelorizo is taking four thousand times bigger share of what this small island deserves. It is unimaginable, it is unfair, but it stills exists. On the other hand everybody Washington, London, Paris, Berlin… knows that the Greek desires, demands, from Turkish continental shore are unattainable, illegal, but the main objective is the same for the EU; Turkey should be excluded from the Mediterranean Sea, from the Mediterranean geopolitics, from the Mediterranean civilization, and Mediterranean policy making. But it is unattainable; let’s say a fantasy, for the EU and the U.S.A., because Turkey will never ever let to be trapped into the land separated from the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore Turkey doesn’t need any ally to protect the homeland. Homeland is homeland. I mean, our continental shelf is our homeland. We have to protect it.

Erdogan in front of 'Blue Homeland' map

If Turkey tomorrow says “Ok, I am accepting this map, as the EU and the U.S.A. demands; we are withdrawing from Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.; we are allowing you to establish a Kurdish puppet state in the southern border of Turkey with access to sea”, I am sure that the U.S.A and EU will be very happy to upload Turkey. But this is not the case. The new geopolitical order of Turkey is totally different now, because we are not representing only the people living in Anatolia, we are representing the entire Turkish world from central Asia to the Balkans. We are the only country among those countries with the maritime culture, maritime heritage, and sea access. Therefore it is impossible for Turkey to accept this vision, whichever political party comes to power, even if the opposition comes to power, they cannot accept it. This is supra internal politics This is geopolitics. And this is more than energy geopolitics too, because hydrocarbons are valid for today and next fifty years, but after fifty years we won’t be talking about hydrocarbons, we will be talking about geopolitics forever. And that’s why this issue has to be seen as more than energy related, but wide geopolitics.

And if you see the efforts today, the approaches of turkey struggle in the maritime domain, we can see that Turkish-Spanish relations are good, especially within the NATO. Also regarding the Spanish position towards to the eastern Mediterranean, I can say that Spain is now number one ally of Turkey in the Mediterranean, but not a declared ally. Because Spain is a member to NATO and EU, Spain should normally follow the general EU decisions, but Spain is more reserved, more conservative regarding Turkeys attitude. This is admired by Turkey; especially Spanish position in NATO is very admirable, we all know that.

Second, Italy, It’s a very important ally, or friendly approach country right now. Even when from time to time they send warships to Greek-Cypriots and Greece, for naval exercises. But in overall Turkey and Italy are supporting the same side in Libya, the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez Sarraj. Even when Turkey had sent the İtalian (ENI) drilling ship operating in Turkish Continental Shelf in 2018 by Turkish warships, they didn't consider that a stumbling block in order to develop Italian-Turkish relationships. They accepted that that was Turkish jurisdiction area. Right now we see Italia to create a new “Mediterranean doctrine”, “Enlarged Mediterranean doctrine” (Mediterraneo allargato), I hope it fit with the Blue Homeland doctrine, because in the future Libya, Tunisia, Italy, and Turkey relations will be the main axis in the Mediterranean. This is contrary to the France, Greece, and Greece Cypriots pressure. I will say that Italy, Libya, Spain, and Russia, will be the countries with which Turkey would establish good level of understanding, at least not to lead to open hostilities, like the ones that France, Greece, or U.S.A. which are imposing on Turkey.


Turkish warships stop Italy’s ENI rig (SAIPEM 12000) in waters off Cyprus - (social media / Georgios Lakkotrypis)


How does China and Russia fit in the Blue Homeland strategy?

Turkey after the Fethullah Gülen coup d'état attempt on 15 July 2016, reasserted its geopolitical inclinations. We were distracted by the Euro-Atlantic system, because everybody knows that Gülen is created and backed by the Euro-Atlantic system. If you need a proof, look at the most of NATO countries that are providing refuge to the Gülen fugitives. Therefore, we considered that NATO, and most of the EU states and U.S.A., was behind the Gülen organization. So, after 15 July 2016, Turkey redirected its energy towards Russia and China. Turkey became a Dialogue Partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and also Turkey signed a cooperation agreement with China for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and also in 2018 we opened the Middle Corridor with the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in order to connect with the BRI of China. China has many investments in Turkey, from maritime to railways constructions. Therefore Turkey-China relationships are proceeding excellent, despite the Uyghur case, which from time to time are exploited and provoked by the Intelligence agencies of NATO countries, like U.S.A. and some other countries. I will say that in the XXI century, Turkey- China relations will grow, and until today China didn’t declared serious directives against Blue Homeland, or against Turkey’s eastern military issues.

Also after 15 July 2016 the relations with Russia are strengthened, and going excellent. Maybe you know about the S-400 air defense missiles system. Days ago delegations from Russia and Turkey met in Moscow and declared a new agreement for Libya. I personally advocate for a Turkish-Russian approach for the future geopolitics of the XXI century, that was in fact the will of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He wrote a letter to Lenin in 1923 saying that Turkey will never be a part of any allies against him, but unfortunately after his death, the new president signed an agreement with France and the UK paving the way later against the Soviet Union, and we had entered into  NATO in 1952. It is one of the geopolitical mistakes of Turkey.

Greece maritime claims according to Seville University Map

France is describing Turkey performance as aggressive in Mediterranean. In this regard... Is the blue homeland strategy a defense or attack centered strategy?

Blue Homeland is totally a realist defense doctrine. In fact, we declared our continental shelf coordinates to the UN in 29 of November in 2019. We are protecting this area, that’s it. France is bulling Turkey for economic and geopolitical reasons. After the US decided to leave Mediterranean Sea due to increasing importance of West Pacific, France thought that they would fill the gap. They also want to exploit Greece’s future hydrocarbon resources in return of their foreign debt.  They are challenging Spain, they are challenging Italy, and now they are challenging Turkey. They don’t mind what Italy or Spain thinks about the geopolitics of the Mediterranean Sea. They think that they can design, they can adopt, and they can execute what they wish, but this is impossible. So, I do understand these Italian motives after this Mediterraneo Allargato. It is a manifest against France. Because France is acting very dynamic in the Lebanon, establishing bases in the Greek side of Cyprus, which is totally against the International Law, because they are not guarantors of Cyprus. The Cyprus foundation Treaty of London (1960), doesn’t allow any foreign country other than Greece, Turkey, and England, to have any military guarantor presence in the island. Therefore their naval and air bases deployment in the south of the island are illegal. Considering the deployment of Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, to the Eastern Mediterranean, doesn’t affect the Turkey’s attitude to protect the blue homeland. I think Macron is trying to calm down the yellow vest population of Paris ghettos, because they are facing many economical problems and constrains after the COVID 19. We understand their position; thanks to the COVID they at least suppressed the uprisings again. But when everything will come to normal I don’t know what will happen in Paris and other cities with the unemployment and social unrest coming from the pied-noirs. Therefore I think France is trying to create new markets, new sources of income, especially from the Libya oil, or maybe in the future even Lebanon´s oil. I don’t know, but what they are doing wrong is acting like L’Enfant terrible of the Mediterranean. They are bullying Turkey threatening even with the use of firepower, a threat I don’t recommend to follow. So, France pursues its economical or geopolitics realities. What it is clear is that Blue Homeland is a totally defensive strategy. We don’t have any desire of the Greek islands, any other than those 153 island and rocks that are not ceded their sovereignty to Greece under the International treaties. In the future definitely Turkey and Greece should have to go to the Court to decide the future destiny of these 153 small islands and rocks.

The Turkish Oruc Reis research ship, accompanied by a small navy fleet, sails into disputed Mediterranean waters
The Turkish Oruc Reis research ship, accompanied by a small navy fleet, sails into disputed Mediterranean waters - TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTRY/AFP

The presence of natural gas reserve in the Black Sea is interpreted as a game-changer. What do you think about it?

Days ago they declared that the gas found ups to 320 billion cubic meters, which satisfies only six year needs of gas for Turkey.  For that reason I don’t assume that the gas is a game-changer. It’s an award from the Blue Homeland to the Turkish people. But it is not a big resource, like the found by Ekofisk in the Norwegian North Sea in 1969, or Nour field in Egypt in 2019, in the Mediterranean Sea. In that sense the new field is a morale booster, but it is not a total game changer at the moment. In the future this line can be extended to a bigger share. And when it comes, it can be a good sign to considerer it as a game-changer.

How can Turkey reconfigure the Mediterranean chessboard? And the global?

I think Mediterranean issue, and also Aegean issue, will be the center of Turkish geopolitics. Not only maritime geopolitics, but all Turkish geopolitics in the future. Because at the moment Turkey is now face with the exclusion from this new geopolitical order. I think hegemony is changing right now. China is definitely to take over towards in 2030. In 2010 their economy surpassed the U.S.A, and I am sure that in 2030 China will surpass USA in every level. Many western naval assets and technologies are useless now, considering the China’s sea denial and anti-access ballistic and hypersonic weapons systems, as well as   big number of the submarines. No aircraft carrier or warship can approach less than 1000 nautical miles from China´s shore, or Chinese islands. For that reason I don’t consider that China will be easily beaten if the U.S.A. decided to challenge China by military force. I wish that change will be like the Pax Britannica handed over Pax Americana without bloodshed. Right now I consider that Washington consensus is about to end. We have seen after the COVID, and also after the George Floyd uprising, the real situation in the U.S.A., which show how they cannot govern themselves, so I don’t know how they can govern the rest of the world. As a reflection over all these changes in the world order, over the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey will definitely increase its relations with Russia and China, but I think that Turkey will not be part of any military alliance in Eurasia, but Turkey´s relations with NATO will soften.  If Greece, with the provocations of France and the U.S, push the trigger against Turkey, and if Greece holds the responsibility to start a war with Turkey, I am sure that NATO will come to end sooner than expected. A few days ago there was news about a new NATO to be shaped in the Pacific area, with Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the U.S.A., and other Singapore-like U.S. allies.  I think that the NATO spirit will be transferred from the Atlantic to Asia. Therefore, in the future there will be more geopolitical attraction in the Pacific oriented Asian world. Meanwhile the Mediterranean Sea will be the center of regional geopolitics, because the geopolitical needs of Israel; that is the defense needs of Israel since they don’t have defense in depth capability. So they will need a circle of allies and friendly nations to face Iran. That will be a permanent factor for the geopolitics in the area; to satisfy its defense needs. Also energy geopolitics will be important in order to cut the EU dependence on the Russian gas. I am sure that the EU and the U.S. will force Turkey to let the Eastmed pipeline plan to go over our continental shelf. On the other hand Greece is a bankrupt country, with such a big debt to Germany and other western countries. So, the EU sees Greece as a reservoir of gas in order to pay the bill in the future. I don’t think that Greeks will own the gas, and I am sure that it will be the EU who will own the gas in order to satisfy Greek debt. So, the Mediterranean Sea politics will go in minimum twenty years, maybe more, to reach stability in the area.

Rimland & Heartland Theories.

Would NATO be affected by the new Turkey’s strategy?

At the moment NATO’s main priority is to contain Russia. In the 1989, when the Berlin Wall declined, NATO´s mission was over. But everybody knew that NATO was created for the U.S. global geopolitical needs, based on Nicholas John Spykman´s Rimland-Theory. And now, again, Turkey was an actor for the Rimland-Theory geopolitics, but the theory is fractured after the departure of China, after 1970´s. China was a U.S. ally against the Soviet Union in the eastern shores of the Asian continent. After the September 11, and after the Afghan war, everybody has seen that we were facing a new neocon imperialism in the world, and Russian-China rapprochement has made a peak. And right now, for first time in the history, if you look to the Eurasian map, in the northern shore, from Barents Sea to Chukci Sea and the eastern shores of Asia, from Bering Strait to the border of India, (other than Korean Peninsula), are under control of Russia and China; Eurasian forces. This happen the first time in the world, and this is totally contrary to the theory of Spykman. And this is also contrary to the containment strategy of George Kennan. So, there is a new impetus to the world order, there is a balance in factors against Atlantic dominance. And I think this new world order will be reinforced in the future. For this reason Turkish role is very important in this process, like India´s role. In future, NATO will shift to the Asian periphery. In NATO which will be let alone to deal with mainly Russia, but there will be another NATO in the eastern hemisphere to deal with China and Russia. But I don’t know how the resources of new western allies will be gathered up. I don’t know how they will satisfy the needs to maintain two different alliances, this is so difficult considering the budgetary situation of developed countries for the defense, especially in the EU.  I don’t see any future especially for the EU; New world order is about taking shape, and everything will change in the next twenty years. I am not sure if Turkey will leave NATO, but NATO desires Turkey to be out, but this is impossible, and I don’t think that Turkey will say “I will go on my own”. But if Greece and half of other NATO members attacks Turkey, not only Turkey, but most of the NATO members will question the NATO. How a defensive alliance member states could encourage other members to attack another member, disregarding these members geopolitical needs?

How would the EU respond to the situation?

I don’t think the EU can keep its political unity after what we have seen during the COVID crisis, which was more than frustration. Even during a pandemic the EU couldn’t act in cohesion, in solidarity. For that reason the EU members will choose their own way, like the centre and Eastern Europe, all of those belonging to fifteen plus one plus China. And Italy, despite it is a G8 state and member of the EU, as well as NATO member, Italy signed the most important and comprehensible agreement with the China’s BRI initiative. Like England, they did the Brexit, but their relationship with China are excellent. I think that Germany will reapproach to Russia, and in the future we will see more developed relations with Germany, Russia, and China despite tremendous pressure from German Atlanticists inside.  On the other hand France is acting very awkwardly in order to form a post hegemony map in the Mediterranean Sea and other parts of the world. Because right now is what everybody is doing; they are trying to position themselves in a post hegemonic world order.

With the New China Deal, Trump May See 2020 as the Year He'll Win the U.S. Trade Wars. Instead, They'll Likely Spin Further Out of His Control.Knowing that, after all, China and the US are major trading partners, do you think China is interested in displacing the US from the global arena for the benefit of a new player?

This is what we have seen last years after the development of the trade war, the hybrid war, the cyber war amongst China and U.S. The tempo, the scope, and the volume are increasing, but nobody wants a armed clash between the U.S. and China, even when they are raged in an hybrid war. But every minute more than 600.000 dollars are exchanged, and most of the famous American brands are still producing in China. These brands didn’t come back to the U.S., as Trump expected. For that reason I don’t think there will be a WWIII type, exchange of fire power, especially the nuclear arms. Let’s forget the strategical nuclear arms, even the tactical nuclear arms can cause an exceed the pollution level of the atmosphere. Even today, without a nuclear explosion the environmental conditions are close to catastrophic level, the effects of nuclear radiation will be an unthinkable. The use of nuclear weapons will be like the Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D) of cold war, not because the weapons themselves, but because radioactive fallouts and pollution effects in the atmosphere. I don’t think any rational player can utilize nuclear weapons thinking about the environmental conditions. So, I don’t think there will be an armed clash scenario, but maybe there can be bush fires, small clashes.  Of course hybrid wars, in terms of cyber warfare, economic warfare, social unrest, orange revolutions, those kinds of attacks, like Hong Kong uprisings, or South China Sea provocations with the freedom of navigation umbrella, will continue. But I don’t think this may lead to a major catastrophe. Of course everybody in the world is preparing their armed forces for that day, to whichever eventuality comes, but I am not sure whether this eventually will ever come. Look at the COVID 19, nobody was expecting the COVID 19, but it has stopped everything. That’s why I expect different developments for the world order change. However, in the economical, geopolitical basis, we will see a rising Asia, we will see a rising Russia and China with increasing rapprochement, maybe leading to military alliance.

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