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The latest deployment of Greek, French and Turkish warships in the east Mediterranean is probably only military sabre-rattling.

But I wonder whether the EU would actually be able to effectively defend its political interests in the region by military means if it comes to the unlikely case of an escalation. How well prepared are the armies of the European member states in comparison to the Turkish forces for such a local conflict?

I read a comment on Twitter, saying that Turkey is much more battle-tested and better prepared for a conflict. I doubt that this statement is actually fact-based, but it got me wondering.

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    I don't think that EU as a whole has geopolitical interests. Its members - yes, some of them - France, for example. But as a whole EU - no, I doubt it very much – user2501323 Aug 21 '20 at 13:14
  • Greece and Turkey are both NATO members. Hence if it came to a shooting war the other NATO members would be obliged to declare war on whichever side was considered the aggressor. – Paul Johnson Aug 21 '20 at 15:21
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    @user2501323 The EU has both a Parliament and a President. There is, IMO, quite a bit of geopolitical cohesiveness, certainly enough that a question that assumes "EU interests" and "EU positions" can't be dismissed out of hand. – Just Me Aug 21 '20 at 22:24
  • Re NATO: politics.stackexchange.com/q/18164/1370 - a postcard is enough for article 5. – Martin Schröder Aug 22 '20 at 10:14
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    When it comes to Foreign Policy, the President of the European Council has to contend with another figure, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who has the advantage of being the only person to seat in the meetings of the European Council, Foreign Affairs Council and on the EU Commission of which s/he is also a Vice-President. – Relaxed Aug 22 '20 at 13:19
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I consider it improbable that there would be a total war. Miscalculation by one side or the other could lead to some skirmishes, but neither side would mobilize their full military-economic potential.

  • You are asking about a conflict on Turkey's doorstep. By contrast, many EU members are quite far away. Their power projection might (or might not) benefit from NATO infrastructure.
  • Turkey could not risk to move all the forces on their southern and eastern borders. The EU could not risk to move all the forces from their eastern borders -- or if they did, that would take a long time.
  • It appears rather unlikely to me that one side or the other would occupy significant territory of their enemies. A little island, maybe, but not the mainlands. Infantry and armored divisions don't matter much. That leaves special forces, the navy, air force, and army air defense.
  • Two of the EU members are nuclear powers. The political cost of even mentioning those weapons would be prohibitive, but knowing that they are there again keeps the conflict within bounds.
  • Any shooting way would immediately have grave consequences for trade. Turkey would be harder hit than the EU, but it might be better positioned to maintain national unity.

So the question would be the balance of air and naval forces during the first 24 or 72 hours.

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  • I think you mean "full scale war" rather than "total war". Total war is not merely improbable but virtually impossible. – Acccumulation Aug 23 '20 at 5:03
  • @Acccumulation, I actually wanted to say total war, which I consider highly improbable but not impossible. If Turkey were to occupy some of the larger islands or parts of mainland Greece, the gloves would come off. So they probably don't want to do that, but leaders can become trapped by their own rhetoric and domestic policies. – o.m. Aug 23 '20 at 5:29
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The website Global Firepower rates countries military strength on a scale it calls "PwrIndx". Turkey currently has a PwrIndx of nearly .21, ranking it #11 in the world. A lower number is stronger. If we compare that to the list of EU countries only France and the UK are stronger, with Italy and Germany close behind Turkey. Greece is rated over .5, more than double Turkey's rating.

Overall I would say that a concerted EU effort could easily overpower Turkey, but if Greece was on its own and did not have support from strong allies like France, Turkey could probably dominate it militarily.

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The dollar amount of military spending isn't exactly the same as military strength, but they're certainly hardly uncorrelated. France, Germany, and the UK all have spending around $50 B, while Turkey's is only $13 B. So by that standard, the EU is way ahead of Turkey. And of course, with a larger economic base, is in a better position to ramp up military spending. On top of that, the EU has significant military exports, and AFAIK (which admittedly, isn't that far), Turkey imports a large portion of its military hardware. Taking a look at the Turkish Air Force, it seems to be primarily from the US and some EU, with domestic aircraft being mostly UAV. If this were to turn into a prolonged conflict, being reliant on your opponents for your hardware is an awkward position to be in.

But that's largely irrelevant. Europe and Turkey are all well within the US' sphere of influence. There's simply no way the US would sit by while EU countries and Turkey got into a full-fledged shooting war. This is almost like asking whether North Carolina would be able to defeat Maryland in a war; there's just no way there would be a war that involves just North Carolina and Maryland. Clausewitz said that war is politics by other means, and the EU and Turkey are simply too politically entangled for that "other means" to predominate. The only role their military forces will have will be forcing the confrontation on one's terms. Military strength won't resolve the issue.

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The EU as such, not so much. If we are talking about individual countries, some do have signficant ressources (UK, France) and recent battle experience (mostly in assymetrical rather than high intensity warfare, though). There is no reason to think these militaries (along with support from countries like Germany, the Netherlands or Italy) would be completely powerless against the Turkish military. They do have weaknesses in their capacity to project force over a long distance, especially without American support.

The question is rather how strong their interests really are. Turkey is closer and has more at stake. Would, e.g, the France risk an open conflict with all its financial and human costs over some dispute over natural ressources? (The UK has an historical interest and presence in the region but they are leaving the EU.) It's not even clear that military might, no matter how powerful it is, is an effective way to defend interests like that. The US, which is certainly able and willing to fight wars anywhere in the world hasn't been that successful in a geopolitical sense over the last couple of decades.

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