Scuttling Montreaux

BY OKTAY EKSI

HURRIYET- After the US gave up its plan to send two military hospital ships weighing a total of 140,000 tons in order to `help` Georgia, along with suggestions on changing the 1936 Montreux Convention, a recurring problem was put on the back burner, at least for now. But for how long? The convention says that states not bordering the Black Sea can`t send warships heavier than 15,000 tons to the sea, and can`t have warships on the Black Sea weighing more than a total of 45,000 tons. But the US had wanted to send two military hospital ships weighing 70,000 tons each.

After Ankara showed that it would hold to the letter of Montreux, the tonnage of the ships was reduced to comply with the convention. But the question of whether it would be easier to change Montreux or keep it as is had been raised again. I say again, because we`ve already talked about this. Actually the convention was supposed to remain in force for just 20 years (until 1956), unless one of the signatory states (Turkey, Bulgaria, France, Great Britain, Greece, Japan, Romania, the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia) requested that it be abolished two years before 1956. And signatory states requesting changes to the convention had the right to do so only once every five years.

But when it suited them, some states pushed for changes anyway. For example, Russia`s Joseph Stalin made the first move in 1946, by claiming that Turkey had allowed the passage of certain German and Italian warships from the Black Sea during World War II, as if they had been commercial ships. But when the US and Great Britain sided with Turkey and objected to changing the Montreux during the Cold War, Stalin withdrew his request.

The issue of changing Montreux has arisen again in recent years, but nobody has been able to suggest a better agreement. So even if Montreux is considered to have ended its legal life, it has maintained its validity up to now. But recently there have been signs that the US is buckling under it. For example, when the US decided to invade Iraq in 2003, it tried to force Montreux again. Similarly, although these had nothing to do with the Iraq invasion, the US said our harbors in Samsun and Trabzon should be expanded so its warships could dock there. Fortunately, after Parliament defeated a motion under which Turkey would have supported the US invasion, that project was canceled. Indeed, can one go to Iraq or Iran and the countries of the Caucasus via Trabzon and Samsun? This example suffices to show what kinds of calculations might lie behind efforts to scuttle Montreux, right?"

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