Cyprus and National Security

The ongoing harsh dispute between Turkey and Israel has been treated in the media as if only those two countries, plus the United States and the European Union, were involved.  There has been mention of the Cypriot angle, since one major aspect of the dispute involves seabed exploration for hydrocarbons in the area composed of the exclusive economic zones of Cyprus and Israel located between the shores of those two states.  But otherwise, if one judges from “the news”, Cyprus is a bit player in the Israeli-Turkish drama that may yet produce an unhappy ending for all actors mentioned above and a tragic one for Cyprus itself.

Former American Ambassador to Turkey Morton Abramowitz, who knows better, is among those who give Cyprus short shrift, witness the op-ed he co-authored for the September 17 edition of the Washington Post entitled “Obama must deal with Turkey-Israel crisis”.  Cyprus gets only quick mention in the eighth paragraph.  Reuters news agency on September 22 hinted at the importance of Cyprus with the following dramatic report:  “Cyprus has said it will block negotiations Turkey began in 2005 to join the European Union if Ankara continues to oppose its gas exploration. Turkey has said it will freeze relations with the EU Presidency if Cyprus is given the rotating role next July before a settlement over the island is reached.”  Nevertheless, the emphasis is clearly on the question of Turkey’s application for EU membership, with little Cyprus just a technical, albeit annoying, stumbling block.  Little though it may be, the Republic of Cyprus is a member in good standing of the United Nations and the EU and, as Turkey has fretfully acknowledged, will assume the EU presidency next July.

For reasons given below, a little history is in order. Following a bitter struggle, Cyprus won its independence in 1960 from Great Britain, with the departing colonial power retaining small sovereign air bases in the southern part of the island.  Serious and often bloody strife between the majority Greek-speaking community and its Turkish-speaking  counterpart led to a UN military presence and the establishment in 1964 of a “green line” to prevent inter-communal violence. 

Ten years later, on July 15, 1974, a faltering Greek military/police regime in Athens participated in a rightist coup attempt aimed at incorporating the island into Greece.  In just over a week, a cease-fire had been declared, the coup had collapsed, civilian rule had been restored, and the reign of the Greek junta, which had mounted its own coup in 1967, had ended.  But, three days before this potentially happy ending, Turkey had dispatched its own troops to nip the Cypriot coup in the bud and, it claimed, to protect the minority Turkish-Cypriot population. 

Finally, while talks were under way in Geneva among the ludicrously labeled “protective powers” (Great Britain, Turkey and Greece), Turkey on August 14 launched a massive invasion and occupied 37% of the island’s territory, from which 180,000 Greek-Cypriots were expelled, their homes and properties to be given to Turkish settlers imported mostly from the plains of Anatolia.  In 1983, Turkey and its vassal proclaimed the establishment of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, which as of this writing has never been recognized by any nation on earth but the new colonial power itself.  Today, thirty-seven years after the invasion, and in disregard of dozens of UN Security Council resolutions, some 30,000 Turkish troops remain in armed occupation.  (This of course makes an absurd mockery of Turkey’s repeated recent references, otherwise valid, to Israel’s disregard of an even larger number of UNSC resolutions.)

Why was this little history in order?  The focus of this blog is on “rethinking national security”.  President Obama’s recent decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of this year brings to mind his absolute failure to call his predecessor to account for the illegal, unprovoked and disastrous invasion of that country.  The conviction here is that accountability and honesty go hand in hand with America’s standing and influence throughout the world and, accordingly, its security.  It is in that context that the role of America in the history recounted above is recorded below.  These are not revelations by any means; it is all on the public record.

When Greek colonels on April 21, 1967 mounted their lightening coup, ostensibly to pre-empt the election of a liberal, or leftist, prime minister, the administration of President Lyndon Johnson did absolutely nothing other than impose a mostly cosmetic reduction in military aid to its long-standing ally.  The debate continues to this day as to whether the U.S. was taken by surprise, knew of the coup in advance or was in fact more actively involved.  In any case, when Richard Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, he and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, dispatched a new ambassador, Henry Tasca, to Greece with instructions to report back in six months on the progress of the military junta in restoring democratic norms to Greece – the unstated expectation being that such would be the case.  In the absence of any evidence whatsoever, Tasca dutifully complied.  Aid was restored to former levels, and the junta carried on with no civilizing reforms and scant opposition to speak of until a major demonstration in Athens in 1973 paved the way for that pitiful attempt to overthrow the Cypriot Government.

Kissinger, now dual-hatted as Secretary of State and in total control of American foreign policy, was warned explicitly by Cyprus experts in the Department about the dangers of a Greek coup attempt in Cyprus and a decisive counter-attack by Turkey.  Some wish to blame Kissinger for no more than unfamiliarity with the territory, or for personal antagonism toward Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios, or for the enormous weight on his shoulders following Nixon’s resignation. Whichever excuse is offered, he certainly let it all happen.  There is every reason to assign the blame to this genius of realpolitik for consciously permitting the desperate Greek junta to kick off the fight and thereby furnish Turkey with an excuse for intervening and then colonizing a large part of an independent UN member state.

Will Henry Kissinger ever be called to account for his role in events that paved the way to the current situation in Cyprus, still suffering today from the longest military occupation in memory, by a force the largest ever in relation to the local population?  (One can of course ask the same question concerning other crucial decisions made on his watch, for example, immediately excusing Yassir Arafat after the latter in early 1973 ordered that American diplomats in Khartoum be slaughtered in cold blood, or agreeing to delay the end of the Vietnam War so as to ensure Nixon’s re-election in 1974.)

The greater misfortune, however, lies not just in the sins of one man.  Kissinger’s actions and policies, given his authority, were the actions and policies of the United States Government, which itself therefore shoulders much of the blame for the dilemma facing Cyprus today and the closely related problems involving Turkey, the EU and, given its own national interests, the United States.  This history, in combination with the current threat to U.S. interests stemming from the Turkish-Israeli-Cypriot-EU imbroglio, requires attention on the part of Washington. 

More on the Cyprus question will follow.  In the meantime, all comments will be welcomed.

By Alan Berlind.

2 thoughts on “Cyprus and National Security

  1. Harry Blaney October 30, 2011 / 9:10 PM

    Alan Berlind’s comments on Cyprus/Turkey, etc. are a lessen in the long term costs of short term bad and myopic decisions. The same was true of our decisions to arm the Afghan fighters against the Soviet Union with shoulder held ground to air missiles which came back to haunt us. The war in Iraq also was an example of a wrong-headed decision of great cost, not just over the last decade but well into the future.

    The question now is what is to be done? To solve the Cyprus/Turkey problem alone would be nice but it has, as Alan has indicated, been immersed with Turkey’s EU membership, NATO relations, seabed exploitation, Israel-Arab relations, and much more. In the end, the desire or lack thereof by Turkey to be integrated with Europe and the “West” will likely be the decisive element in a future decision to find a decent solution to Cyprus.

    The other side will be how important is it to the EU and NATO to ensure that Turkey is integrated with Europe? In any case continued occupation of part of Cyprus will have to end one way or another for Turkey to be accepted not only into the EU but also be seen as a “responsible” nation with rights to act as a valid mediator and leader in the region. But that will also require some political settlement between Greece/ Cyprus/Turkey and the local populations in Cyprus that all can live with in peace. The problem is it has become as intractable as the existing Israeli-Palestinian dispute and just as complex. I await Alan’s thoughts on the way forward.

    Harry Blaney

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