A recent development in the Eastern Mediterranean may have escaped notice in the U.S. media but is potentially important with respect to Western efforts to pressure Syrian President Assad into departing the scene and Russia’s intransigence in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). 

It is clear to all observers that the Russian reluctance to turn against Assad is related above all to the presence of a Russian naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus, the only such Russian facility in the Mediterranean and, therefore, of paramount importance to Moscow.  Whether because of a change of heart in the Kremlin (not likely) or growing recognition that Assad simply cannot last forever, the Russians may be searching for an alternative.  In any case, last week saw the docking at the Cypriot port of Limassol of two Russian Black Sea Fleet warships, the first such occurrence in more than a decade, setting off speculation that Moscow may be resigned to losing its base in Syria in the event of Assad’s downfall and determined to keep its naval presence in the area.

With two members of the UNSC also members of the European Union, it is more than intriguing to note that Cyprus began its first term in the rotating EU Presidency this month.  One cannot say with certainty whether Cyprus sought and secured the concurrence of its EU partners, and, perhaps, the United States, before opening its major port to the Russian ships, but one can safely assume that Nicosia did not make the move without multiple consultations.  Moreover, it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that substantial Russian financial assistance to Cyprus, as the latter struggles to remain in the EuroZone, is contingent upon Cypriot cooperation in the matter.  

It must be added that Russian support for the UNSC action it has been opposing would still leave China’s objections to be dealt with but from a position of greater strength.  Finally, one can only speculate on the reaction of Turkey, firmly opposed to Assad and the refuge of choice for Syrian freedom fighters and military defectors alike.  Russian use of Limassol, in addition to the issues discussed above, underscores the Kremlin’s continuing refusal, along with the entire international community, to recognize the Turkish-created so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and, therefore, to use its port of  Famagusta.

Turkey, The EU and – Oh, Yes – Cyprus

“This half-a-country, this incomplete country will take over the EU Presidency. There will be a half-presidency leading a miserable union.”

The partial country?  Cyprus.  The speaker?  Turkish President Abdullah Gul in remarks to Turkish journalists during his recent official visit to Great Britain, as quoted by Reuters and published in the newspaper Cyprus Mail of November 23.  The Head of State of Turkey, an applicant for EU membership while for thirty-seven years the occupier and colonizer of much of EU member state Cyprus, in the absence of any official correction or contradiction would seem to have dropped the bid and set back hopes for Cypriot reunification.  But, let’s hope not: in politics, as elsewhere, action often speaks louder than words.

European purists, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, will welcome Gul’s pronouncement, taking them off the hook for killing Turkish accession to the EU while at the same time justifying their conviction that Turks and their like simply do not belong in the club.  Merkel, Sarkozy and their like, but the two of them in particular, had surely been outraged by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s (undated) response to the final question posed by an interviewer from Time magazine (see the October 10 issue) as to whether Turkey no longer planned to join Europe: “We’re still determined, because no leader in the EU will be there forever.  But Turkey is getting stronger as time goes by, and the situation of many European states is quite obvious.”

It is also quite obvious that the principal actors in the multi-faceted drama on stage today are going for sound bites over policy, as often as not for reasons of domestic politics and survival.  Sarkozy was widely quoted as saying the following on October 7, during a visit to Armenia:  “France doesn’t see Turkey in the EU…. Turkey is a kind of bridge between the East and the West.  Being a part of Asia Minor, it has an important role in the world, but that role is not for the EU.”  The intended nail in the coffin, if one were needed, was his public call for Turkish recognition of and apology for the Armenian Genocide of 1915, but he failed to mention the importance of the votes of the Armenian diaspora in France, said to number more than 300,000, when presidential elections are held next Spring.

Sarkozy is not alone, for Merkel and Erdogan/Gul (along with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) are playing in large part to home audiences as they seek to prolong their presence on the scene.  What they shout now from center stage may be trumped in the end by those diplomats working hard in the wings (and with no worries about upcoming elections) for peaceful resolutions of potentially dangerous disputes.  As recently as October 12, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, introducing the publication of the latest annual progress report on Turkey’s accession process, spoke calmly but firmly about measures remaining to be addressed by that country in advance of EU membership, and he did not hesitate to speak of Cyprus in several respects.  Likewise, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Advisor on Cyprus Alexander Downer continue to promote talks under UN auspices between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities aimed at a federal solution agreeable to all parties concerned.  In short, while we must be wary of the big words shouted by the leaders, we ought not let their big mouths convince us that progress on several fronts is impossible.  Nevertheless, it was discouraging and scarcely comprehensible to read the eight-page cover story on Erdogan and Turkey in the November 28 edition of Time without finding a single reference to Cyprus – not even when the EU accession topic comes up.

The American role in the 1974 events that led to the long-standing military occupation by Turkish troops of some 40% of EU and UN member Cyprus, discussed here under the heading “Cyprus and National Security” on October 25, has been treated in two articles appearing in the July-August 2011 issue of the Foreign Service Journal (FSJ).  In an excerpt from her forthcoming book, The Dissent Papers: The Voice of Diplomats in the Cold War and Beyond, Hannah Gurman writes that, before the coup launched by the Greek military junta that overthrew the Cypriot Government, State Department Cyprus Desk Officer Thomas Boyatt had warned in official channels of the consequences of US inaction, to wit, that continued passive support of Cypriot rebels would result in an overthrow of the government and give Turkey an excuse to invade the island on behalf of the Turkish-Cypriot minority.  While Gurman does not say so explicitly, it is extremely difficult to imagine that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was unaware of Boyatt’s views, which cannot have failed to work their way up through the bureaucracy. Nevertheless, Gurman is careless enough to write that Cyprus experts agree that “Kissinger was willfully ignorant of the area’s complex political dynamic” (emphasis added).  In supposed support of this judgment, she quotes former Under Secretary of State George Ball as having written that Kissinger “knew nothing about Cyprus and did not bother to inform himself”, but she does not explain how Ball’s apparent attempt to excuse Kissinger meets the definition of “willfully”, which means nothing other than “deliberately” or “intentionally”.

The second FSJ article is by Boyatt himself, and he leaves no doubt concerning the warnings he had given, with support of fellow officers working on Greek and Turkish affairs:  “The Greek junta was planning to overthrow (Cypriot) President Makarios, notwithstanding their denials of such intent; if the Greek colonels established a puppet regime in Cyprus, the Turkish Army would invade and partition the island; and such an outcome would be disastrous for the United States, for it would destabilize NATO’s eastern flank, giving the Soviets a chance to intervene, and turn the Cyprus problem into a permanent irritant.”  Boyatt goes on to say that he had argued further for confronting the junta and telling them to stay out of Cyprus, but that his recommendations had been ignored.  Kissinger’s public admission thirty years later that Boyatt’s views had not received the attention they deserved, cited by Boyatt in his article, did nothing to relieve his guilt, tarnish his reputation or help the small country he had sold down the river to keep the Turkish generals happy.  Instead, it served only to confirm the sad truism that holds that “old new is no news” and carries no threat for the exposed party no matter how guilty.

Once again, the criminal goes free and the interests of the United States suffer.

Footnote:  A greatly expanded, well-researched and totally convincing account of Kissinger’s absolute responsibility for both the Cyprus events of 1974 and the situation in which that country finds itself in 2011 can be found at the following site:

By Alan Berlind.

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.

Heat In, and Over, the Eastern Med

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeking the major role in both the Arab Spring and the wintry chill between Israel and the Palestinians, may be headed for a major confrontation on more than one front and involving several parties, including Turkey itself, Israel, Cyprus, the European Union and the United States of America.

Last December, Israel and Cyprus signed an agreement concerning exploration for hydrocarbon resources beneath the seabed between the two countries, setting the median line as the mutual boundary in the absence of a full economic zone on either side (just 230 nautical miles separate the two shores) and pledging unspecified cooperation with respect to future exploration.  Since Israel (for unrelated reasons) has not signed the UN Law of the Sea Treaty, the parties cited other unremarkable legal justifications for the agreement.  Turkey, itself not a signatory to UNCLOS, objected at once on the wholly unsustainable grounds that the interests of Turkish-Cypriots had been ignored, i.e., that the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” itself has a legitimate interest in the seabed area at stake.  That so-called “state”, proclaimed unilaterally in 1983, has since been recognized by neither the UN nor any state on earth other than Turkey and has no standing whatsoever in international law.

The Cypriot daily “Phileleftheros” reported on September 14th that Turkish fighter and reconnaissance aircraft had flown through Cypriot airspace – by no means for the first time – and are patrolling the area off of the eastern coast of the island opposite Israel, while Israeli aircraft are monitoring the median line.  On September 8, an article in “The Cyprus Mail” reported that exploration on the Cypriot side will be undertaken by an American firm, Houston-based “Noble Energy”, which has announced that it will proceed with drilling later this month despite the Turkish threats in coordination with the U.S. State Department and the American Embassy in Nicosia.

Every bit as important, the same article of September 8 reports as follows:  QUOTE  The European Commission yesterday issued its strongest rebuke yet to Turkey over its threatening behaviour towards Cyprus’ efforts to drill for hydrocarbon reserves within its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  Unfazed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to raise the stakes in his row with Israel and Cyprus over hydrocarbon explorations in the eastern Mediterranean, vowing yesterday to stop them from exploiting natural resources in the area while also pledging to send warships to escort aid to Gaza. The EU, through Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, yesterday “urged Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat, sources of friction or action which could negatively affect good neighborly relations and the peaceful settlement of border disputes.”  In a released statement, Fule said, “The Commission regrets any statements that are not conducive to this objective,” noting that it “regularly reiterates these issues in its discussions with Turkey and will continue to monitor Turkey’s commitments to good neighborly relations in the light of the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes.”  The Commission further highlighted the importance of progress in the normalization of relations between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus. The EU also “stressed all the sovereign rights of EU member states which include entering into bilateral agreements, in accordance with the EU acquis and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”  The Commission underlined the “urgent need” to reach a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue.  END QUOTE

These reports, in combination with earlier Turkish threats relating to potential Israeli reaction to a second Gaza flotilla mission, point both to imminent danger and longer-term negative consequences for all those parties mentioned in the lead paragraph above.  An armed conflict between Turkey and Israel cannot be ruled out, given the unbending stances of the two, no matter what frantic negotiations are surely under way.  The strong EU statement and Erdogan’s apparent determination not to let the prospects for EU membership, if indeed he still judges it to be in his or Turkey’s long-term interests, get in the way of his drive for regional leadership only serve opponents of membership within the EU.  US interests in these developments are all too obvious, quite aside from the undeniably legal right of an American firm to drill on behalf of the universally recognized Republic of Cyprus.

A final note: is it not absurd for the Prime Minister of Turkey on his current tour to be lecturing Arabs on the benefits of democracy while presiding over the massive, thirty-seven-year-old military occupation of some forty percent of Cyprus, a member in good standing of both the UN and the EU?

By Alan Berlind.

Israel, Turkey and U.S. National Security

Two earlier posts on Israel (2/22/11) and Turkey (5/31/11) made the case to the best of my ability concerning the potential impact on U.S. national security of the policies of those two increasingly querulous and seemingly irreconcilable American allies.  In short, it seems that American leaders of all stripes are forever condemned to support or at best to ignore outrageous Israeli policies and actions because of the influence and power of a domestic constituency, while Turkey offers the best, and perhaps only, hope of ending Arab-Israeli enmity and demonstrating that Islam can peacefully co-exist with both democracy and the West.

Recent events have not advanced U.S. interests.  Following its review of the bloody Israeli interception on the high seas in May 2010 of a Turkish-flagged flotilla carrying non-military goods to Gaza, a UN panel has revealed its findings:  “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”  This judgment on the legality of the Israeli action, which requires further examination, was tempered only in part by the panel’s finding that the Israeli force acted in ways that were excessive, unreasonable, unacceptable, and abusive (terms used in the report).

Much has been written about the dispute as to whether the Israeli expression of “regret” meets the Turkish demand for an apology for the killing of Turks aboard the ship boarded by Israeli forces.  The Turks, in any case, say not. The panel’s report also includes the following indictment:  “At least one of those killed, Furkan Dogan, was shot at extremely close range.  Mr. Dogan sustained wounds to the face, back of the skull, back and left leg.  That suggests he may have been lying wounded when the fatal shot was delivered, as suggested by witness accounts to that effect…No evidence has been provided to establish that any of the deceased were armed with lethal weapons.”  Dogan, nineteen- years-old at the time of his slaughter, was an American citizen by birth.  Did the U.S. demand or receive an apology from the executioners?  If so, it was done on the sly, with both President Barack Obama and his sworn enemies in and out of Washington choosing cowardice and disgrace over honor and certain confrontation with the untouchable Israeli Lobby.

In the end, of course, these considerations pale next to fast-moving events on the ground (and in the water) that pose very real threats to American interests. Turkey has expelled the Israeli Ambassador and his deputy and announced that its warships may increase “surveillance” in the Eastern Mediterraneanand even accompany any future Gaza-bound vessel.  And, it has been reported that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, having just put military and economic relations with Israel on hold, will conclude a military and economic pact with Egypt when he visits Cairo next week – the first such visit in fifteen years. Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly may vote overwhelmingly in favor of recognition of a Palestinian State later this month, isolating the U.S. yet further and decreasing its influence in the Middle Eastand the broader Muslim world in general.

How will the prospect of the 2012 American elections affect Obama’s reaction to this situation, and how will the opposition respond – again, given the power of the Lobby?  Might Iran creep into the equation as American neo-cons and Israel’s champions trumpet a nuclear threat from that quarter?  Will Turkey’s surrender of its mediating role in the region strengthen European objections to its accession to the European Union?  Are U.S.- European relations themselves in play?

The State Department’s statement of September 6 is encouraging in that it indicates very real, albeit tardy and frantic, concern in Washington over the Israeli-Turkish dilemma.  American diplomats are reportedly working overtime to head off a final break between these two allies (and to forestall any UNGA vote), and we can only hope they will succeed.  National security is at stake.

By Alan Berlind.

FOREIGN POLICY: Who’s in charge?

CIP colleague Melvin Goodman has served us all well with his sharp criticism of the duplicitous record of outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose exit tour has only exposed him as the fakir he is and has been for over three decades (, June 23). Two overriding issues, both mentioned but neither the focus of Goodman’s examination of the problems awaiting incoming Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, invite separate comment.

Many of us have grown old grateful for President Harry Truman’s firm and swift dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur after the latter had presumed to challenge the political decision-making prerogatives of the White House, i.e., the elected civilian leadership of the United States. But, we’ve been inattentive.

As Goodman notes, “Panetta, having been undercut by Gates, will have to deal with continuing tension between the White House and the uniformed military [emphasis added] on troop withdrawals.” Why should there be tension once military leaders have been asked for, and then furnished, their advice? Why did President Obama not sack General Stanley McChrystal when the latter publicly promoted his own views on strategy in Afghanistan? And why, for that matter, has Obama proposed General David Petraeus to lead the CIA, and why has he named retired senior military officers to head American Embassies? Would it be cruel or thoughtless or naive to suggest that he is “under the gun”?

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Let’s Talk Turkey

News from and about the Middle East in recent months has been dominated by two undeniably crucial developments.  The unprecedented upheavals in countries ruled over the years by oligarchs of different stripes have exposed not just a strong distaste for the old ways of governing but also, it is to be hoped, both a growing desire on the part of the oppressed to participate in government and recognition that Islam and democracy need not be incompatible.  Secondly, the decades-old argument over how Israel and the Palestinians can co-exist seems to be as far from resolution as ever, as attention focuses on the supposed differences between the views of Israel’s right-wing rulers and President Barack Obama’s unexceptional recent promotion of 1967 borders tempered by land adjustments.

Turkey straddles Europe and the Middle East, is a major military power in both, and has demonstrated over the past ten years that electoral democracy can easily co-exist with Islam even where Muslims account for well over 90% of the population, while the military establishment, once ready to overthrow democracy at will, stays in the barracks.  Other than Israel and Iran, neither of which can pretend to offer assistance as others in the area struggle for their freedom, Turkey stands apart as a non-Arab, democratic, Muslim yet secular society that has the potential to lead by example in that historic struggle.  At the same time and every bit as important, Turkey is in a unique position to bring both its hard and soft power – the latter both economic and diplomatic – to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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