Cyprus: A Geostrategic Issue
Vassilios Damiras, Ph.D. (ABD)
President and Chair of the GEOSTRATEGIC AND GEOPOLITICAL STUDIES INSTITUTE
The history of the island of Cyprus is marked by ethnic disputes and missed political opportunities. Cyprus achieved its independence from Britain in 1960. The Kingdom of Greece, the Turkish Republic, and Great Britain negotiated the various treaties creating the Republic of Cyprus. The composition of the population, based on the 1960 and 1973 censuses, is now 80 percent Greek-Cypriots and 18 percent Turkish-Cypriots, with the rest being Maronites, Latins, and Armenians.
In 1963, ethnic fighting erupted between the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriots over control of the island. In 1964, a United Nations peacekeeping force was sent at the request of the Cypriot government. Following a coup in 1974 initiated by the military junta that ruled Greece, Turkey dispatched troops to Cyprus to protect Turkish-Cypriot ethnic rights. The island of Cyprus has been divided since then.
Since the 1974 crisis, the UN passed a myriad of resolutions in order to find a solution to the ethnic dispute. In addition, the UN Security Council has continuously called for the withdrawal of all Turkish troops. However, the crisis continues. The division of the island of Cyprus is a destabilizing geopolitical factor in the eastern Mediterranean area.
The results of this ethnic calamity are obvious to all: about one percent Cyprus’s population were killed in the war, and approximately 142,000 people — a quarter of the whole population — were internally dislocated and ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homes. They became refugees in their own native country, not because of the war of 1974, per se, but because of the post-war political situation. Both sides accused each other of destroying their respective cultural and religious artifacts. Seventy percent of the Cyprus economic output was lost as a result of the invasion and partition of the island. It was a catastrophe for the population of Cyprus.
There have been numerous attempts to solve the crisis. All of them failed due to ethnic intransigence. Even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan failed to bring ethnic unity to the island. The Greek-Cypriot side believed that it created permanent insecurity for them because it ignored security concerns and allowed the indefinite presence of foreign troops on the territory of an independent and sovereign nation-state, with specific rights of military intervention. This issue was the focal point for more than forty years. Finally, the plan would have established a servant state out of Cyprus, since it would have permitted foreign nation-states with rights of unilateral military intervention in its domestic political affairs. In April 2004, the citizens of Cyprus went to the polls to decide the political destiny of the Annan plan. The Greek-Cypriots voted down the plan in a referendum, because the plan did not guarantee security. The Turkish-Cypriots voted for the plan in a gesture of goodwill. Once more the Greek-Cypriots appeared to prefer partition rather than unification.
In May 2004, Cyprus joined the European Union (EU). Politically as well geo-strategically was the single most significant event for Cyprus history. This political event marked a new era for a unified Cyprus. Membership means economic and political freedom and promotes new challenges and opportunities for the island of Cyprus and the region. Nonetheless, the current Greek-Cypriot administration has introduced new a proposal for a peaceful solution. Under this proposal, Cyprus would be demilitarized, but remain part of the Western security system provided by the European Union. It would end the Turkish military occupation as well as the illegal colonization encouraged by Ankara since 1974. Finally, the plan provides international guarantees for the national security of the island nation-state including membership in the United Nations.
Security still remains one of the main issues for both communities. The European Union does not have the mechanisms to press for a Cyprus solution, despite the fact that Cyprus is a member state. The United States could press Athens and Ankara via NATO and various military treaties that the U.S. has with them for a Cyprus solution. An American plan needs to safeguard the human rights of both ethnic groups and secure the reunification of the island under a strong federal system which will guarantee a stable bi-zonal and bi-communal socio-political system. Finally, it needs to promote a robust economy.
Greece needs to maintain a strong dialogue with Turkey in order to press for a Cyprus solution. In addition, the Greek government needs to have close diplomatic relations with the United States. The various American governments have played a very significant role in helping to stabilize the Balkans since the end of the Cold War. Finally, Greece could assist the EU to adopt a coherent foreign policy regarding Cyprus.
It is important that a new Cyprus must guarantee the natural rights of Greek, Turkish, Armenians, Maronite, and Latin ethnic groups. It is imperative to pacify and unify Cyprus because the island is located in a very geostrategic and geopolitical position. A political stable Cyprus could serve as a loyal American ally in the global war on terror. The island has the natural capability to house various elements of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Sixth Fleet. American military units have utilized the island during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition, it can be used as a platform of special operations against terrorist cells in the wider Middle East region such as Syria and Iran. The geostrategic significance of the island is very important to American national interest. Moreover, the discovery of natural gas resources puts Cyprus as a major energy source country. Currently, the European economic crisis creates a peculiar situation for the economic and political survival of Cyprus. Adopting the U.S. dollar can create the conditions for a stable economic future.
Currently, Israel and Cyprus signed an accord demarcating their maritime borders to facilitate offshore gas exploration. An American company has obtained the rights for this exploration. Turkey tries to undermine the process because the Turkish government perceives that Israel wants to curtail and undermine the Turkish influence in the southeastern Mediterranean region. On the other side of the Aegean, Athens supports a Greek-Israeli-Cypriot partnership. The Greek government wants to use or even manipulate that new era of friendship in order to counterbalance Ankara’s geostrategic influence in the region. The evolution of the Cyprus economic crisis will show how the Cypriot government will weather this difficulty that creates new dimensions for the Cyprus problem.