Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Cyprus crisis: conspiracies, cock-ups and political agendas


Manthos pointed me in the direction of the talk above by Andreas Constandinos on the junta’s coup against Makarios and the subsequent Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The talk emerges from Constandinos’ PhD thesis, published in book form as America, Britain and the Cyprus Crisis of 1974: Calculated Conspiracy or Foreign Policy Failure? which seeks to disprove the so-called conspiracy theories that predominate in the discourse on the events of 1974 – i.e. that America and the UK conspired with Turkey and Greece to bring about the downfall of the Republic of Cyprus as a prelude to partition of the island; and instead assert the cock-up theory – i.e. that the US and UK were largely caught unaware by the coup and the invasion and responded as they did not out of malice or careful calculation but because they failed to read Greek and Turkish intentions correctly. All in all, Constandinos says that, as far as the US and UK were concerned, the coup and invasion were far from a conspiracy to destroy the Republic of Cyprus but rather a foreign policy failure.

Constandinos’ thesis is flawed and implausible. In fact, it’s so flawed and implausible that it’s reasonable to conclude that he’s pushing a dubious political agenda. I’ll just make a few points, mostly about his attempts to exonerate the US from blame in the coup and invasion. I won’t go into his equally dubious effort to whitewash the UK’s role in the partition of Cyprus.


1. There is no Cyprus conspiracy theory in the way Constandinos thinks there is. Christopher Hitchens, who Constandinos accuses of being one of the main exponents of the conspiracy theory, prefers in his book Cyprus: Hostage to History to use the word  ‘collusion’ and not ‘conspiracy’. At no point does Hitchens argue that Kissinger or the British gave explicit instructions to the Greeks to overthrow Makarios or to the Turks to invade the island. Rather, Hitchens, as well as insisting on ‘collusion’, characterises US and UK policy as ‘careless’, ‘arrogant’, ‘cynical’ and infused with ‘imperial caprice’.


2. Asserting as Constandinos does that Kissinger was unaware of Greece’s coup plot and Turkey’s determination to invade is naively generous to the US secretary of state. The fact is that it was an open secret that Greece, for years, going back to 1964, had been considering a coup against Makarios and that Ioannides was more committed than his predecessors to bringing this plan to fruition. It was just as much an open secret that Turkey was itching to invade Cyprus and had nearly done so in 1964 and 1967, only stopping, not as Constandinos says – in another attempt to exonerate the US in Cyprus – because of pressure from Washington, but because the Turkish armed forces were not ready to launch such a major operation. It’s worth pointing out that in 1964, some American officials were actually urging the Turks to invade and assuring them that they would not face US censure. (See here for discussion of the Acheson plans and the US encouraging Turkey to invade Cyprus).


3. Despite the well-known role of the US and UK in the 1960s in destabilising the Republic of Cyprus in an effort to bring closer the implementation of the Acheson Plan, i.e. the partition of Cyprus, giving one part of the island to Greece and the other to Turkey, thus securing the whole for Nato and reconciling Greece and Turkey, Constandinos insists that with the Nixon administration this paranoid cold war mentality dissipated and that America and Cyprus had developed a modus vivendi – as exemplified by Makarios acquiescing in America’s use of the UK bases on the island for its U-2 missions in the Middle East. The earlier plans for a coup, invasion and partition had, according to Constandinos, apparently been forgotten by the Americans, by Kissinger et al.


This is not credible. There is no evidence that from 1968 the Americans were now favourably disposed to Makarios or that they had ceased to regard an independent and essentially non-aligned Cyprus, with its large and slavishly pro-Moscow communist party, which routinely opposed the presence of British and US military bases and listening posts on Cyprus, as a continuing threat to Western security interests. Nor would any supposed US rapprochement with Makarios have deflected the Americans from their more substantial interest of mollifying Turkey and Greece. In the case of Greece, this mollification involved  preserving the Greek junta in power and to this end, since Makarios was an affront to the junta, the Americans were more than happy to go along with Athens’ plans to do away with the ‘red priest’. It’s also worth stressing that EOKA B, the paramilitary group established on Cyprus in 1971 to further the junta’s goals on the island, was supported not just by Athens, as Constandinos says, but by the CIA.


4. We also know that the Americans viewed the coup against Makarios with sympathy not only because they did not see fit to condemn it but, in fact, the US began the process of recognising the new government and state of affairs created in Cyprus by Ioannides. It matters little whether Kissinger gave direct orders for the removal of Makarios – Constandinos’ anti-conspiracy theory heavily relies on his failure to find documents in the US archives that show Kissinger giving such orders; because we prefer to judge Kissinger and America’s role in the 1974 events not by what was said but by what was done – and whether what was done was in line with long-standing and known US policy, which it was, i.e. all American efforts in 1974 paved the way for the coup, the invasion and partition – and as such were the culmination of a policy initiated by the US State Department (with the support of the British) in 1964. Thus, we can say with certainty that despite knowing that the junta was in the final stages of plotting to oust Makarios, the US did not urge them to abandon their plans – which they would have done if, as Constandinos says, the Nixon administration was well disposed to Makarios. We also know that the coup having failed, with Makarios alive and able to claim to be the legitimate Cypriot head of state, the Americans, still determined to see through the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus, decided to back Turkey, implicitly and explicitly, in its ambition to partition the island. So even though Constandinos wants us to believe that the Americans were caught unaware by the Turkish invasion, thought the threat of invasion was only a bluff, we know not only that US efforts to dissuade the Turks from invading were, at best, half-hearted, but that at the Geneva talks that followed the first invasion on 20 July, Kissinger spoke openly about Turkey’s legitimate interest in ‘protecting’ the Turkish Cypriots who, Kissinger helpfully added, deserved more ‘autonomy’. As such, the US did not condemn the second Turkish invasion on 14 August and, in fact, expended most of its diplomatic energy during this period urging Greece not to respond to Turkey’s advances on the island.


What then are we to make of an analysis like Constandinos’ that seeks to exonerate the US and UK from the events of 1974 and his efforts to heap all the responsibility for the tragedy onto the Greek junta – which he portrays as acting on its own or, Constandinos does concede (without, for some reason, it affecting for him his overall thesis), in collaboration with trusted Greek-American CIA agents? What we make of such an analysis is that it is part of a trend in certain British academic circles that busy themselves with Cyprus to portray Britain, in particular, as having a benign or neutral role in Cyprus, show America as a blundering imperial power manqué and trace all Cyprus’ woes to Greece, Greeks and Greek nationalism.