Friday, 2 August 2013

Greece and Cyprus amid the turmoil of Eastern Mediterranean geopolitics, and the prospects of a settlement of the Cyprus issue

I was reading this long piece by Panayiotis Ifestos on recent developments in the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean, in which the professor of international relations makes a plea for Greece to pull its finger out, reverse Constantinos Karamanlis’ ‘Cyprus is too far away’ doctrine and more actively engage in the region, not only for Cyprus’ sake but for Greece’s too – the security of the two Greek states are, of course, interdependent.

I was also reading a report from the American Enterprise Institute – the prominent US conservative think tank, whose associates and reflections strongly influence the Republican Party’s foreign policy. Will the Eastern Mediterranean become the next Persian Gulf? argues that Turkey – mainly because of its increasing hostility to Israel – is becoming an unreliable partner to American interests in the region, and suggests that Cyprus and Greece could form part of a US-led ‘Eastern Mediterranean Defense Partnership’.

The report states:
‘The US Department of State and Pentagon might also negotiate a naval security site in Limassol, Cyprus. The British maintain a Permanent Joint Headquarter in 98-square-mile Sovereign Base Areas in Akrotiri – close to Limassol – and in Dhekelia, which they use for electronic intelligence gathering and communications.

‘Greece and Britain could join a US-led “Eastern Mediterranean Defense Partnership” designed to ensure Israel’s and Cyprus’ exploration rights and seaborne defense against threats from nearby littoral states and terrorism from the Middle East. It is essential that the US government convince Greece and Cyprus that the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel can guarantee their diplomatic and economic interests more than Russia and the Arab Middle East.’
I make no assessment on whether it’s in Greece and Cyprus’ interests to become so entwined with the USA, UK and Israel, just note that incorporating Cyprus and Greece into right-wing US strategic thinking is quite a change.

A couple more points on Ifestos’ piece:

He expresses concern that the economic crisis affecting Cyprus will so weaken it that a new Annan plan will be imposed. This is an exaggeration. It should be remembered that the 2004 Annan plan only emerged because Greece and, following Athens’ recommendation, Cyprus accepted a particular procedure involving binding UN arbitration, expecting the UN to put forward an even-handed settlement rather than the disgraceful concoction it came up with. The Annan plan expressed an ethos and contained provisions that no Cypriot government would have freely negotiated, in which case unless Cyprus accepts a similar arbitration process – and, given the experience of 2004, this is extremely unlikely – then a settlement like the Annan plan cannot be imposed on Greek Cypriots. Similarly, the particular strategic alignment in 2004, in which the USA, UK and Israel were content to dismantle the Republic of Cyprus and allow Turkey to exert itself in the Eastern Mediterranean, no longer applies, with skepticism over Turkey’s long-term ambitions in the region prevailing.

More generally, I remain doubtful that the new round of Cyprus talks scheduled for October will produce a settlement. It seems to me that Turkey believes that because of the economic crisis in Cyprus and because President Anastasiades campaigned in favour of the Annan plan in 2004, then there exists another opportunity to arrive at a deal, like the Annan plan, in which all of Turkey’s strategic objectives on Cyprus are fulfilled.

However, Turkey exaggerates Cyprus’ weakness and puts too much store in Anastasiades’ support for the Annan plan. Anastasiades favoured the plan not because he regarded it as fair and just, but because he (mistakenly, as it transpired) believed that the consequences of the Greek side rejecting it would be international recognition of the ‘TRNC’ and the formalisation of partition. Indeed, there currently exists no pressing need for the Greek side to accept a settlement on Turkey’s terms. In fact, it could be argued that Cyprus should resist any deal for the time being, since there are signs, as indicated by the AEI report mentioned above, that Turkey’s strategic hand is weakening and Greece and Cyprus’ improving. In this scenario, with its value as an energy hub and reliable ally to US and Israeli interests upgraded, Cyprus will be in a much better position regarding the terms of a Cyprus settlement it is able to insist on than it is now and has been for a while.

It’s also worth reminding ourselves, as mentioned in Ifestos’ piece, of how Turkey views Cyprus. In his tome outlining the principles of neo-Ottomanism, Strategic Depth: the international position of Turkey, that country’s foreign minister Ahmet Davoutoglu makes clear neo-Ottomanism’s belief that Cyprus has to exist within Turkey’s orbit.
‘Even if there was not one single Muslim Turk there [Cyprus], Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprus question. No country could be indifferent to an island like this, positioned at the heart of its Lebensraum [living space]. The same applies to the Dodecanese islands, where there no longer exists a significant Turkish population, but which continue to retain their importance for Turkey. As the USA has no population projection regarding Cuba or the other islands in Caribbean and yet retains an interest in the region, so Turkey is obliged from a strategic point of view to take an interest in Cyprus, regardless of any human factor.’
Given Turkey’s unrelenting view that Cyprus belongs in its sphere of influence, then it is hard to imagine Turkey, in the near future, making the kind of concessions that would make a settlement acceptable to the Greek side.

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