Cyprus-The Geo-Strategic Dimension

By Henn, Francis | Contemporary Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Cyprus-The Geo-Strategic Dimension


Henn, Francis, Contemporary Review


  The Cyprus problem is not going to disappear. For the present it is on
  hold, with a UN solution not in sight, though the EU hopes a solution
  will somehow emerge over the next three years.
  Professor Clement Dodd, Update on the Cyprus Conflict. [1]

SOME forty years ago President Lyndon Johnson described the Cyprus problem 'as one of the most complex on earth'. Those engaged in the numerous fruitless searches for its solution ever since are unlikely to disagree, but have they been looking in the right direction? For long negotiations have been conducted on the assumption that the key to a lasting settlement lies in the first instance in resolution of the constitutional and other intercommunal differences that so deeply divide the island's Greek and Turkish communities, and it has been on these aspects of the problem that attention has been focused. The accession of the Greek Cypriot part of the Republic to the European Union in 2004 (which allows that community the power of veto over the similar accession of Turkey) together with the Greek Cypriots' rejection in 2006 of the Annan Plan (the consequence of which has been to deny EU membership to the Turkish Cypriots) have injected more recently new factors with serious international implications.

None will deny that the intercommunal dimension is a critical ingredient in the Cyprus problem but neither should its wider international dimension be ignored, for the fundamental factor that lies at the heart of the problem remains no different from that which has bedevilled the island throughout history, namely its geo-strategic importance, especially for Turkey. While the Turks intervened militarily in 1974 ostensibly to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority community (citing in dubious justification [2] the Treaty of Guarantee), there was for them an overriding but undeclared national purpose, namely to prevent enosis (the union of Greece and Cyprus) and the threat to Turkey's own security that this would pose.

A glance at the map explains Turkish apprehensions. In the west Greece's Aegean islands press close, while instabilities to Turkey's north, which may have varied over the years but which nevertheless continue to cause Turkey genuine anxiety, render secure access to its southern ports and airfields a vital strategic interest. All the latter are readily dominated from Cyprus only some 40 miles and a few minutes flying away, with the consequence that in defence terms Turkish strategists see the island as critical, some even describing it as a dagger pointing at Turkey's under-belly. It should occasion no surprise if it has been a prime and long-standing Turkish strategic objective to ensure that the island does not succumb to any potentially hostile power, especially the traditional enemy Greece. Common membership of NATO has never diminished Turkish concern on this account, nor is Turkish accession to the EU likely to do so either. In 1964 and again in 1967 the Turks were thwarted by international pressures from realising this objective, but they did not let slip the ideal third opportunity gratuitously presented to them in 1974 by the Athens junta's foolishly short-sighted attempt to rid themselves of Archbishop Makarios.

Evidence for this view is to be found in public declarations made in recent decades by Turkish statesmen and others--for example, that by the then Turkish Prime Minister Zorlu, who speaking in London in 1955 said:

'All these southwestern ports are under the cover of Cyprus. Whoever controls this island is in the position to control these Turkish ports. If the Power that controls this island is also in control of the western [Aegean] islands, it will have effectively surrounded Turkey'. [3]

His words were echoed in 1964 by Foreign Minister Erkin, also speaking in London. Stressing the strategic importance of Cyprus (which, he asserted, should be seen geographically as a continuation of the Anatolian peninsula), he concluded:

'All these considerations clearly demonstrate that Cyprus has vital importance to Turkey, not merely because of the existence of the Turkish community in Cyprus, but also on account of its geo-strategic bearing'.

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