Don't Forget Cyprus

By
Col. Steve Norton

Presented at The Ari Movement Conference on Security and Cooperation in Southeast Europe

June 27, 2003, Istanbul, Turkey (Hyatt Regency) -- First, my thanks to the ARI Movement and the other sponsors of this year's conference on "Security and Cooperation in Southeast Europe" for their kind invitation to me to participate.

On March 1 of this year, the U.S.-Turkish strategic partnership came to an end when the Turkish parliament denied the 4th Infantry Division access to Turkey. In time, a new U.S.-Turkish relationship will evolve, but it will not be what it was, nor will it happen automatically.

Active steps need to be taken. I will be talking about one that Turkey could take immediately that would significantly improve its relations with the United States while, at the same time, promoting a number of other Turkish interests, including its desire to join the European Union.

Reading the synopsis for this conference, I was especially struck by the statement that a main focus of the meeting will be to explore prospects for cooperation between Turkey and Greece and to underscore the role that these two countries can play together to promote regional development and stability. This is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly support, but I have serious doubts concerning the kind of role they can play before certain bilateral problems are solved. More on this in a moment.

The conference synopsis also mentions that participants will discuss the international security initiatives in southeastern Europe and the "New Security Architecture." The latter could mean several things. I assume that it refers to NATO's new command structure, with its focus on new threats and transformation; new NATO candidate countries in the region; and, most importantly, the possible transfer of some U.S. forces that are now in Germany to Bulgaria and Romania.

With limited time available, I want to comment on one specific issue in the region, an issue that I strongly believe is the necessary cornerstone for building real trust between Turkey and Greece. I am going to talk about Cyprus, which involves the need for a new security architecture. It is an old problem, one that remains important, especially for the future of Turkey.

In 1991, when I left my position as the U.S. Defense Attaché in Nicosia to work for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the Cyprus Minister of Defense gave me a farewell dinner at which he closed his remarks by saying: "Please, don't forget about Cyprus." I haven't.

During a briefing I gave to Gen. Jack Galvin, who was the SACEUR at the time, on problems in the eastern Mediterranean, he quickly deduced that Cyprus was the issue that had to be settled or military relations between Turkey and Greece would never move beyond a certain point.

I ask you to think about Gen. Galvin's analysis for a moment. No matter how many agreements Turkey and Greece conclude in fields such as trade, the environment, immigration, tourism, and cultural exchanges, there are still armed Turkish and Greek soldiers staring at each other along the Green Line in Cyprus.

These soldiers know that the "enemy" is across that line. Yes, the enemy.

Why else would these men be armed, be wearing helmets, and be in protected positions? This is not an exercise. This is a situation that will stall and eventually stop rapprochement between Turkey and Greece.

I am talking about Cyprus because it needs to be talked about. You cannot wish this problem away. And you need to understand why this problem must be solved.

Greece is in the European Union, and the Greek Cypriots will join the bloc in about 10 months. The political and economic future of Greeks and Greek Cypriots is with Europe.

We all know that Turkey also wants to align its future with the EU. Does anyone here believe that Turkey will be offered EU membership as long as Cyprus remains divided? I don't.

Cyprus and the disputes in the Aegean are the two core issues separating Turkey and Greece. They are inextricably linked. Make progress on one, and it affects the other positively. Of course, the opposite is true as well.

So why not make progress on the Cyprus issue? Why not get these soldiers off the Green Line?

Many people lay the blame for the lack of progress on Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. It seems clear from statements made by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. State Department Special Cyprus Coordinator Tom Weston that they certainly believe Mr. Denktash is the reason for the failure of the recent U.N. initiative for solving the Cyprus problem.

However, I am not sure that it is either accurate or fair to assign the blame for this outcome to one man. In fact, perhaps the U.N. and Washington have become so engrossed in the myriad details involved in a settlement that they have not spent enough time and effort to ensure that a strong foundation is in place upon which to build a future, united Cyprus.

And what should this foundation be? Security. First, it entails personal security so that no Cypriot -- Turkish or Greek -- will fear for his or her well-being. Second, it involves strategic security, which addresses Turkey's concern that potentially hostile military bases might be established in Cyprus, as well as Greek and Greek Cypriot concern associated with a relatively large Turkish military presence on the island.

Next to nourishment, the most basic human need is to feel safe. We are continuously reminded of just how important security is for people. One only has to look at what is happening in Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, the Balkans, and the Caucasus to know that it is imperative to have security before political, social, and economic problems can be solved.

So what about Cyprus? There is an architecture in place today that provides security. In fact, regardless of your view of the Cyprus problem -- whether you agree with the Turkish position or the Greek position -- one thing stands out: Cyprus is a pretty safe place to live. It doesn't matter if you are north or south of the Green Line. You and your family are safe and free to live your lives.

So why change a security architecture that is working? First, let's look at what is currently in place.

In the north, there is a strong Turkish Army presence of approximately 33,000 soldiers. Another couple of thousand in the Turkish Cypriot Security Force bring the total in the north to 35,000 to 36,000 troops.

In the south, there is the Greek Cypriot National Guard of approximately 17,000 soldiers, which is steadily modernizing. You may remember the S-300 missile crisis in 1997 and 1998. In addition, there is a mainland Greek armored brigade of several thousand soldiers and a relatively large ready reserve force. About 1,200 U.N. soldiers sit along the Green Line. Add the numbers and you will see that the scope of the existing security architecture is comprised of five different military forces, totaling 57,000 soldiers, or more, plus reserves.

A lot of firepower, a lot of expense, and a great burden -- political and otherwise -- to provide security for the people of Cyprus.

Let's be optimistic for a moment and pretend that, during this conference, the phone rings and, when we answer it, Mr. Annan is on the other end. He informs us that the leaders of both communities have just agreed to a plan unifying Cyprus. "Great," you say. Okay, now what about the security architecture? Do you leave 57,000 armed soldiers staring at each other along the Green Line after a settlement has been reached? Hardly!

So what should you do? Build a security architecture now that could be put in place either before or after a settlement is reached. It would be an interim step that could be in place as long as necessary.

What would it look like? A new security architecture should be based on unity of command, unity of effort, and the elimination of offensive capabilities. The basic components would be:

· Eliminating current Cypriot forces on both sides.
· Maintaining one brigade each, of equal size, from Greece and Turkey.
· Replacing U.N. forces with NATO/EU forces and assigning a NATO commander.
· Giving the command for all forces, including the Greek and Turkish contingents, to NATO.
· Having one common mission: to provide security for all of Cyprus and all Cypriots.

The benefits of planning this new security architecture now, even without a settlement, are significant. Such planning would:

· Enhance Turkey's image in Europe and the U.S. and promote Turkey's EU accession.
· Strengthen bilateral relations between Greece and Turkey.
· Stimulate and complement Cyprus negotiations at the political level.
· Provide an important and necessary interim step in any unification process.
· Address the primary issue that is keeping Cyprus divided.

Just think a moment about Turkish and Greek military officers working together with a NATO staff in a totally transparent manner to establish one common plan for the defense of Cyprus and its people. Wouldn't that make a better headline than allegations of air violations in the Aegean?

We really do need to have the Turkish General Staff and the Hellenic National Defense General Staff working together on this new security architecture. The U.N. plan rejected by Mr. Denktash, also known as the Annan plan, really falls on its face when it comes to security provisions. The Annan plan may be a basis for solving some aspects of the Cyprus problem, but I don't think the security portion of the plan works at all.

Let me close by restating that solving the Cyprus problem will help rebuild a strong U.S.-Turkish relationship. It will also promote Turkey's EU aspirations, improve and speed up the rapprochement between Turkey and Greece, and be a catalyst for building the trust required to solve issues in the Aegean.

Thank you for your attention. I hope these short comments will stimulate some fresh ideas to solve a rather old problem.
 

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant