Marching to Baghdad Via Cyprus

By
Steve Williams

October 11, 2002 -- Napoleon was the master of Europe. His unprecedented ability to move large armies to Spain, Russia, and Egypt relied on a system of supply depots throughout Europe.

Today, with access to bases on all continents, the United States has an unparalleled ability to reach out to every corner of the globe. Access to these bases and the routes needed to move large military forces requires a continual sense of the local peculiarities and concerns of regional allies.

In order to maintain its position as the world's superpower, the U.S. depends not only on its pre-eminence on the battlefield, but also on creating enduring alliances. Treat regional allies as partners and address their concerns, and they respond in kind. Ignore the needs of a region, and U.S. access and influence falls accordingly. Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus have particular regional concerns that Washington must prioritize if the eastern Mediterranean is to be an obstacle-free route to Iraq.

The eastern Mediterranean is a key avenue of approach to the Middle East and a support area for the U.S. Central Command's theater of operations against Iraq. With Arab and European Union allies currently less willing to support the U.S. in any campaign against Iraq than they were during the 1991 Gulf War, routes to Baghdad through Turkey have increased Ankara's immediate value.

Accordingly, the U.S. has led efforts to shore up the Turkish economy with tens of billions of dollars in aid, underwritten by Washington and supervised by the IMF. Turkey's greater value as a strategic ally, however, is its potential to be an enduring, stable, prosperous democracy, a member of the European Union, and a regional contributor to peace in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and the Balkans. If Aegean and Cypriot issues take a back seat in the drive against Iraq, Turkey's future in the EU and in the international community will suffer.

There is a fading opportunity to promote a just and lasting solution to the division of Cyprus. Admitting a divided Cyprus to the EU will be a mistake, but the EU will almost certainly stand behind its repeated promises to admit Cyprus, regardless of the status of settlement talks. The lead negotiator for the Greek Cypriots, Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides, cannot be re-elected in the February 2003 elections.

Officials from the U.S. Departments of State and Defense recently said that the U.S. can "walk and chew gum" at the same time, in reference to the possibility of undertaking a campaign against Iraq while continuing efforts to eradicate Al Qaeda. In 1974, Washington lost its focus on the possibility of war between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus while preoccupied with Watergate, Vietnam, the aftermath of a war in the Middle East, and a tenuous standoff with the Soviets. Today, with another war brewing in the Gulf, elections in the U.S., and the continuing war against terrorism, will Washington remain shortsighted on Cyprus, a linchpin issue in the eastern Mediterranean and surrounding region?

Massive economic aid to Turkey has paralleled impressive economic and political reforms by leaders in Ankara. The Turkish parliament recently passed a wide array of substantial legislation to bring Turkey closer to EU prerequisites. However, the EU has not given Turkey a date for the start of accession talks and has failed to appropriately recognize that Turkey is again re-emerging as a great power of Europe.

Turkey, without the peace dividend enjoyed by the rest of Europe after the Cold War, continues to face threats on multiple fronts. U.S. aid to Ankara will increase commensurately with Turkey's role as a key partner in stabilizing Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, as commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, and as an integral ally in the march to Baghdad. But, without increased effort on Ankara's part to resolve Greek-Turkish and regional disputes, additional aid for Turkey will be challenged by formidable Greek and Armenian lobbies.

Failure to accelerate current efforts to resolve Cypriot and Aegean issues risks undermining long-term U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean. There are two golden rules for resolving Greek-Turkish disputes. First, the resolution of Aegean sovereignty issues cannot be achieved with force. Second, re-unifying Cyprus must be accomplished in accordance with United Nations resolutions. U.N. resolutions are central to coalition actions against Iraq. They should also be central to dealing with the division of Cyprus. Violating these two rules will upset Turkey's path to the EU and isolate Ankara at a time when the West needs a secular, democratic, Muslim member.

Turkey's path to the EU and its ability to realize its economic potential lies less with the U.S. than it does with Greece and the European Union. EU ministers have decided that Turkey's membership in the bloc is partly dependent on the resolution of Aegean and Cypriot issues.

Turks are fond of saying that they were not afforded the luxury of choosing their neighbors. The EU tends to forget that Turkey is Europe's first line of defense against threats from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and instability in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Greece poses the least threat to Turkey. If it can look beyond its troubled past with Turkey, Greece will prove to be an invaluable partner for its neighbor to the east.

Greece, Portugal, Spain, and other countries have linked their domestic, political, and economic institutions to the EU, which has brought them economic and political stability. This can be the case for Turkey as well. The process of solving Greek-Turkish disputes should be guided by the two golden rules and, more importantly, requires the courage of leaders on both sides of the Aegean to act.

Barring another Irish veto of the Nice Treaty for enlargement of the bloc or EU deadlocks over stability or agricultural policies, the accession of Cyprus will be announced at the December 2002 EU summit in Copenhagen. As the EU inks its membership plans and the U.S. moves closer toward an attack on Iraq, and also toward eliminating Al Qaeda, it is time to embrace and foster the resolution of chronic Greek-Turkish disputes. It is not a time to avoid these disputes.

The terms of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's surrender and the dictates of the United Nations with regard to Iraq were clear in 1991. All members of the EU, indeed all members of the U.N. except Turkey, are promoting U.N. resolutions as the right path for resolving the division of Cyprus. Turkey's break from its isolation from the rest of Europe depends on its successful conclusion of talks concerning Cyprus. Resolution of Aegean disputes would follow.

Successful U.S. operations in Afghanistan took place amid efforts in Central Asia, Russia, India, and Pakistan to solicit needed basing, air corridors, and political support for the campaign against terrorism. One price the U.S. paid was its involvement in disputes over Kashmir; another was the lowering of its rhetoric on Russian actions in Chechnya. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other U.S. officials traveled to South and Central Asia. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was also dispatched to the region, as an early salesman and interlocutor.

These trips coincided with the growing risk of a nuclear confrontation between New Delhi and Islamabad, but the pursuit of Al Qaeda was the focus, which required the prioritization of the use of U.S. diplomatic and economic resources in the region. As the situation has stabilized in Kabul, focus has increased on Iraq as the next threat, since Iraq is the next likely source of support for another September 11-style attack on the U.S. or its allies.

Moving against Iraq necessitates containing and controlling regional disputes. Rapid deployment of the American arsenal to the Middle East requires unfettered access to the air, sea, and land surrounding Iraq, including the eastern Mediterranean. The U.S. Command in Europe, the U.S. Sixth Fleet based in Italy, and U.S. airpower from bases in Europe will support General Tommy Franks' Central Command as they did in 1990 and 1991. However, the American force structure and presence overseas have been substantially reduced over the last decade. Therefore, it is critical that rear areas and staging bases be secured in a campaign against Iraq.

Securing logistical and operational lines of support in the eastern Mediterranean requires access to Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey and other points of embarkation in the country. Planners should not underestimate the value of Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete for this purpose. It has the largest fuel and munitions storage facilities in the Mediterranean and is one of the best natural ports for anchorage available to the Sixth Fleet. In addition, Britain maintains forces in Cyprus in British Sovereign Base Areas. Since Britain is the main ally of the U.S. in plans for a campaign against Iraq, British concerns and equities in the eastern Mediterranean are important factors for U.S. decision-makers.

Although many governments around the world have opposed plans to oust Saddam, Mediterranean allies have proven more supportive. Arab League foreign ministers and European governments led by Germany and France have been vocal in their opposition, whereas Greece and Turkey, longtime friends of Washington, are standing by to assist the U.S. in some way, despite strong domestic opposition, according to polls. It is important to note that the Cyprus government has also been supportive of the war against terrorism.

The United Nations, the European Union, the G-8, and scores of bilateral allies are today's system of logistical depots from which the U.S. will guide the future of a free world. Making the world safe for democracy requires working closely with allies and helping to quell their preoccupation with divisive histories.

The march to Baghdad and other fields of strife requires secure bases and allies in the eastern Mediterranean. Casting aside regional objectives in that pursuit may bring short-term gains, but, in the end, it leads to the failure of strategic objectives. Once the master of Europe, Napoleon spent his last days alone, his dreams destroyed.
 

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