Should Cyprus Flirt with NATO?

The dialogue surrounding the accession of Cyprus to programmes and security organisation seems endless. Yet much of the debate seems to be concentrated on whether Cyprus should apply for membership to NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” (PfP) programme However, the recent developments in the Middle East stress the parameters of security, and may give Cyprus pause before proceeding further.

Given that the “Partnership for Peace” is a programme of NATO, the questions that can be raised about the future that could follow Cyprus’ approval to a PfP are many. However, we should first remember NATO’s role in the international political chessboard, the wars it maintains and the fact that the U.S. is the main force behind this organization. The era we live in it is an era of dramatic fluidity, political and geopolitical upheaval. The US, although it is the greatest power, it is not the only global power. Its actions (and more generally of the West) in the Middle East and elsewhere cause asymmetric reactions that threaten not only the U.S. but the rest of the western world as well.

The instability in the Middle East and the gradual changes in the balances of power and alliances are not factitious. The two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and the economic crisis have weakened the U.S. and to some extent NATO. This emboldens other countries such as Iran and Turkey, leading them to seek a greater role and the growth of their zone of influence.

Therefore, Cyprus has to consider: just how safe is a member country of NATO or fellow members of the PfP? How wise is it to abandon the strategy of impartiality? Even so, why would Cyprus want to promote the traditional monopoly of the Western organisations of security? Is its participation in the EU and the CFSP / ESDP – except Berlin Plus – not enough? The most important factors to consider concerning PfP membership is to understand and take into account the philosophy and reality which follows the participation of a country in this programme/organization.

In the context of the current liberalism-based global system, the participation in common institutions and global organizations such as NATO and the PfP appears to be, for small countries like Cyprus, a necessary step. Yet Cyprus must balance the immediate benefits of attempting to enter a PfP agreement with NATO while considering wider geopolitical implications. The gradual transition of the global system from unipolar to multipolar or non-polar is a key fact that should make Cyprus think about which side of the board it wants to be on. Should it choose a side and become a ‘pawn’ hoping that this will help it (as happened with Cyprus’ accession in the EU) or should Cyprus have “friends” in several different forums of security and beyond?

At this point, some realities should be noted: Cyprus has as a permanent political goal the demilitarisation of the island. Its goal is to oppose the Turkish occupation and military by underpinning that Greek-Cypriots have no aggressive or military intensions against the Turkish-Cypriots in an effort to promote reconciliation. On another aspect we should not forget that any attempt of Cyprus to cooperate with NATO/PfP will be surely blocked by Turkey, a NATO-member country.

To conclude, it seems that maintaining the strategic impartiality is essential at a time when the West goes on new adventures and Middle Eastern powers seize every opportunity to increase their power. Given that the global system has created a vacuum for the emergence of new forces, the expansion of Cyprus’ diplomacy toward other actors and parts of the world can only bring positive results. Furthermore, it could end the monopoly of interests that the Western powers have had until now on the Island and create a balance that would be favourable for Cyprus. Lastly, it could enable Cyprus to further internationalise its problem thus making it a problem of other international actors as well.

Zenonas Tziarras

Posted on www.global-politics.co.uk on April 26, 2011.

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