Category Archives: Cyprus Problem

Turkey: War or Blank Shots?

The recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey threatening both Israel and Cyprus in an effort to prevent them from proceeding with the extraction of the Cypriot natural gas and beyond, the question that arises is whether Turkey can – or is willing – to carry out its threats.
Given all the things it has accomplished the last decade, including the recent victory of the Islamists against the Kemalist establishment, and knowing that there is indeed a gap of power in the wider Mediterranean region, Turkey, has overestimated itself and has adopted an unprecedentedly arrogant stance which leads to the overt promotion of its national interests. But this arrogance has put it in a very difficult position from which it will hardly come out unscathed. At this moment it is balancing between two realities: the threats that it already made on the one hand and the multiple fronts it has to face on the other. For example Turkey is facing the Kurdish problem at home and on its borders with Northern Iraq, Syria and Iran. Moreover, its relations with Syria are in serious decline because of the crisis that is taking place in the latter. Furthermore, Ankara seems to be losing the support of the Iranian government particularly since it has agreed to install NATO’s anti-missile radar in Turkish soil. To this troubling situation the crisis with Israel has also been added.
Consequently, it would be rational for Turkey not to further escalate the situation. However it has already threatened Cyprus and Israel. It has already used “strategic coercion.” If it does not work, according to this kind of tactic, Turkey should normally proceed in carrying out its threats in order to maintain its credibility as a regional superpower. Anything less than that would affect its image and at the same time it would mean that such a tactic would not be convincing in the future. Therefore Turkey appears to be in a big dilemma: to engage in a war which seems to be beyond its capabilities (mainly because it will weaken its domestic security), or to step back risking the image that it tried so hard to create? The most likely scenario is that Turkey will undertake its well known violations (of airspace and marine boarders), creating small-scale events which it can easily handle, in order to keep the risky equilibrium between what it wants and what it can accomplish. Another – unlikely but nonetheless not implausible – scenario is to see Turkey going beyond what is reasonable and possible, together with a full shift in Davutoglu’s doctrine of “zero-problems” and “soft-power”.

Cyprus – After the Tragedy of April 11, 2011

Early in the morning of July 11, 2011 at the naval base “Evangelos Florakis” in Limassol, Cyprus, 98 containers filled with gunpowder and TNT explosives detonated leaving 13 people dead and 61 others wounded. The explosion generated a blast wave with a radius of 5-6km, causing incalculable damage to the Naval Base, to the electricity generating station of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC), and to properties in nearby villages. The tragic irony is that these munitions did not even belong to Cyprus. In 2009 it had seized them within its territorial waters from a Russian ship, en route from Iran and bound for Syria. Over the last three years the containers had been the subject of discussions within the Ministry of Defence and the High Command of the National Guard (GEEF) without any substantial progress as to what to do with them. Also, despite the constant reminders and warnings from the naval base commander, the necessary security measures had not been taken although the risks were very obvious.
This tragic incident in conjunction with other local, regional and international circumstances is likely to create unbearable consequences in many sectors, especially the economy. Furthermore, it raises questions about the role and status of the National Guard (NG) and the country’s future outlook.
The whole world, and especially Europe, is going through a financial crisis which has led to the weakening of national economies and the European Union itself through the crisis within the Euro-zone. Important examples of this European economic downturn are Greece and Spain while in recent months Cyprus has joined the list of affected countries as well. In this context, the circumstances under which the July tragedy took place could not have been worse. The total damage to the Cyprus economy is estimated at more than 3 billion Euros.
In this light it is certain that the Republic of Cyprus will be burdened with huge costs in order to restore the power station, which meets 50-60% of the Island’s energy needs. Apart from that, there are direct economic effects. The lack of electricity has already caused huge economic losses in small and large businesses which drive the Cyrpiot economy. In addition, the hotel industry and tourism related businesses have been seriously affected since the incident, causing holidaymakers to stay away from Cyprus. This has exacerbated the already weak financial picture while also potentially leading to higher unemployment rates as businesses are forced to close. Apart from the impact on Cyprus, this situation also has the potential to affect the EU as a whole, due to the generally fragile economic situation across Europe.
Indeed, the energy crisis on Cyprus caused by the destruction of the electricity station highlights the need for more renewable energy resources and a more efficient exploitation of the country’s undersea energy resources.
The economic weakening of a state implies the reduction of its total power. This does not necessarily mean that the state becomes paralysed but due to it being in a disadvantageous position, it cannot always follow the domestic or foreign policy course that it wants. Often this results in a government losing its popular support and, inevitably, a conflict between state and society. In Cyprus, this scenario is even more complicated because of the political-military problem which the Republic of Cyprus faces with the Turkish occupation.
Turkey has always followed a wait and see policy to exploit any political developments which occur on Cyprus, so that it can gain as much advantage as possible. When a state loses part of its diplomatic power – which cannot remain unaffected given its linkages with all the other sources of state power – then its effectiveness in any kind of negotiation is brought into question. Additionally, if the Republic of Cyprus suffers a significant weakening of its economy, then it will find itself in a disadvantageous position in terms of its agreements with other countries and with multinational corporations regarding the management of its energy resources. Such a situation often leads to a vicious cycle where economic failure and social instability weaken the country’s ability to negotiate on the international stage.
Of course, all of these levels of governance and policy-making are controlled by people who have either personal or collective responsibility, as members of political parties. In Cyprus, the nepotism and self-interest that characterises the state’s administrative machine are chiefly to blame for the political failures and the poor management of the economy which are part and parcel of the current crisis.
The tragedy of July 11th is not the first in the NG’s history and has highlighted systemic problems within both the NG and the Ministry of Defence. Other accidents have preceded this one including errors in the handling of ammunition and weapons, resulting in many deaths and injuries over the years. Some have argued that the NG should receive more state funding to alleviate these weaknesses, particularly given that Cyprus is an occupied state which has to have the means to defend itself in case hostilities with Turkey ever re-ignite. However, the political and military realities are very different from 30 or 40 years ago. Based on any rational analysis, the situation facing Cyprus is made all the more tragic when it becomes clear that demilitarization would be a much better option for the Republic, not only on the political and economic levels but on the strategic level as well. The maintenance of the NG, which has no pragmatic or positive benefits for the state and burdens the economy as well, is clearly a continued handicap for Cyprus compared with the benefits which demilitarization could provide.
There is a truth that needs to be sought in the wake of this tragedy, a problem which the resignation of the Minister of Defence and the Head of GEEF has still not resolved. The realities and possibilities discussed above must be weighed and decisive steps must be taken if Cyprus is to emerge from the current crisis, while the role of the National Guard should be re-examined. In such moments, superficial policies or doctrinal notions are neither suitable nor acceptable. The Republic’s governing authorities as well as every politician should work for the common good. This is their opportunity to demonstrate that political integrity still exists and alter the dubious political image they have been presenting for so many years.
Zenonas Tziarras
Published on July 23, 2011 on
A Greek version of this article can be found here

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.

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Turkey’s Grand Unknown Strategy

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Barak Obama

Turkey’s actions and foreign policy are evidence of a well shaped long-term geopolitical strategy. Analysing the facts brings us to the understanding that Turkey’s foreign policy objectives extend further than it seems.
Overall, Turkey has aligned itself towards the West. It is an ally of NATO and the U.S, it seeks E.U membership, its government strives for democratization and westernization with a very expanded diplomatic agenda. On a regional level, it follows a peaceful ‘zero problems’ policy with its neighbours, in addition to becoming an energy transportation hub. Through these strategies the country seems to want to emerge as a regional superpower with strategic weight to the West.
Although the above illustration of Turkey is, to a great extent, valid, it is relatively simplified compared to reality. Ankara’s ambitions seem to be much greater. Although its relations with the U.S. remain largely stable, Ankara does not hesitate to challenge them by collaborating with Iran and Russia in the economic and energy/nuclear field. Furthermore, Erdogan’s recent statements on the Palestinian problem conflict show a hostile attitude towards Turkey’s traditional ally, Israel. This action primarily aims to approach the Arab-Islamic states using Islamic solidarism and also to internationally “alienate” Israel.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has released provocative statements on the importance of Turkey to the E.U. and also on the fact that Turkey does not need the E.U. to emerge as a major strategic power which indicate the balanced diplomatic rhetoric of Ankara.
Regarding the wider Eastern Mediterranean region, Turkey is doing everything it can to prevent the control – through mutual agreements and the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zones – of underwater energy resources from Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Egypt. Finally, regarding the Cyprus Conflict, although Turkey seems to want a solution, it keeps delaying it seeking more concessions or new parameters that would allow it to handle not only the North but also the South marine part of the island. However this does not seem to be easy because of the increased diplomatic relations of Nicosia with its neighbours.

A clear shift
The result of the above equation, which includes many other summands, is clearly indicative of an emerging Turkey spreading its “tentacles” in every direction. Turkey aims to play not only a regional but also a global role. Its changing relations with Israel, the provocative attitude towards the U.S., NATO and the EU, the prospect for its own nuclear program, its cooperation with Iran and Russia and the closer relations with the Arab-Muslim world show a gradual but clear shift of foreign policy towards a more autonomous, stronger and global role. It should be noted, however, that although this scenario is realistic, is not a near future scenario.

Means to an End
An important point to be made is that Turkey has currently an absolute need for the millions of Euros of EU funding it receives for its development and in order to achieve its objectives. In this light, Ankara appears to be using the EU for its own gain but at the same time is not showing the necessary political will to properly entering it. Let us not forget that while in past years Turkish public opinion was in favour of joining the EU, this has now changed dramatically. Erdogan’s government cannot just disregard this fact because the Turkish public opinion has always been a key factor in Turkish foreign policy and because, now more than ever, AKP (Erdogan’s party) needs the support of the people in the upcoming elections. Furthermore, Ankara seems to be using its position in the NATO alliance to seek funding and the placement of weapons facilities in its territory which is one of the reasons why Turkey still keeps close relations with the US and NATO.

Conclusion: Realistic but not so easy
To conclude, it is clear that Ankara’s ambitions extend beyond the borders of the Middle East and the greater Mediterranean region. The emergence of Turkey as a global power is visible and its efforts for a global and regional Islamic cooperation under the Turkish umbrella is not impossible to be materialised. To fulfil its goals mobilizes all means available; exploits all the resources; takes advantage of all of its allies and creates policies with long-term results. However, Turkey has still a long way to go and plenty of time to get there. We should not forget that a lot of things might happen during this course, given the fact that we live in a constantly changing local, regional and international system.

Zenonas Tziarras
Posted on on December 10, 2010

Turkey and the European Union*

It has been over 50 years since Turkey expressed its interest in accession to the European Communities; thus far the EU’s longest application process. The cooperation with western organizations and institutions has always been an integral part of Turkey’s policy and Kemal’s idea of a secular and democratic Republic since the beginning of 20th century. However, Turkey began to adopt a less pro-Western political stance following the Cuba Missile Crisis (where Turkish territory was put under risk of Soviet bombing since it had American missiles on its soil), and the hostile American response to the Turkish intervention in Cyprus in 1964.
After the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union into numerous independent nation-states, the E.U modified its accession criteria in Copenhagen in 1993, further setting the bar higher for Turkey. Yet in 1995 the customs union between Turkey and E.U was completed and came into effect in 1996. In December of 2004 the E.U leaders decided that the 2 years (2001-2003) reform process which took place in Turkey was enough to open the negotiations process for accession on Oct. 3, 2005.
Skepticism and Debates
Although the Turkish public was very excited about the news, European public opinion was very skeptical. One could say there remains a longstanding debate among the E.U countries on whether they want a full Turkish membership or a ‘Special Relationship’ with the country of Kemal. Based on this debate, E.U countries were divided into two sides: one side supporting the full membership of Turkey, led by the U.K, including countries such as Poland and Sweden, as well as additional support from the US; on the other side is France and Germany and their allies, pushing for a ‘special relationship’ with Turkey.
The first side has much to gain from the full Turkish membership (e.g. Turkey is a big market open for new investments and trading and also has cheap labor; Turkey can be the mediator and the bridgehead between the east and the west regarding security and energy issues, etc.). The second side feels threatened by possible migration waves coming from Turkey; they also feel threatened by the great power that Turkey can gain in the European Parliament and as a result affect European decision-making according to its and NATO’s own interests.
The Last Five Years
Throughout the last five years U.S has been pressuring the E.U and its counties to carry forward Turkey’s accession process. Furthermore certain E.U presidentships – such as U.K’s and Sweden’s – clearly stood for the Turkey’s membership. Sweden even tried to skip major problems that Turkey is facing in its foreign policy (e.g. the Cyprus Problem) by trying to convince the General Affairs Council of the E.U that bilateral differences between candidate countries for membership with other countries, should not affect their accession process. However Cyprus and Greece did not let that happen. The problem with Sweden’s proposal is that Turkey is facing major legal problems in Cyprus regarding human rights and violations of the international law, and with Greece concerning the delimitation of its continental shelf as well as the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean Sea.
Also dogging Turkey are issues related to human rights, particularly the rights of its Kurdish minority, as well as problems related to its democratic political structure, though its recent constitutional reforms were widely praised in the EU. Even so, U.S and the other Turkey’s supporters in the E.U want Turkey to be a full E.U state-member in order to serve their interests both in Europe and the Middle-East. It is surprising how some counties are willing to overlook vital legal problems in order to serve their political and economic interests.
What’s next?
American influence has shrunk over the last few years because of its two wars (Afghanistan, Iraq) and the effects of the global financial crisis. Therefore they cannot influence European behavior the way they used to. In addition, the E.U is in a very bad financial situation and therefore cannot afford another enlargement at this time, especially with a country the size of Turkey. What is sure is that Turkey has a long way to go and that for now things are most probably going to remain mostly unchanged.
Zenonas Tziarras 
*This is a revised version of an article with the same title published on on the 22th of Oct. 2010.