The Republic of Cyprus finds itself between a rock and a hard place. As the most complex issues remain unresolved, it is getting clear that at least at the moment we are not close to an agreement that will reverse the consequences of the illegal invasion and occupation, according to international law. The Economist has depicted the situation vividly with a cartoon showing Anastasiades and Akinci trying to shake hands but being bullied by Erdogan. However, the international pressure for a “solution” is growing as German Chancellor’s and British PM’s remarks on Cyprus, during their respective recent visits to Turkey, reconfirm.
Overemphasizing the “momentum for a solution” and the “last chance for a solution” can lead to two dangerous consequences: either the conclusion of a hasty agreement which will finally be for one more time rejected by the people or a non-agreement, and the threat of a de facto “solution” of the “Cyprus question”. Both developments are unwanted, and for that reason, they should be avoided. Yet, the latter constitutes a disastrous, provocative and totally incompatible with the normative structure of the current international order development. Therefore, it should be deconstructed.
To this background, the Cypriot government needs a new strategy. Cyprus is a small state. But smallness should not be mistaken for impotence. “Small but smart” states are successful because they recognise that the international system is anarchical, competitive, and, therefore, a self-help system. Nonetheless, they are aware that despite their smallness they can pursue their interests. Then, it goes without saying that Cyprus has to be proactive.
The Republic of Cyprus should have five priorities.
First, exploit the circumstances in the international system. The situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, the potential of gas resources and cooperation with other small states in the region, as well as the levels of competition between different great powers should be taken into account. It would be easier to make an analysis if we knew what the current US administration thinks about the “Cyprus question” and how far this “love affair” between Putin and Trump will go. What we know at the moment is that the Trump Administration is close to Israel and Egypt, and also that there are people within the Administration appearing to have close ties with Turkey. Where will the Administration strike the balance? We don’t know yet, as it is very soon. What is for sure is that the Republic of Cyprus should invest in its partnerships in the region and avoid miscalculations.
Second, employ appropriate argumentation. In its effort Cyprus should equally draw on legal, technical and moral argumentation, targeting both the leaders and the international public opinion. Cyprus has underused its legal advantages. In addition, it has not clarified what the consequences of a dysfunctional settlement would be. What is more, it has not stressed to a satisfactory degree, the moral perspective of the Cyprus question. For example, Republic of Cyprus has failed to create a powerful narrative and achieve international recognition of the “Cyprus question” and of the Republic’s rights. Several, opinion makers, journalists, politicians ignore the illegal invasion and occupation aspect and portray Greek Cypriots as avid expansionists. Moreover, there is an argument suggesting that the Greek Cypriots should oversee the illegal invasion and occupation because it was provoked by the Greek side and therefore Greeks also have their share of responsibility. Such an argument is totally absurd; in this case, Europe should not be liberated in the WWII because of the mistakes European Powers had made in their policies towards Hitler’s Germany, or the EU should not impose the recent sanctions on Russia because Europeans have also responsibilities for its invasion in Ukraine. The Republic of Cyprus should use an active and effective political communication strategy and make use of traditional and new media in order to project its positions.
Third, the Republic of Cyprus should manage its reputation. The Turkish side, as well as several opinion makers, policy makers, and scholars, have portrayed the Greek side as rigid. Yet, the Greek Cypriots yearn for the reunification of their island. To this aim, they have made many concessions, without the expected reciprocity. Cyprus has to remind everyone who tends to forget easily that it is a constructive partner and that it works according to international law and in the benefit of everyone at the table.
Moreover, the Republic of Cyprus has an impressive record of recent achievements that have rendered it a respectable small state. For example, despite the pessimism, Cypriots managed to make reforms, and overpass the economic crisis. Furthermore, in spite of doubts regarding Cyprus’ ability to cope with the administrative requirements of its EU membership, the Republic has managed to be an active member-state in issues that are of its interest and, what is more, to hold a successful EU Presidency. Last but not least, Cyprus makes every effort to create value in the region; Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and Greece, through their growing cooperation in many different sectors, try to bring about peaceful change and increase opportunities for prosperity and growth in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Nonetheless, it is not only the reputation of a small state that matters but also the reputation of its more powerful opponent. Turkey is a serial violator of UNSC Resolutions calling for the withdrawal of its army from the island. Cyprus should spare no effort to express its concern over the authoritarian turn of Turkey, the massive violations of human rights, and Erdogan’s provocative actions and statements.
Fourth, Cypriots should be reflective on their own lessons from the past. The Republic of Cyprus knows well what the consequences of an unfair settlement will be. If political arrangements are again dysfunctional, any solution will be unviable and will put in danger Cyprus’ hard-won achievements. Cypriot politicians should also recognise that unity pays back and should try to form a common position. The rejection of the Annan Plan by the 76% of the Greek Cypriots shows that society is united in their demand for a fair, functional, and viable solution. Politicians have to follow. Furthermore, the history of negotiations reveals that red lines and a clear position help. That is why the recent developments on the security guarantees are important.
Fifth, Cyprus should harness its newly founded partnerships and its EU membership. Lesser powers in the area, which also are threatened by Turkey, big powers, such as France, Italy and the US with which Cyprus shares a common interest in its gas resources exploitation, Turkish Cypriots, who want to escape from Turkey’s control, and the EU, may come as effective partners. The EU’s reaction to the outcomes of the current negotiations, as well as to Turkish provocative behaviour can be critical. Cyprus has to lobby hard for its positions within the EUand remind to its partners firstly, that in a case of a settlement it should be unacceptable for Turkey to have any kind of influence or presence to an EU member state; secondly, that, in a case of a non-agreement, Turkish aggressiveness and the threat of a de facto solution have to become EU issues, and Cyprus cannot be left alone. The current negotiations over the Cyprus question come as a critical test for the EU. It has to prove whether it is capable of defending both its values and its interests and in this context, they also come as an opportunity for the EU to show what it stands for.
By: Ilias Kouskouvelis, Professor of International Relations at the University of Macedonia, Greece and Revecca Pedi, PhD, Teaching Fellow at the Department of International and European Studies, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece
First Published on Cyprus Weekly