Part 1: A Strategic Assessment

Turkey is and will be for the foreseeable future the dominant local power in the Eastern Mediterranean. There are at least two reasons to flesh out this argument.

First, it appears that many people on Cyprus either contest this view of the balance of power or believe that there are ways to reverse it. These people are wrong and may miscalculate their way into tragedy. People who believe that mobilizing Cyprus' reserves could give them a 3:1 ratio over the Turkish forces and thus enable a successful campaign to Kyrenia are mistaken. People who believe that the S-300 missiles from Russia will clear the skies of Turkish aircraft are equally wrong. New weapons and joint dogmas may help deterrence marginally, but they will not change the balance of power on Cyprus or in the region. More importantly, these policies increase tensions and increased tensions make solutions harder to achieve. If a solution is nonetheless achieved, high levels of tensions will likely make the form of that solution closer to partition than federation. Increased tensions also delay E.U. accession, hurt tourism, and increase the chance of war.

Second, those who promote a federal solution (the canonical 'bizonal, bicommunal federation') are also in danger of miscalculation. If Cypriot ethno-nationalism is on the rise, then it would be premature to force the two sides to govern together. I hope the current round of international concern for the Cyprus problem will lead to more confidence-building measures, goodwill measures, and bicommunal activities. And I hope that these steps will lay the foundation for healing the division on Cyprus. But my primary goal is to prevent conflict and war on Cyprus. That is why I argue against a premature federal solution on Cyprus.

At best, a Cyprus solution will lead all sides to shake hands and embrace each other in peace. This rosy outcome is based on the assumption that a solution, in and of itself, will overcome decades of Cypriot ethno-nationalism and tension. The opposite appears to be true. Ethno-nationalism and tensions are rising on Cyprus (and the larger Greco-Turkish conflict is of course millennia old). A Cyprus solution might help reduce these problems. However, it is more likely that a federal solution attempted in the midst of moderate or high levels of ethno-nationalism and tension will instead exacerbate these problems and lead to wider conflict.

Given the current levels of ethno-nationalism and tension on Cyprus and given Turkey's clear regional dominance, it seems unwise for the Greek Cypriots (and the international community) to push so strongly for a Cyprus solution. This is especially so when many Greek Cypriot tactics for provoking international support for a solution also increase tensions and deepen ethno-nationalism on Cyprus (the S-300 purchase and violent demonstrations are discussed below)3. A federal solution imposed on a tension-filled island will lead to conflict between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority when they find it difficult to live and govern together. In the end, Turkey will intervene to protect its near-nationals, and the Greek Cypriots will suffer. It happened from 1960-1974 and it could happen again. 4

Map 1, Cyprus and Its Neighborhood, on the next page helps make the case that Turkey will be the dominant local power in the region for the foreseeable future. Turkey dwarfs Cyprus and is only 40 miles away. Mainland Greece is not on the map. Greece's nearest militarily useful islands, Rhodes and Crete, are 300+/- miles away. Turkey's relative proximity to Cyprus compared to Greece makes its lines of communication more secure, allows for more rapid reinforcement and resupply, and facilitates air operations.

Map 1, Cyprus and Its Neighborhood 5

On Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot National Guard (GCNG) has 10,000 soldiers on active duty, with 88,000 reserves. Of the 88,000, half are age 35-50; the rest are age 20-34. These forces are supplemented by about 1,000 Greek mainland troops and 1,300 Greek mainland officers. These officers lead and control the Greek Cypriot National Guard.6

On the North side of Cyprus, there are some 4,000 Turkish Cypriot Security Forces (TCSF) with 26,000 reserves (also up to age 50). There are about 30,000 Turkish mainland soldiers in the North. The Turkish forces (TF) are better trained and better disciplined than the Greek Cypriot National Guard.7 The TF enjoy a two or three to one advantage in main battle tanks, after the GCNG buildup is taken into account. There are similar proportions in other types of weaponry.

Other forces on Cyprus include about 4,000 troops from the United Kingdom in the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as well as about 1,150 lightly armed troops serving with UNFICYP (mostly from Argentina, Austria, and the United Kingdom).

The bottom line on the local balance of forces is that the Turkish forces could defeat the South in about three days.8 All balance of forces assessments are rough and dependent on many variables: warning time, mobilization, weather, and so forth. However, assuming this estimate is correct, the Greek Cypriots could double the effectiveness of their forces and the war would be over in six days. If they tripled their effectiveness, the war would be over in nine days. If they tripled their effectiveness and this estimate was off by 100%, the war would be over in 18 days.


3 This working paper started as conference paper which was prepared with a mostly Greek and Greek Cypriot audience in mind. It retains this focus. Had it been a largely Turkish and Turkish Cypriot audience, I would have argued that Turkey faces major choices in its domestic and foreign politics, many of which involve cementing its relations towards the West or facing increasing isolation (at least from the West). There are some easy things it could do should it opt for the former, and helping achieve a Cyprus solution is one of them. Turkey and the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" or "TRNC" are widely recognized and condemned as being the more stubborn partner in the Cyprus negotiations. They could gain a lot of credibility in the West by withdrawing to 29% (or less) of the land in Cyprus, apologizing for the illegal aspects of the 1974 invasion, apologizing for the lethal brutality along the buffer zone in 1996, stopping the slow ethnic cleansing of the Maronites and Greek Cypriots in the North, and so forth [of course, the Cyprus problem is not necessarily the first thing Western states think about when they assess Turkey's human rights record. Turkey kills several hundred Kurds (or more, depending on when one starts counting) for every Greek Cypriot killed. On the other hand, the Cyprus problem is more directly tied to issues of NATO/Western solidarity].

Indeed, it is Turkey's very strength (which in this paper I argue should sober both ethno-nationalists and those who would impose a solution on Cyprus when the two sides don't appear too ready to get along) which should permit it to make considerable concessions to solve the Cyprus problem and to gain favor in the West. While this paper argues primarily that Greece and Cyprus can't gain much (and can lose a lot) from belligerence and arms build-ups, a paper directed more towards the Turkish side would argue that the Turks can't lose much (and can gain a lot) from being more conciliatory.

4 In 1960, a constitution was imposed that made the Turkish and Greek Cypriots govern together. They couldn't because tension between the two made smooth power sharing impossible. Gridlock in the consociational government fueled intercommunal violence. Eventually, this violence (and a coup which threatened enosis) led Turkey to intervene in 1974. The month-long war resulted in several thousand dead and about a third of the island's populations being turned into refugees. This sequence of gridlock, strife, and tragedy highlights the dangers of a premature federal solution.

5 Franz Georg Maier, Cyprus: From the Earliest Time to the Present Day, Peter Gorge, trans. (London, Great Britain: Elek Books Limited, 1968), p. 14. 6 Except where noted, most of the following data is from International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 1996/97, (London, Great Britain: Oxford University Press for the IISS, 1996). See also Aristo Aristotelous, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus: The Military Balance, 1995-1996 - Arms, Doctrines and Disarmament (Nicosia, Cyprus: Cyprus Centre for Strategic Studies, 1995).

7 This assessment is based on numerous conversations with those who have had direct contact with the forces on Cyprus, as well as with others who were in a position to offer authoritative judgements on this issue. If even front-line Cyprus National Guard troops are inferior to their counter-parts, then the NG reserves are likely to poorer still. The qualitative differences between the TFs and the NG are such that whatever reserves the NG can mobilize won't give them a three-to-one combat power ratio. The ratio is only meaningful if measured in terms of combat power, not simple manpower. People who make arguments about taking Kyrenia based on mobilization of reserves illustrate the potential for miscalculation on Cyprus.

8 The estimate of three days was given to me and confirmed by experts from different organizations. No one suggested that the Turkish forces/Turkey wanted to conquer Cyprus or that they would be wise to do so. Indeed, such an attack would set back many of Turkey's professed aims.


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