CYPRUS STATE OF DENIAL: NOTHING LIKE PEACE TO KEEP CNN AWAY
by Nikolas K. Gvosdev
The National Interest Online, DC
Oct 2 2006
Cyprus hasn’t been grabbing news headlines lately. Sure, there is
concern about the possible derailment of Turkey’s EU-accession process
because Ankara still won’t deal with the government of the Republic
of Cyprus, which it chooses not to recognize as being legitimate. But
other than that, it’s not on the list of the hotspots of the world’s
"frozen conflicts"-waiting for war to break out in the Caucasus is
much more interesting.
It is an indictment, however, of the "squeaky wheels get the grease"
approach to conflict resolution. The United States and the Europeans
have not put a great deal of effort behind efforts to get Cyprus
"solved" because there is no pressing urgency, or so it is said.
But the failure to take advantage of a number of windows of opportunity
to get a workable bi-zonal, bi-communal federation up and running on
the island (and to get Turkish troops out, and to remove the Cyprus
question as a roadblock for Ankara’s EU aspirations) has not gone
unnoticed in the region.
There are four lessons to be "unlearned" from Cyprus-all of which
will make our task of ending other regional conflicts all the more
Lesson number one: Don’t resettle your refugees. After the 1974
invasion of the island, the government in Nicosia made a tremendous
decision. Refugees would not be permanently confined to squalid
camps and kept in perpetual limbo (guaranteeing the emergence of
second and third generations of refugees), as had happened with
the Palestinians. No, resettlement would occur by creating new
neighborhoods (with refugees acquiring the ability to eventually own
property) and by directing investment to create job opportunities
(rather than have people on a perpetual dole). The end result: no
"showcase" camps filled with desperate, radicalized people. The
international community, however, has interpreted this to mean that
there is no problem at all. This is why in more recent conflicts
governments have quite cynically allowed and encouraged refugees
camps to develop and become permanent; nothing better than to parade
before international observers the dispossessed. And usually, the
refugees-encouraged to vote as a bloc-give their ballots to the
political forces most disinclined for compromise or moderation. The
"refugee factor" is an important reason for the lack of progress in
settling the conflicts in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Lesson number two: Highlight ethnic conflict. When the "green line"
separating the Greek and Turkish areas of Cyprus opened in 2003, the
world media was prepared to televise the predicted violence; that
once Greek and Turkish Cypriots encountered each other, "age-old"
ethnic hatreds would flare up, leading to dramatic clashes. For the
last three years, millions of cross-zonal visits have taken place with
almost no incidents. There’s nothing like peace to keep CNN away. The
Kosovar Albanians, in contrast, have adopted a more successful
strategy-by having extremists continue to target the minority Serbs,
the argument is made that accommodation is impossible and independence
(and separation) the only solution.
The third lesson: Don’t compromise. The government in Nicosia could
have used its veto to prevent EU accession talks with Turkey from
ever starting, on the grounds that Ankara’s refusal to recognize
the government of an EU-member state and its continued deployment
of 40,000 troops on the island constitute an illegal occupation of
European territory. It didn’t. It signaled that it would even support
Turkish membership in the EU and wouldn’t act as the proxy for those
central European states who don’t want Turkey in the EU but don’t
want to provoke Washington by scuttling Ankara’s European bid.
Nicosia gambled that its moderation would lead to some reciprocal
gestures on Turkey’s part. Those hopes have been, so far, dashed.
The lesson the rest of the region is learning is that might makes right
and that compromise is a sign of weakness. Nowhere in the region are
rivals prepared to make the concessions necessary to move forward on
long-term peace arrangements.
Finally, the Cypriot case shows that the vaunted "European approach"
is, so far, zero for one. This thesis is that the incentive of
joining the EU-with all the economic benefits entailed plus the
protections provided by EU institutions-can motivate political leaders
to reach a settlement. (The "EU approach" is the one advocated
by former secretary of defense, Frank Carlucci, in these pages
?id=11962 "The Crucial
Final Step", rests on the assumption that competing Serb and Albanian
interests in Kosovo can be reconciled via EU membership for both Serbia
and an independent Kosovo state.) So far, that approach has not worked
to reunite the island nor caused Turkey to modify its stance. And the
extent to which the EU backs away from its commitments (to recognize
the territorial integrity of the island under the government of the
Republic) only erodes confidence that any EU-based settlement can in
fact be trusted to be implemented.
Failure to reach a final settlement for Cyprus, with all of its
positive conditions, makes it that much harder to believe that the
more difficult cases-Kosovo, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and even
Iraq-will prove easier to resolve, especially when leaders in those
states and entities conclude that there’s no benefit to be gained
from being moderate and reasonable.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.