- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

Since 1963, the problem of Cyprus has driven a wedge between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, destabilized the eastern Mediterranean, and strained Turkey's relations with Europe. Today, the impact of Cyprus is not so much on lingering Greek-Turkish issues,but on the future orientation of Turkey.
Given the many U.S. interests that Turkey affects, such as containing Saddam Hussein's regime, promoting stability in Afghanistan, fighting international terrorism, routing energy resources from the Caspian Sea, promoting peace in the Balkans, expanding Western influence in Central Asia, and promoting Muslim partnership with Israel, significant U.S. policy issues are at stake.
More importantly over the long term, Turkey is a prototype for Islamic modernity, providing hope and replacing the negative, repressive, xenophobic environment that has developed in some Islamic countries, where hatred, fear and ignorance are grist for recruiting terrorists. Moderate states, such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco could greatly benefit by following the Turkish model so long as it works.
The single most important long-term threat to Turkey is the rise of radical Islam, which threatens the very essence of its secular democratic nature. The solution requires lifting the standard of living, and Turkey has concluded that EU membership is the best way to achieve this.
The current conundrum in the eastern Mediterranean is that, if EU membership is approved for Cyprus before a settlement to the Cyprus problem occurs, Turkey has threatened to annex the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [TRNC]." This could result in an outright political union or a mini-Turkish Economic Union. In either case, the Green Line separating the two communities would effectively become a permanent, armed, demarcation line, and Turkey's EU future would be ended. In this scenario, everyone would be a loser:
(1) The Republic of Cyprus would hold veto power over Turkey's EU membership.
(2) The Turkish Army presence in Cyprus would be viewed as an occupying force in EU territory.
(3) Greek Cypriot hopes of seeing the bulk of the Turkish Army return to the mainland would be dashed.
(4) Greek-Turkish relations would be crippled, and tensions over Aegean Sea disputes would escalate.
(5) NATO cohesion would be lessened at a time when the alliance is engaged in the Balkans and in the war on terrorism.
(6) Turkey, sensing the diminished likelihood of full EU membership, would be more resistant to EU influence.
(7) The eastern Mediterranean would become a permanently fractious region where defense budgets and the potential for conflict would remain high.
(8) Showcasing Turkey as a model to be emulated by non-radical Muslim states would be set back severely. Instead of serving as a bridge between East and West, Turkey would become more like a frontier between the two.
From the U.S. government's viewpoint, any solution to the Cyprus problem that might also damage U.S.-Turkish relations is not worthwhile which is why the problem has been viewed as an issue to manage and not necessarily resolve.
The paradigm heretofore used to protect U.S.-Turkish relations that is, a policy of benign neglect toward Cyprus has changed. Paradoxically, an activist policy aimed at solving the Cyprus problem is now the best way to protect the range of U.S. interests with respect to Turkey.
Turkey should re-examine its Cyprus policy to find alternative positions to protect its own candidacy for EU membership. A comprehensive political settlement in Cyprus would be the ideal solution, but it is not necessarily the most likely outcome. Therefore, interim, but important, adjustments should be considered as well. These include:
Turkish acknowledgement that Cyprus will meet EU criteria and gain membership years before Turkey does. Rather than annex the "TRNC" when this happens, Turkey should help find a way to include Turkish Cypriots in the EU accession process in a manner that protects Ankara's interests.
Redefining a successful Cyprus policy. Instead of adopting an "either/or" approach to a comprehensive political settlement, identify steps based on the "art of the possible," such as modifications in the international trade embargo against northern Cyprus.
New flexibility regarding the basic EU tenet that all citizens can move freely, with the right to acquire private property, within a member country. This greatly concerns Turkey, which envisages Greek Cypriots simply moving north, buying the "TRNC" parcel by parcel, and relegating Turkish Cypriot workers to unskilled labor and farming while Greek Cypriots become the primary entrepreneurs across the entire Cypriot republic. But this EU tenet is not absolute and arrangements even at a transitional level can be considered for Cyprus to assuage these fears.
c Most promising is the prospect of a new security architecture that could be built now, to be implemented either before or after an overall political settlement is achieved. By expanding Greek-Turkish rapprochement into the military arena, this architecture could create the needed impetus to move forward on the political, economic, legal and social dimensions of the Cyprus problem. The architecture should eliminate the offensive military capabilities on both sides; equalize Greek and Turkish mainland units in Cyprus at brigade level; replace the U.N. peacekeeping force in Cyprus with a NATO-led unit; and put all forces in Cyprus under a single commander from a NATO country. Removing the bulk of regular Turkish Army units and disbanding the entire Greek Cypriot National Guard would allow the security focus to shift to expanded police protection of all Cypriots, which would assume greater importance in the post-settlement phase.
Keeping Turkey on the road to EU membership promotes many U.S. and allied interests.
Among these are improved Greek-Turkish relations, NATO cohesion, stability in the eastern Mediterranean, increased security in Cyprus, and, importantly, strengthening Turkey's unique long-term melding of all the elements of a modern Western society with Islam.
It will take compromise and adjustments on both sides of Nicosia's "Green Line" to successfully negotiate Cyprus' accession to the EU in a manner that promotes regional peace, stability and economic development but compromise is what democracies are all about.

Stephen R. Norton, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is a senior policy adviser at the Western Policy Center.

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