Any critique of UK foreign policy towards a country or geopolitical region must of course take account of the UK’s perceived national interests. In this regard the UK’s foreign policy towards the Republic of Cyprus – a country with over 37 per cent of its territory illegally occupied by Turkish forces since 1974 – makes a valid case study for analysis.
Caption: Bringing down the barricades – the Cypriots seek a solution that will truly reunite their divided island
"The UK has not taken effective steps to oppose Turkey’s efforts to promote a confederation in order to cement its illegal occupation on the island"
The UK government’s foreign policy towards Cyprus appears to follow a very narrow perception of the UK’s national interests which is based and conditional upon Turkey’s future role in the eastern Mediterranean and globally. The UK government’s policy towards the Republic of Cyprus has for some years hinged on its and the US’ over arching objective to fully assimilate Turkey into Western institutions including the EU, whether or not this is at the expense of international law and human rights, and whether or not it is at the expense of finding a just and viable solution to the Cyprus issue.
The UK’s foreign secretary David Miliband made the UK government’s intentions clear in his recent September 2009 Foreign Office blog where he stated:
“The strategic significance of Turkey’s accession talks and final accession are impossible to overestimate. From the Middle East to energy, Turkey is a pivotal player. Tomorrow I meet the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer. The drive for a settlement needs to pick up momentum this autumn and winter, in the sense that the politics will only get more difficult thereafter. I think this is one of the most important and soluble frozen conflicts. I am concerned that the first round of talks has been so painstaking, but now the second round is under way we need a real push from all sides.”
In this extract, Mr Miliband focuses on Cyprus as a stumbling block to Turkey’s aspirations but notably only states that a push is required from “all sides” to resolve this issue even though, as many independent observers have commented, it is clearly Turkey which is hindering the current negotiations between Mr Christofias, the president of the Republic of Cyprus and Mr Talat, leader of the Turkish Cypriot community. As president Christofias stated at his recent address to the UN General Assembly:
“Despite our common efforts, the Turkish Cypriot side, supported by Turkey, continues to present positions and proposals which lead us outside the framework of the United Nations Resolutions on Cyprus with regard to the termination of military occupation, the illegal possession of properties and the presence of settlers. Possible acceptance of these positions would lead to an acceptance of many of the consequences of the occupation and to violations of international conventions on human rights, basic freedoms and the principles on which federations are built.
It is clear that such a solution would be neither viable, nor functional, and would not ensure the continuing unity of the state and the country.”
Whilst Gordon Brown’s government purports to remain committed to upholding established UN parameters for a settlement, the UK has not taken effective steps to oppose Turkey’s efforts to promote a confederation in order to cement its illegal occupation on the island. The UK has also never properly acknowledged the enormous cultural, historical and political concession by the Republic of Cyprus in agreeing to a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation in 1977. On the contrary, to fulfil its strategy towards Turkey, the UK government (as advised by the Foreign Office) continues to demand significant concessions from the Republic of Cyprus in supporting solutions such as the Annan plan, which rides roughshod on human rights and property rights.
We do not believe that it is in the UK’s interests to take such a one-sided approach towards the Republic of Cyprus. Putting aside the UK’s long-standing historical and cultural ties and its ‘guarantor power’ status to the Republic, a member of the Commonwealth – the UK must not forget that Cyprus is a member of the UN and many other international institutions and a full EU member state since 2004. The Republic of Cyprus also has sovereignty over the whole of the island (with the exception of the UK Sovereign Base Areas). Moreover, as well as being one of the few fully fledged democracies in the region, it also continues to have significant economic benefits for the UK, both as a major shipping and tourist centre, but also as a potential future oil producer. In short, the Republic of Cyprus is an important power in the eastern Mediterranean in its own right. How can it therefore be in the UK’s interests to sideline the Republic’s own legitimate interests in an attempt to shore up Turkey’s standing in the international arena? In our view this is a short sighted and high risk strategy.
There is no guarantee that Turkey will enter the EU and become a truly westernised democratic nation. We believe that by pursuing a strategy which makes Cyprus’ future entirely conditional on Turkey’s own aspirations and development, the UK risks weakening the Republic of Cyprus, a long-standing, stable and valuable ally in the region.