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Backgrounder #1601 on Europe

October 4, 2002

Cypriot EU Accession: An Impending Crisis in the Turkish-American Relationship

By and

An impending decision by the European Union (EU) could seriously complicate U.S. relations with Turkey, one of America's most important allies and a potential source of vital support in its war against terrorism. At its Inter-Governmental Conference in December, the EU is likely to grant membership to the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus while excluding the Turkish-Cypriot North.

This, coupled with the possibility that the EU will fail to assign Turkey a date to begin its own accession talks, would severely undermine pro-Western Turkish political forces within the country. Tension between Turkey and the EU over the island of Cyprus could well destabilize Turkey's fragile political scene and strengthen anti-American voices within Turkey, jeopardizing a relationship that is of prime importance to the United States.

Adjacent to Europe, Turkey is an important conduit for trade and has the ability to facilitate access to underutilized oil and gas resources in Central Asia. A large nation with vast economic potential and a secular government, it serves as the prime example of a successful Muslim democracy. Of most immediate importance, however, is Turkey's military and strategic significance. Turkey is a key military ally of the United States. The only primarily Muslim nation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Turkey has one of the most capable militaries in the alliance and has proven to be cooperative and reliable in supporting American proposals and priorities.

In the coming months, as the Bush Administration considers pursuing a military campaign in Iraq, Turkey's support will become even more critical. A major, sustained attack against Iraq will require Turkey's cooperation, especially if Saudi Arabia does not permit the United States to use its airspace or bases for logistical support.

Given the importance of a secular Turkey as an ally, the United States should support Turkey's aspirations for membership in the European Union and work to address any obstacles to achieving this goal. A cavalier decision by the EU to proceed with the accession of Cyprus without mollifying Turkey's concerns would anger this important ally, undermining U.S. interests and influence in the region.

America's interests in maintaining positive relations with both Turkey and the EU dictate that the United States take the following steps.

  • Urge the EU to set a date to begin accession talks with Turkey in the wake of its December Copenhagen summit. President George W. Bush should confer with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other European leaders to underscore the consequences of failing to acknowledge Turkish cooperation and political reform adequately and should urge them to support setting a date for initiating accession talks with Turkey.
  • Present a package of bilateral initiatives to Ankara. Specifically, the United States should (1) assure the Turkish people and the government in Ankara that America will not support a Kurdish state in a post-Saddam Iraqi settlement; (2) increase military assistance to Turkey, including arms sales, to demonstrate the ongoing American political and military connection with Ankara; (3) offer to offset part of Turkey's economic costs for its activities in Afghanistan and curtailed trade with Iraq; and (4) announce its intention to expand military exercises with Turkish armed forces, both through NATO and bilaterally.
  • Be prepared to pursue a long-term bilateral trade strategy with Turkey if U.S. efforts to facilitate Turkey's membership in the EU prove unsuccessful. If Turkey feels spurned by the EU, its future will lie with either the United States or the Middle Eastern region. The United States must therefore be prepared to make an offer to Turkey. As a first step, the United States should pursue a preferential trade agreement with Ankara that is focused on textiles and agriculture--the economic sectors most important to the Turkish economy. If Turkey's relationship with Europe deteriorates to the point where Turkey withdraws from the EU Customs Union and instead joins the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), the United States should negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement with Ankara.
  • Make the resolution of the Greek-Turkish Cypriot impasse a diplomatic priority. Regardless of whether the EU grants a date to begin accession talks, the Cypriot dilemma must be resolved in the near future to maintain regional stability and Turkish-European ties.

History of a Looming Crisis

The United Kingdom granted independence to Cyprus in 1960, following concessions by the Greek Cypriot majority to the Turkish Cypriot minority guaranteed in Cyprus's constitution. According to the United Nations,

[The Constitution] was intended to balance the interests of both the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities. Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom entered into a treaty to guarantee the basic provisions of the Constitution and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Cyprus. The application of the provisions of the Constitution, however, encountered difficulties from the very beginning and led to a succession of constitutional crises. The accumulated tension between the two communities resulted in the outbreak of violence on the island on 21 December 1963. On 27 December, the Security Council met to consider a complaint by Cyprus charging intervention in its internal affairs and aggression by Turkey. Turkey maintained that Greek Cypriot leaders had tried for more than two years to nullify the rights of the Turkish Cypriot community and denied all charges of aggression.2

Tensions between the two groups continued to remain high, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 186 established the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in 1964 to "prevent further fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities."3

The United Nations failed to accomplish this goal, and tensions erupted into conflict following "a coup d'état in Cyprus on 15 July 1974 by Greek Cypriot and Greek elements favoring union with Greece."4 Turkey countered the move by invading the island, ostensibly to protect Turkish Cypriots, stationing over 30,000 troops in the northern portion of Cyprus.

The 1974 conflict effectively divided Cyprus into two autonomous regions overseen by a perpetual UN peacekeeping presence. The Greek Cypriot region in the South comprises 59 percent of the land area of the island and enjoys international recognition as the legal government of the Republic of Cyprus.5 The Turkish Cypriot-controlled portion in the North comprises 37 percent of the land area of the island.6 The Turkish Cypriot-controlled area has declared its independence as the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" since November 1983 but is recognized only by Turkey.

The remaining 4 percent of the island serves as a UN-monitored buffer zone between the two regions,7 patrolled by the UNFICYP whose mandate was expanded after the 1974 hostilities to "supervising a de facto ceasefire, which came into effect on 16 August 1974, and maintaining a buffer zone between the lines of the Cyprus National Guard and of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces."8

Years of negotiations have failed to yield a peaceful resolution that is acceptable to both parties or their respective sponsor nations, Greece and Turkey. Over the past quarter-century, the two communities have remained resolute in their demands: Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides is seeking a federal system of two regions operating under a single sovereignty, as called for in UN resolutions,9 while Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktas wants a confederation of two independent states.

The Current Situation

The uneasy stalemate between these two regions is threatened by the European Union's likely decision to approve the accession of the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus to the EU at its December 2002 Copenhagen summit. Despite strong objections by Turkey and the ongoing political tensions between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, the EU has all but decided to approve Greek Cypriot membership because of political pressure from Greece, whose government has threatened to veto EU expansion unless Cyprus is granted accession, as well as the fact that the Republic of Cyprus has met most of the EU accession criteria.

Although Presidents Denktas and Clerides have met repeatedly throughout 2002, a political settlement between Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus prior to the Copenhagen summit is unlikely. Greek Cypriot President Clerides expects accession negotiations to begin irrespective of the political and military divisions in Cyprus. This--combined with the incompatibility of the constitutional aspirations of the two leaders--suggests that the talks, like those of the past 25 years, will not be fruitful.

Complicating the political dynamics of Cyprus's accession to the EU is Turkey's frustrations with its own lack of progress toward EU membership. Although Turkey applied for EU membership 15 years ago, it was granted candidate status only in December 1999 at the Helsinki summit. The EU has stated that it will begin substantive talks with Turkey only after specific political and economic conditions--known as the Copenhagen criteria--are met.

In an effort to improve its own EU membership prospects, Turkey has made sweeping reforms, including eliminating its death penalty during peacetime, widening freedom of expression, and lifting bans on the Kurdish language; but the response from the EU has not been encouraging, and EU officials have warned Turkey against "raising its hopes too high."10 Even if the Cyprus dispute could be settled before the Copenhagen summit, there is no guarantee that such an outcome would result in Turkey being granted a date to begin accession talks at the December summit.

Moreover, this potential crisis is emerging in an environment of Turkish political and economic instability. In mid-July, ailing Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's three-party coalition dissolved, with a third of his coalition defecting. As a result, national elections have been scheduled for November 3. The moderate Islamist party, Justice and Development (AK), is expected to win the November elections, though this is by no means certain. The upcoming elections in Turkey will place pressure on politicians in Ankara to maintain a hard-line Cyprus policy; all the major Turkish political parties are staunchly nationalist on the Cyprus question.

This political uncertainty has contributed to an already precarious economic situation in which Turkey continues to grapple with an unwieldy public-sector debt. Because Turkey is the largest single recipient of International Monetary Fund loans, the IMF, as well as other financial institutions, will be looking for the continuation of stringent reforms. The AK party, unlike the current administration, will have to gain the confidence of these institutions.

However, regardless of whether or not the AK party assumes power or a political settlement between the northern and southern portions of Cyprus is reached, Turkey has made it clear that it will accept Cypriot accession only if the EU identifies a date at Copenhagen for beginning Turkish accession talks. On August 15, Turkey's new foreign minister challenged the European Union to set a date for starting accession talks with Ankara as a reciprocal gesture in response to his country's recent reforms and stated that failure to do so, in conjunction with the move by the EU to admit the Greek Cypriots, would "poison" Turkey's relations with the EU.11

Implications for U.S. Interests

At stake in this conflict is the future of the Turkish-American relationship. U.S. interests lie in keeping Turkey stable, secular, and democratic. Because of Turkey's status as a crossroads between the East and West, the Turkish-Western relationship exemplifies the ability to bridge the gap between the Western and Islamic worlds.

Turkey also has immeasurable value as an example that democracy and Islam are not mutually exclusive. As noted by Freedom House in its Freedom in the World for 2001-2002:

Since the early 1970s, when the third major historical wave of democratization began, the Islamic world--and, in particular, its Arabic core--has seen little significant evidence of improvements in political openness, respect for human rights, and transparency. Indeed, the democracy gap between the Islamic world and the rest of the world is dramatic.... [I]n countries with an Islamic majority, only 11 of 47 have democratically elected governments, or 23 percent. In the non-Islamic world, there are 110 electoral democracies out of 145 states, over 75 percent.... [A] non-Islamic state is nearly three times more likely to be democratic than an Islamic state. There are no electoral democracies among the 16 Arabic states of the Middle East and North Africa.12

Of the 14 nations in the Middle East, Freedom House ranks only Israel and Turkey as electoral democracies.13As such, the Ataturk model of Turkey serves as a powerful example to the rest of the region, representing the successful fusion of Islam and secular democracy, which should be encouraged and supported by the United States.

Despite the 2000 economic crisis, which curtailed growth, Turkey remains a regional economic power with a modern industrial economy and a large population of 66.2 million that enjoyed a relatively wealthy per-capita GDP of $2,902 in 2001 (in constant 1995 U.S. dollars), based on data from the World Bank.14 Turkey is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development group of industrialized nations, joined the World Trade Organization in 1995, and has undertaken economic reform under IMF direction that in general has improved its economic policies.

Turkey is therefore an important economic partner with the West, which is the major source for Turkish imports of goods and services, totaling $60.1 billion in 2001 (in constant 1995 U.S. dollars) as well as a key destination of Turkish exports of goods and services, totaling $66.9 billion in 2001 (in constant 1995 U.S. dollars).15 Other issues, such as the construction of oil pipelines in the Caspian region, accentuate Turkey's economic importance to the United States and Europe.

Geography and military power underscore Turkey's importance as a critical ally of the United States and the European Union. Turkey is the only primarily Muslim nation in NATO. It has one of the most capable militaries in the alliance and has proven to be both cooperative and reliable in supporting American proposals and priorities since its accession in 1952. Turkey has provided key assistance in past NATO campaigns as well as in the current Afghanistan mission. As of July 2002, it assumed responsibility over peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan.

The relationship between the United States and Turkey will become even more critical in the coming months as the Bush Administration considers pursuing a military campaign in Iraq. A major, sustained attack against Iraq will require Turkey's cooperation, especially if Saudi Arabia does not permit its airspace or bases to be used for logistical support. The use of Turkish airspace and forward basing in Incirlik will be critical to the success of the operation in Iraq.

In addition, if the United States wants to work with opposition forces within Iraq, providing support to the Kurdish opposition in Zakho, which is near Iraq's border with Turkey, will be critical. Support for the Kurdish rebels is a sensitive issue in Turkey because Turkey has trouble with its own Kurdish minority. Maintaining good relations with a moderate Turkish government will therefore be a U.S. priority if such a strategy is to be pursued.

An American Strategy

For Turks, there is a distinct linkage between supporting American efforts regarding a regime change in Iraq and having their concerns regarding the Cyprus question addressed. It is not likely that a resentful, nationalist Turkey that feels spurned by the West will continue to serve as a linchpin for American strategic interests in the region. American diplomatic efforts must focus on ensuring that Turkey's concerns are addressed.

To ensure regional stability and positive relations between Turkey and the EU, a Cypriot settlement must be reached before the accession of the Greek Cypriot region. Regrettably, however, the achievement of a breakthrough in the Cypriot impasse before the December summit is not likely.

Given U.S. interests in maintaining positive relations with both Turkey and the EU, America should adopt short-term policies to mollify Turkey's anger over perceived snubs from the EU and enhance prospects for Turkey's membership in the union. This strategy should be fortified by a medium-term contingency plan geared to the possibility of a breakdown in Turkish-EU relations. Specifically, the Administration should take the following actions.

Urge the EU to begin accession talks with Turkey in December. Turkey has implemented a number of unprecedented reforms in the past year to meet the Copenhagen criteria, including a review of the Turkish Constitution in October 2001 and the political reforms introduced in August 2002 to improve human rights, strengthen the rule of law, and reform democratic institutions. Turkey also has met EU demands to eliminate its death penalty in peacetime, legalize broadcasting and education in languages other than Turkish (notably, Kurdish), ease restrictions on demonstrations and associations, and adopt tougher penalties for those who traffic in human beings.

Even if the EU wishes to see more reform in Ankara, both the United States and the Europeans have far more to lose by alienating Turkey than by beginning its accession process. Setting a date for discussion would merely begin the talks and allow time for further reform. Beginning the accession process at Copenhagen in December would strengthen pro-Western forces within Turkey, such as Ismail Cem, the former foreign minister and recent founder of the New Turkey Party, and Kemal Dervis, the architect of Turkey's daunting economic liberalization program, and would thus improve the prospects of Turkey's more moderate forces. Failure to set a date could undermine moderate forces in Turkey, potentially fostering fundamentalism, a surly nationalism, and anti-European sentiments in Europe's own backyard.

President Bush should confer with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other European leaders both to discuss the consequences of failing to acknowledge Turkish cooperation and political reform adequately and to urge them to support setting a date for accession talks to begin.



Deliver a package of bilateral initiatives to Ankara. The moderate forces in Turkey need support before the November elections. If the EU fails to act quickly enough to make a difference, the result could be to jeopardize recent headway made in Turkey's political and economic reforms. The United States should anticipate this possibility and construct a package of bilateral incentives for Turkey that would convey U.S. support for the nation and complement an announcement of a date to begin accession talks by the EU if it does occur. The package should be designed to support moderate political forces in Turkey, enhance Turkey's ability to serve as an ally in the war on terrorism, prepare Turkey as a key staging ground for military action in Iraq should the U.S. decide on such a course, and bolster prospects for deeper relations between Turkey and the United States and Europe.

In pursuit of these goals, the United States should (1) assure the Turkish people and the government in Ankara that America will not support a Kurdish state in the post-Saddam Iraqi settlement; (2) increase military assistance to Turkey, including arms sales, to better equip and prepare Turkey as an ally in the war on terrorism; (3) partially compensate Turkey for the economic costs of its activities in Afghanistan and curtailed trade with Iraq; and (4) announce its intention to expand military exercises with Turkish armed forces, both through NATO and bilaterally.



Be prepared to pursue a long-term bilateral trade strategy with Turkey if U.S. efforts to facilitate Turkey's membership in the EU prove unsuccessful. If the EU does not grant Turkey a date to begin its accession talks, it will be even more important for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to strengthening ties with Turkey. If Turkey feels spurned by the EU, its future will lie with either the United States or the Middle Eastern world. The United States must therefore be prepared to make an offer to Turkey. The United States should first attempt to pursue a preferential trade agreement with Ankara that is focused on textiles and agriculture, the economic sectors that are most important to the Turkish economy.

Due to its membership in the European Union Customs Union, Turkey is currently unable to negotiate a broader bilateral deal with the United States. However, if relations between Europe and Turkey deteriorate, Turkey may well begin to sever such ties with the EU. In that case, the United States should then offer Turkey a bilateral free trade agreement. Such an agreement would be possible if Turkey withdraws from the EU Customs Union and joins the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). By entering a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States while maintaining membership in EFTA, Turkey would have preferential access to the world's two largest economic blocs. While a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States might not allay Turkey's disappointment in having its EU membership postponed, the economic benefits would provide some compensation to Turkey that would shore up ties with the West and promote continued progress toward economic growth and stability.



Make the resolution of the Greek-Turkish Cypriot impasse a diplomatic priority. Regardless of whether the EU grants Turkey a date to begin accession talks, the Cypriot dilemma must be resolved in the near future if regional stability and Turkish-European ties are to be maintained. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is defended by approximately 30,000 Turkish troops, is recognized only by Turkey. Since the 1974 Turkish invasion and the division of the island, the UN and the EU have been unsuccessful in their attempts to broker a solution because the opposing Cypriot groups and their respective backing nations have been unable to agree on the terms of unification.

Although no progress has been made, the principles of a successful agreement have been clear for decades. The Turkish side must cede territory so that its area is more proportionate to its population;16 in turn, the Greek side must accept Turkish administration over the newly defined zone, and citizens on both sides who lost property must receive compensation or the right of return. After such concessions are made on both sides, a loosely federal union, with power devolved to the lowest possible level in every case, should be the constitutional option favored by the West. While Cypriot leaders on both sides, as well as their Greek and Turkish patrons, must come to their own agreement, the United States, in conjunction with the UN and the EU, should urge this outcome, which is in the interests of both Cypriot communities.

In forging such an agreement, a U.S.-led effort may succeed where the UN and EU have failed, because America's close ties with Turkey would serve as a powerful complement to Europe's relationship with Greece. Pressure must be raised on Greece and Greek Cyprus to allow for a more autonomous northern region within a loosely federated model, and incentives should be given to Northern Cyprus--such as lifting the economic embargo and, in the longer term, entry into the EU. The Turkish Cypriots have expressed a desire for EU membership, and alienating them with an embargo that makes them poorer will further reduce their prospects for an eventual reconciliation with the South and a separate entry into the EU.



As one of Turkey's key foreign policy concerns, the situation in Cyprus is an important national security issue for America. All signs point to the European Union's granting an accession date to the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus in the coming months, with the exclusion of the Turkish Cypriot area. If a crisis is to be averted, it is imperative that America formulate and pursue a strategy to address this situation.

In the unlikely event that the EU decides to delay Greek Cypriot accession, the strategy outlined above will retain its value and utility, since its policy recommendations have relevance beyond the issue of EU membership. Tension in Cyprus is an ongoing, important U.S. foreign policy concern that demands a coherent strategy to address the conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots and improve America's ties with Turkey.

CONCLUSION

The importance of a secular Turkey as an ally demands that the United States support Turkey's aspirations for membership in the European Union and help address its concerns, including the anticipated accession of the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus and problematic initiation of accession talks with Ankara itself. While working to address these issues, the United States should fortify its relationship with Turkey by increasing military ties and assistance to enhance the effectiveness of that nation as an ally in the war on terrorism, assuring Turkey that the U.S. would not support an independent Kurdish state in a post-Saddam Iraq.

If conditions between Europe and Turkey worsen and Turkey's aspirations for EU membership continue to be frustrated, the United States should demonstrate its recognition of Turkey's importance by offering a bilateral free trade agreement as an alternative.

-- John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., is Research Fellow for European Affairs in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics, at The Heritage Foundation.


1. The authors would like to thank Rachel Prager and Dave Polansky, interns in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, for their contributions to this paper.

2. "Cyprus-UNFICYP: Background," United Nations, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, at http://www.un.org/Depts/DPKO/Missions/unficyp/unficypB.html.

3. "Current Peacekeeping Operations: United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus," United Nations, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, at http://www.un.org/Depts/DPKO/Missions/unficyp/body_unficyp.htm.

4. "Cyprus-UNFICYP: Background."

5. "Cyprus," The World Factbook, 2001, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, at http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. "Cyprus-UNFICYP: Mandate," United Nations, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, at http://www.un.org/Depts/DPKO/Missions/unficyp/unficypM.html.

9. Initially stated in Resolution 3212, adopted by the General Assembly on November 1, 1974, and reiterated in numerous successive resolutions.

10. "Turkey's Reforms," The Economist, August 10, 2002.

11. "Selected News on Turkey," compiled by the Washington Office of Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD-US), August 12-18, 2002.

12. Adrian Karatnycky, "The 2001-2002 Freedom House Survey of Freedom: The Democracy Gap," at http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/freeworld/2002/akessay.pdf.

13. Ibid.

14. Data from World Development Indicators Online, World Bank, Washington, D.C., at www.worldbank.org.

15. Ibid.

16. Turkish Cypriots, representing 18 percent of the population, control 37 percent of the island.

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