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Time for Cyprus to get savvy with its defence strategy

14 April, 2019 | Posted By: Charlie Charalambous

Cyprus can never be considered a military power but that doesn’t mean it has to be a sitting duck if push comes to shove and it needs to defend itself.


The island’s history is one of intervention, conspiracy and invasion where the whims of major powers disregard the needs of Cyprus and its people.

Cyprus has learnt the hard way and now it’s using its strategic location and reputation to do regional deals while stitching its energy wealth into the bilateral ties it seeks to enhance with its neighbours and Washington.

 

Outgunned and outnumbered by occupying force Turkey, Nicosia has to get smart, not only through its regional alliances – notice upgraded military cooperation with France and Israel – but it must be clever in the way it defends itself.

 

Nicosia is not going to go to war with anybody, although it does need a nifty and flexible army that thinks on its feet incorporating smart technology that enables it to have a secure air-defence umbrella.

Strides have been made to try and make the National Guard a more capable force that isn’t hampered by long-serving conscripts who have no desire to be there and desk-job commanders whose only combat experience is ripping open their pay cheque envelop.

Proper soldiering is a profession, it takes dedication, experience and determination to be an effective fighting force to tackle any emergency situation.

Arguably, Cyprus is one of the heaviest militarised places on earth with armies of different nations marching around, in a perfect world there would be no need for military personnel on the island.

Moreover, Cyprus doesn’t have the money to buy US F-35 fighter jets, or battleships, in fact, it couldn’t even afford the wrapping for such equipment but maybe it can use smart technology in its defence.

This is why the lifting of a US arms embargo is significant, it doesn’t mean Nicosia is going to go all out Rambo in buying American weapons off the shelf, but it does signify it is a trusted partner that does need effective protection in a volatile region.

A better trained, better-equipped army is surely what Cyprus deserves, rather than a pretend army in a phoney war.

US Democratic Senator Robert Menendez who backs a bipartisan bill seeking to lift the 1987 American arms embargo on Cyprus, will visit the island next week and will hold talks with President Nicos Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.

So, it’s kind of a big deal that respected US politicians are taking Cyprus seriously as a credible partner rather than a nuisance or noisy neighbour.

Senators Menendez of New Jersey, with Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, support the “Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019”.

It seeks to lift the prohibition on arms sales to the Republic of Cyprus, establish a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Centre to facilitate energy cooperation between the US, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus; authorise $2,000,000 for International Military Education and Training (IMET) for Cyprus. 

The US bill also aims to Impede the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey, if Ankara continues with plans to purchase the S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system from Russia. This purchase also poses a threat to Cyprus as the missiles could be targeted at the island and hit it with ease – another reason for an integrated air-defence shield.

 

Nevertheless, Nicosia concedes that it wants the US embargo lifted not so it can buy expensive high-tech weapons but as a symbol of a new political alliance in the East Med where Cyprus is a valued member.

The bill also requires the US Administration to submit to Congress a strategy on enhanced security and energy cooperation with countries in the East Med, as well as reports on malign activities by other countries in the region.

This East Med partnership act would allow Washington to fully support the trilateral partnership of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus through energy and defence cooperation initiatives – including by lifting the embargo on arms transfers to the Republic. 

This new era of blossoming US-Cyprus ties under a Trump administration also helps that Washington’s relationship with Turkey is deteriorating by the second while staunch American ally Israel is also at odds with Ankara.

 

Add to this, a potentially huge gas discovery by US energy giant ExxonMobil off Cyprus, there is almost perfect storm brewing ready to blow in Nicosia’s direction.

Geopolitics is a funny old game but choosing the winning side can be tricky and covered in oil.