America’s Self-Interest and Cyprus

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) under took its 6th College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus this year. Upon returning to the United States, the participants wrote essays about their experience and about U.S. relations with Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. Evan Frohman’s essay follows

By Evan Frohman

It was a beautiful day. As I looked out of the window at the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea, a pigeon flew over me, joining its fellows in what was once a beautiful church. Just 40 years ago the building I was standing in was a glimmering monument, adorned with gold and icons. Today it is a home for birds, the icons torn down, the walls pillaged, the church desecrated.
Sadly, this is what one sees throughout the Occupied Zone of Cyprus. I went to the police stations and saw there the seemingly-endless lists of people missing since the 1974 Turkish invasion. Turkey has also sent settlers from the mainland to Cyprus and set out to remove all traces of Greek or Christian culture, another of Turkey’s many violations of international law. However, despite both the human suffering and the clear illegality of Turkey’s actions, the international community has done nothing.
This summer I went on a foreign policy trip hosted by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, traveling to Cyprus and Greece and meeting ambassadors from the U.S. and officials from both countries. In Greece I also met President Karolos Papoulias and the commander of the armed forces.
In Cyprus I went to the Occupied Zone.
I knew very little about what had happened in Cyprus, but the trip made an emotionally powerful and strategically rational argument for the reunification of Cyprus.
As I met with people who had lost everything – family, property, possessions – during the invasion 40 years ago, I realized how strong the moral argument was for Cyprus. However, when I met with delegates and ambassadors, I began to understand that governments aren’t motivated by morals but rather are driven by self-interest.
The moral argument can be productive when it affects powerful individuals such as Vice President Joe Biden, but that’s all it captures, individuals. Despite being emotionally powerful to individuals, moral arguments are largely ineffective in motivating global actors to alleviate situations.
On the last day of the trip I sat in a room filled with military generals and many other Greek figures giving my closing remarks and expressing my appreciation for the incredible trip. I spoke about the physical discomfort I felt in the church and the sadness at the abandoned cities. As I looked into the crowd I saw sad nods and tears from some of the older members who had lived through this.
My statements most affected the people I needed least to persuade. I was preaching to the choir, to individuals with stakes in the conflict, rather than to those who needed to be persuaded—governments. Human rights violations occur continually across the globe, however, the U.S. government has tended to respond only when there is self-interest at play, such as supporting Ukraine against Russia or bombing ISIS as they encroach on the Saudis and Turkey.
In the past 40 years of Cypriot discussions there have been arguments made supported by moral issues and international law, but so far results have been non-existent. Kissinger’s realpolitik is what got Cyprus into this situation, and appealing to realpolitik is what will help Cyprus get out of this mess.
Realpolitik is essentially a cold, rational, self-interest based way of analyzing international situations. To employ it is to appeal to a nation’s self-interest, and recently Cyprus has gained that ability. From a geostrategic standpoint, Cyprus is the closest ally the U.S., EU and NATO have to the Middle East in the Mediterranean.
This has been useful in the past, such as during the 2006 evacuation of Lebanon in which Cyprus took in 160,000 refugees. The only other contender for this role is Turkey. With its leaders threatening Israel, however, Turkey is trending towards authoritarianism and is becoming anti-Western. These recent actions make Cyprus the more secure and reliable ally in the Middle East.
The other appeal Cyprus has is economic. Recently, hydrocarbons have been discovered in its – and Israel’s – Exclusive Economic Zones, and European and American companies are interested in developing it. This discovery, while not game-changing for Europe, would reduce reliance on Russia and is pivotal.
Evidenced by Biden’s trip to Cyprus, the first in 20 years, the U.S. recognizes this as well. However, a pipeline the most cost-effective way to get gas to Europe, must go through Turkey, which is why it is essential that a solution be found.
The need to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russia, is a very real one, and Cyprus represents an excellent base for U.S. operations in the Middle East. Realpolitik would argue that the US should intervene regardless of whether or not they are acting in the right.
The Cyprus problem needs to be resolved. Morally, there are families who are still not allowed back to their homes or into northern Cyprus to search for their missing loved ones. Legally, the occupation violates half-a-dozen international treaties of which Turkey is a part. Economically, there would be an enormous benefit to reunification in addition to the gas reserves recently found.
As an individual, you should be shocked by the desecration of half of a country. Tell your friends, spread the moral outrage. To institutions, present your reasons. Act in America’s best interests and know that you are doing good as well. The U.S. must act now. Russia wants NATO weakened and Europe reliant on their energy, so they will not help.
The U.S. must put public pressure on Turkey to find a resolution. As Turkish settlers continue to arrive, the solution will only become more difficult to find. Talk to people, help the U.S. and help the people of Cyprus.

Evan Frohman is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Legal Studies and Economics at Northwestern University.


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