NICOSIA – Nearly 50 years after Turkish invasions seized the northern third of the island – where it still keeps some 35,000 troops – Cyprus’ new President Nicos Christoulides said that more would be spent on defense.
He stated that 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of €26.42 billion ($28.41 billion) – approximately €52.8 million ($56.77 million) – would be allocated to the armed forces in different areas.
This announcement comes as the United States lifts a decades-long arms embargo that had constrained Cypriot defense, while Turkey was able to purchase American arms without conditions, giving it a significant military advantage on the island.
Columnist Paul Iddon, who specializes in military affairs and the Middle East, wrote in Forbes magazine about Christodoulides’ push for increased armaments.
“After taking office a month ago, it is our obligation to strengthen our deterrent capabilities as long as our country is under occupation,” said President Nikos Christoulides.
Turkey has occupied a self-proclaimed republic since 1974, despite no other country in the world recognizing it. This demand is now being made by its hardline nationalist leader Ersin Tatar, who refuses to discuss reunification and seeks unconditional United Nations and global recognition, which would allow an occupying army on an island where the legitimate Greek-Cypriot government is a member of the European Union.
Although NATO requires its members to allocate at least 2% of their GDP to defense, Cyprus is not a member of the defense alliance, while Turkey is, even as the EU imposes soft sanctions for energy drilling off the coast.
Cyprus is the only one of 27 EU member states not in NATO, and Christoulides has no interest in applying, as he wants the EU, which does not have a military, to increase its defenses.
Any attempt by Cyprus to join NATO would be vetoed by Turkey, and Christoulides believes that the EU needs military might. “I understand that without a strong deterrent force, without a strong defense, your voice in foreign policy matters is clearly limited,” he said.
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The report stated that the new government of Cyprus is on its way to its largest military expansion since the 1990s, fueled by the end of the embargo. However, Turkey has an unfair advantage in terms of weaponry and manpower, which cannot be overcome. In response, Cyprus turned to Russia for weapons, further distancing itself from Western influence, despite the strong leftist element on the island that sympathizes with Moscow. According to George Tzogopoulos, a Senior Fellow at the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE), Cyprus was already spending more on defense as a % of GDP than most EU countries before Russia invaded Ukraine. “In 2021, it was ranked fifth in the European list (along with France and Lithuania) after Greece, Latvia, Estonia, and Romania,” he told Iddon, adding that he also expects a moderate arms buildup.
In the 1990s, Cyprus purchased Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems, but Turkey threatened to destroy them, and they were ultimately sent to Crete. As a result, Cyprus is now searching for short-to-medium-range air defense systems, probably from Turkey. Tzogopoulos believes that under Christodoulides, Cyprus will also expand defense cooperation with the US and Israel, but he acknowledges that obtaining security guarantees from the US or Israel against Turkey will be difficult due to conflict interests.
“The responsibility of Christodoulides is to ensure that closer US-Cyprus ties do not result in a Turkish-Russian alignment of security interests capable of damaging Nicosia’s national interests on the island. The new President might be squeezed in the rising antagonism of others,” he added. Tzogopoulos also stated that Cyprus will have to consider joining NATO at some point, but the problem of overcoming a certain Turkish veto would be difficult while Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains in power, particularly with his re-election campaign coming up.