August 24, 2021 | Real Clear World

UN Peacekeeping in Cyprus: So Much for Deterrence

August 24, 2021 | Real Clear World

UN Peacekeeping in Cyprus: So Much for Deterrence

In Hans Christian Anderson’s children’s classic The Emperor’s New Clothes, the unfortunate emperor parades around the streets in his birthday suit, confident that his fine garments are seen by everyone except him. Tragically, the emperor’s pride begets, ahem, the naked truth: He is indeed au naturel for the entire kingdom to see.

Much is the same, figuratively speaking, with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus, known as the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement of what Greek Cypriots call an “indirect land grab” by Turkey of the Cypriot beach town of Varosha last month shows that despite the presence of an international military presence intended to de-escalate tensions between north and south, UNFICYP is no deterrent to Turkish aggression.

Established in 1964 by the UN Security Council, UNFICYP is one of the longest-running UN peacekeeping missions. It aims to prevent further fighting between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities on the island and bring normalcy to an otherwise strained environment. The mandate has shifted following Turkey’s occupation of the northern third of the island in 1974, and 862 peacekeeping personnel are responsible for maintaining the buffer zonebetween north and south. Unlike the majority of peacekeeping operations, UNFICYP forces don’t face daily hostilities or humanitarian crises. Rather, their day-to-day is comparatively quiet and on occasion, they even have a good pool day.

While the UN attempts to broker a lasting peace between north and south, it’s clear that Northern Cypriot President Ersin Tatar, loyal to his Turkish benefactor Erdogan, has no intentions of committing to a happy ending. By announcing that a two-state solution is the only way to solve the Cyprus conflict, Erdogan and Tatar have reversed longtime Turkish and Turkish Cypriot positions and discarded five decades of negotiations aimed at reunifying the divided island as a bizonal and bicommunal federal state. This followed several years of aggressive military moves by Erdogan that threatened Cypriot sovereignty.

In 2018, Turkey obstructed Cyprus’ natural gas exploration efforts in the Mediterranean after Erdogan sent warships to block a rig for exploratory drilling. Turkey’s state-owned oil company plans to search for gas in the same area, which is also claimed by northern Cyprus. Then, in 2019, Turkey’s first military drone landed at Lefkoniko Airport (renamed Gecitkale Air Base by Turkey) in northern Cyprus. And last year, undoubtedly in an effort to intimidate Nicosia, the Turkish military conducted an exercise dubbed “Mediterranean Storm.” As Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute warned in a column in May, Turkey’s military occupation of Varosha was almost certain to be next.

In response to Turkey’s latest acts of military aggression on Varosha, the international outcry was swift, but also fleeting. UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement expressing his deep concern, and the UN Security Council called for the “immediate reversal” of Turkey’s decision.

The Biden administration and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s chairman and ranking member issued separate statements condemning Turkey’s actions. In a tweet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the Turkish Cypriot announcement on Varosha and stated that such action is “unacceptable and inconsistent with UN resolutions.”

Days later, after Turkey’s announcement, the UN Security Council renewed the UNFICYP mandate, reaffirming UN Security Council resolutions dating back to 1984 that include recognizing Varosha as “under control of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.”

The UN maintains that UNFICYP is a deterrent to renewed conflict between the north and south. The secretary-general’s January report stated that UNFICYP’s “deterrence role and preventative efforts of the mission through liaison and engagement contributed to defusing tensions that arose in and around the buffer zone.” It’s one thing for Ankara to dismiss international rhetoric, but it’s another to dismiss it in the face of a military force on the border. Sector Four, one of UNFICYP’s three military locations (Sector 3 ceased to exist in 1993) is a 15-minute drive to Varosha. Clearly Erdogan perceived no threat against the UN’s blue helmets when he announced the demilitarization of the city.

UNFICYP continues to exist because a resolution to the conflict between north and south has yet to emerge despite decades of international efforts. As such, the UN Security Council continues to renew UNFICYP’s mandate, and peacekeepers are rotated in and out of the mission. Convincing member states to deploy troops to UNFICYP is rarely a challenge.  It helps, of course, that Cyprus is a vacation destination, unlike places such as South Sudan or the Central African Republic where troops are more reluctant to deploy.

Given the UN’s inability to deter Turkish hostility, the United States will need to use more than multilateral means to impede Erdogan’s in Cyprus. In 2019, Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio championed legislation, which former President Donald Trump signed into law, that lifts the prohibition on arms sales to Cyprus, authorizes Foreign Military Financing assistance for Greece, and creates a mechanism that establishes energy cooperation between the United States, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus. This is an excellent starting point for the Biden administration.

As my colleague Aykan Erdemir has argued, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden should build a concerted strategy with the European Union, including coordinated sanctions, to push back against Erdogan’s belligerence in the Mediterranean. Washington should also consider appointing a special envoy for the Eastern Mediterranean and strengthen its ongoing cooperation with littoral allies and partners.

UN peacekeepers in Cyprus are not a deterrent against Erdogan’s provocations, and the international community should stop pretending that they are. The reality is that if the Turkish president were to attempt a further land grab in Cyprus, UNFICYP peacekeepers are not going to stop Turkish forces. In the absence of credible international resistance, the Biden administration should take the lead.

Morgan Lorraine Viña previously served as chief of staff to U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki R. Haley and is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @morganlroach. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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International Organizations Turkey