Disequilibrium in Anglo-Cypriot Relations?

Yiorghos Leventis

The issue of the British Bases in Cyprus is invariably visited by London every ten years, that is the time that lapses in between British strategic and defence reviews.

The last such review took place in 2011. David Cameron, the British PM, appointed Lord Ashcroft to report on the utility of the Cyprus military bases. Lord Ashcroft duly submitted his report. London decided to sustain the bases at an annual cost to the British taxpayer running to about 350 million pounds sterling.

On the island itself, Greek Cypriot politicians continue their usual practice of paying lip service to the removal of the British bases in every election campaign period. Four years ago, in the Spring of 2008, President Demetris Christofias, upon his election to office – of both Head of State and Head of Government of the Republic of Cyprus – ordered the Press and Information Office of the Republic to issue and circulate his five-year programme of government. It was the same policy document which won him the ticket to lead Cyprus government for the next five years. In it an explicit reference was made that regarding security arrangements his steadfast policy promoted ‘the ultimate aim of the complete de-militarization of Cyprus with the removal of the British Bases’ (Government Programme: Cyprus Problem – Just and Viable Solution, p. 2 in Greek)

However, analysts plausibly argue that President Christofias followed a rather different course. He chose London as his first foreign destination. On 5 June 2008 he signed a memorandum of understanding with Gordon Brown, his British counterpart at that time, in which he conceded ‘commitment to … respective obligations under the Treaties signed in 1960′ (point 4) and ‘to work together in a constructive manner on all issues emanating from the Treaty of Establishment’ (point 6). To be fair, in point 5 of the said MOU, Christofias secured that ‘the UK reiterated its commitment to its obligations as a Guarantor Power’ and undertook to ‘fully respect existing UN resolutions on Cyprus’ while the UK also ‘will not support any moves towards partition … or the recognition or up-grading of any separate political entity on the island’.

To the unsuspecting observer, the commitments bilaterally undertaken between London and Nicosia seem just, law-abiding and balanced. However, an investigative reader leafing through the Treaty of Establishment (ToE) may soon arrive at the conclusion that the Treaty in question constitutes little more than a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) enshrining extensive rights of the British Forces in Cyprus. Indicatively, the ToE includes six out of twelve main articles detailing the rights reserved for the British military, while the multi-page annexes to the Treaty describe in remarkable detail the boundaries of the bases, the exact geographical location of other retained sites and firing ranges outside the bases, the surveillance installations in various other locations including Troodos, the linking roads that Britain is allowed to use without reference to the government of the RoC and so on and so forth. In a nutshell, the ToE would hardly withstand scrutiny under the UN Charter, the champion of the interests of the inhabitants of non-self-governing territories which it declares as paramount, and accepts ‘as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security … the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories’ (Article 73, Chapter XI: Declaration Regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories).

The British Bases in Cyprus form part of the UK’s overseas territories and are governed as such – the Sovereign Base Areas Administration (SBAA) officials are appointed by the British government. London exercises full control over the 99 square miles of Cypriot territory assigned to the bases and the Greek Cypriot inhabitants of the within the bases’ villages raise complaints from time to time with respect to denial of a number of their rights. The western RAF Akrotiri Air Base hails its name from the existing Greek village falling entirely within the jurisdiction of the busy airbase. Frequently, the Greek villagers raise concerns especially over environmental degradation and restrictions on their land development. In 2006, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly took a closer look at these complains commissioning Swiss MP Andreas Gross to produce a report. The Swiss MP paid a working visit (13-15 November) to the island, meeting with all parties concerned. Accordingly he wrote a report on The situation of the inhabitants of the SBAs of Akrotiri and Dhekelia (4 April 2007). The report was submitted for discussion at the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights, CoE.

On the other hand, the Treaty of Guarantee (ToG) forms unquestionably a neo-colonial compromise agreement which sought in 1960 (the year that it was concluded between the four contracting parties) to reduce the newborn Republic of Cyprus, to a vassal state under the guardianship of the UK, Turkey and Greece (N.B. the Cyprus question in the 1940s and in the best part of the 1950s centred on the demand of self-determination, which in the hearts and minds of the eighty per cent Greek majority of the islanders meant Enosis with Greece). Now the Republic of Cyprus runs its 53rd year of age, despite the abuse of the right of unilateral intervention by both Greece and Turkey, with Britain as a sad bystander (if not an accomplice) in 1974. While the former rapidly withdrew and punished the coup’s master minds to life imprisonment, Turkey’s invasion produced long lasting consequences of continuing occupation: expulsion of indigenous Greeks, colonization by mainland and Balkan Turks, de-hellenization of the territory and subsequent islamization – 192 mosques as opposed to 162 Turkish schools are reported in 2012. Against all those odds, the RoC has been for an equal number of years a full member-state of the UNO and for the past eight years a full member-state of the EU, the presidency of which is poised to assume in less than three months. Hence the ToG is not only a primary source of evils for contemporary Cyprus, it is also a colonial remnant, as much as the British bases are, both militating against the spirit and the letter of the UN Charter. The latter stipulates clearly that its member-states exercise sovereignty over their territory and guarantees their territorial integrity. Additionally, numerous Security Council resolutions pertaining to Cyprus speak of the same effect.

At the same time, the signatories of the UN Charter explicitly declare the Charter’s supremacy over any other international agreement in the event of a conflict between the two (Article 103, Chapter XVI: Miscellaneous Provisions). In close scrutiny, there is little doubt, that neither the Treaty of Establishment nor the Treaty of Guarantee could pass the test of compliance with the UN Charter.

To be sure there is a host of issues that arise from the British bases operation (e.g. economic, strategic, environmental, development) that weigh upon the well-being of the Cypriot population as a whole and with respect to the inhabitants of the localities in particular. To analyse those one needs to delve into this subject deeply.