NATO Membership for Cyprus?

Damon Wilson the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council penned an interesting article in which he advocates the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to NATO.

Wilson argues that as NATO reaches its seventieth birthday, it could now be time to look toward adding a new member: this time in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Forty-five years after the Turkish invasion, the island remains divided despite years of intense negotiation, close calls, and extensive international engagement. The United Nations peacekeeping force on the island remains the longest such deployed UN force.

With NATO membership built into any settlement, Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, along with Athens and Ankara, and in partnership with all of their European partners and NATO allies, might have more confidence in striking a deal. Cyprus remains the only European Union member who is not even a member of the Alliance’s Partnership for Peace program, due entirely to the outstanding reunification problem. Immediate NATO membership for a reunified island, however, would automatically embed, and therefore replace, a joint Greek-Turkish-British security guarantee within an Alliance commitment to the entire island without any need for alternative mechanisms.

As part of the agreement, NATO could establish an operations center on the island, drawing on existing infrastructure and housing personnel from NATO allies, including Turkey. This new operations center would provide NATO allies a common situational awareness within the Eastern Mediterranean of unchecked migration flows, illicit shipping, or potential proliferation. It would also support NATO planners rightly focused on the Alliance’s eastern flank and both Russian and non-state threats. Furthermore, conflict spillover from Libya to Syria exposes many southern NATO members to significant risk, and a forward operations center in Cyprus could provide valuable capabilities in these areas. In 2013, the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based their operation to extract chemical weapons from Syria on Cyprus.

NATO membership and ensuring Turkey’s limited presence on the island within an agreed NATO framework would give the Turkish Cypriot community confidence in their own security, while at the same time assuaging Greek Cypriot and Greek concerns by placing such a presence firmly within NATO activities. This approach would replace the former system of outside security guarantors by embedding a unified Cyprus within an alliance based on mutual defense. In turn, NATO forces from across the Alliance rotating to Cyprus would also provide the confidence-building presence required to ensure the settlement’s success.

NATO membership for Cyprus – at the start of the unification process – could help both sides commit to forge one state together. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has already signaled potential support for NATO membership.