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The Exploitation of Hydrocarbons as a Factor of Differentiating the Eastern Mediterranean Power Correlation: the case of the Republic of Cyprus

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The Exploitation of Hydrocarbons as a Factor of Differentiating the Eastern Mediterranean Power Correlation: the case of the Republic of Cyprus

By Savvas Papasavvas PhDc, Military officer, Foreign and Energy Policy Analyst, Strategy Junior Consultant


“The strong do what they have to do, and the weak accept what they have to accept” (Thucydides, The Milesians – Athenians Dialogue)
Thucydides is often considered the “father of International Relations” as he has set the foundations for what is today referred to literature as classical realism[i]. Hence, analysts have based books and articles on Thucydides analysis on the Peloponnesian War and its possible application to the 20th and the 21st-century foreign policy.
The author’s research has soon the quote mentioned above is among the most commonly used, mainly from Greek and Cypriots analysts, on their attempt to set their theoretical background and determine the key factors having an impact on the states bilateral relations, especially on the Eastern Mediterranean region.
The present article, without any intention to debate Thucydides contribution to IR theory, considers basing a 21st-century foreign policy analysis on the particular quote rather descriptive. At the same time though, he considers it an acceptable starting point for a more in-depth discussion that must be enriched with elements such as:

  • Power correlation and
  • The decision makers ability to mobilize the variables determining a state’s power.

On this, brief, article the author aims to provide a general overview of the power correlation between the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) and the Turkey/TRNC axis. The reason for not also focusing on the decision maker’s capability to mobilize the power capabilities lies in the fact neither of the two sides has recently proceeded to changes related to this issue.
Of course, someone may argue there are recent Constitutional reforms on the Republic of Turkey. As a brief response the author quotes there is a lack of reforms on the Constitutional provisions related to the mobilization of the state’s power capabilities.
To do so, the author has decided to apply a two-step strategy, including:

  • The clarification of some factors the author considers fundamental on the determination of the Republic of Cyprus power.
  • A comparative analysis of how those factors have differentiated the power correlation between the RoC and the Turkey/TRNC axis


Theoretical Content and Methodological Context: Power Relations and the RoC foreign policy

On the introductory section, the author has expressed the opinion explaining the relations between states through Thucydides quote is a rather descriptive approach. Besides power correlation (Rose, 1998) and the capabilities mobilization (Lobell; ‎ Ripsman and Taliaferro, 2009) he bases this statement on the following three arguments (Tellis, 2001):

  • The states’ power is more a sum of multiple variables than a single one
  • There is a lack of common understanding of the factors determining a state’s power. The lack is related both to the unique characteristics each case study has but also on the absence of a clear-cut theory explaining the relations between states.
  • There is a lack of commonly accepted methodology through which we can quantify a state’s power and based on this proceed to a power correlation between states

This study does not seek to contribute to the theoretical discussion on how power impacts the states bilateral relations. In contrast, it focuses on how the RoC energy program has acted like a mean on differentiating the power correlation between certain states on a determined time and place. The aim of the article made the author:

  • Avoid a discussion on the theoretical implications of power and how different IR theories consider it
  • Focus exclusively on the examined case study

The author considers the article being epistemologically pragmatic. As such it takes into consideration the theoretical limitations of the different paradigms. At the same time though, is on a constant attempt to find common ground between those paradigms so that it can apply them, even simultaneously, on “a real-life” problem.
Based on the above, the author intends to base the theoretical background of the article on three arguments:

  • The RoC governmental officials understanding that the primary goal of a state’s foreign policy is safeguarding its interests[ii]
  • Christopher Hill’s[iii] argument that a state’s power is divided into its resources and its capabilities
  • Gideon Rose[iv] (1998) argument that power itself is a very general term and what matters is the power correlation between states on a significant time and place.


“Power” variables and the RoC energy program

Christopher Hill[v] has defined the resources as the “elements derived from the history and geography which determine the limits of a state’s impact on the world.” Under this category he enclosures the state’s geographical position, the territory it covers, the amount of population and the natural resources. The present article aims to focus on the geographical position and the natural resources.
On the other hand, he has defined capabilities[vi] as “recognizable elements of modern government responsibilities for which separate departments might exist and where decisions may hope to be able to affect, at least in the medium term.” The armed forces, the state’s GNP, the technology and the diplomatic means are the main factors Hill has referred being the states capabilities.
When it comes to the case of the RoC and the differentiation of the state’s resources and capabilities before the first exploitation licensing round, and today the author sums them up on the chart below.

Resources Differentiation
Geographical Location Yes
Natural Resources Yes
Capabilities Differentiation
Armed Forces ——–
Technology No
Diplomatic Means Yes

Regarding the resources, the author considers self-explanatory why the researches for hydrocarbons has caused changes to the RoC natural resources. Even though the situation concerning the total amount of the reserves existing in the RoC EEZ is still murky, and we do not have a transfer of energy reserves either to the EU market or to the Egyptian liquefication terminals:

  • the gradual interest from oil/gas enterprises such as Exon and TOTAL and
  • the researches being in a process

are facts strengthening the credibility of the author’s argument.
Concerning the geographical location even though the RoC has not either lost or gain terrain the last eight years its intention to upgrade its geographic, and not the geopolitical as many try to present it, location by becoming an energy hub, initially for Israel, is a move towards that direction. At the same time, the granting of infrastructure facilities, such as ports and airports, to states participating to humanitarian aid operations also upgrades the RoC geographical position and consequently its resources, especially in the after-Brexit period.
When it comes to the capabilities since the 19th of September 201[vii] we have witnessed a gradual improvement of the diplomatic capabilities of the RoC. According to the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, the main reason for this transformation is the non-monothematic foreign policy the RoC has implemented since 2013. He continues by saying that both within the EU but also on the bilateral relations the RoC is on a constant attempt to link its interests with the others without limiting the cooperation only on the issues related to the Cyprus problem. Under this scope, the Minister has expressed the opinion that the state’s natural gas reserves can act as an additional mean towards the further upgrade of the RoC diplomatic capabilities
Regarding the GDP and the technology, the annual report of the RoC Ministry of Economics does not refer to any of the two sectors having a differentiation concerning mentioning related to the RoC energy program. However, the Minister of Energy has repeatedly expressed the opinion that the RoC can gain multi-level benefits from the discovered hydrocarbons. Among other benefits is the technological and technocratic improvements in the area of hydrocarbons.
Last but not least, regarding the RoC military capabilities, the author’s profession makes him unable to comment such a sensitive issue for the state’s national security. The annual defense expenditures, the aeronautical exercises within the RoC EEZ, land and FIR and the way the active governmental officials tend to solve disputes with other states are among the primary sources someone can look up for making conclusions regarding the particular capability.


Summarizing the above the term “power” on the 21st century goes way beyond Thucydides quote. Even though the author does not consider it anachronistic believes it can act either as the starting point or the concluding outcome of an analysis. Power is among the most complicated terms in foreign policy analysis, and it has to be treated as such. The clarification of the different variables based on the peculiarities of each case study is, at least for now, the among the main components of a research strategy for providing explanations related to the particular issue.
When it comes the RoC its energy program has caused multiple effects to many factors determining its power. However, the power correlation, the states self-interests and the fact that Turkey considers the RoC energy program being a threat for its foreign and energy policy are factors making a possible complacency being fatal for the sequel and can turn the latter’s energy reserves from a blessing into a curse.

[i] Amstutz M.R (2005): International Ethics: Concepts, Theories, and Cases in Global Politics (Oxford, Rowman and Lichfield Publishers, INC)
[ii] Anastasiades (24 February 2016) claiming that “national interests outweigh the International Law”
Available at: http://www.kathimerini.gr/850751/article/epikairothta/ellada/epitimos-didaktoras-toy-panepisthmioy-a8hnwn-o-nikos-anastasiadhs
[iii] Hill C, 2003: The changing politics in foreign policy (New York, Palgrave MacMillan)
[iv] Rose G (1998): Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy (World Politics Vol. 51, No. 1 (Oct., 1998), pp. 144-172)
[v] Hill (2003: p. 136)
[vi] Hill (2003: p. 138)
[vii] The date the exploitation platform named “Hommer,” and owned by Noble Energy has begun making researches on the Republic of Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone and more specifically on the sea block 12.




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