Even though the Republics of Greece and Cyprus have both repeatedly highlighted their intention to avoid settling their disputes with the Turkey/TRNC axis through the application of military means, no one can rule out the possibility of escalation due to factors that cannot be predicted in advance.
The intergovernmental agreement co-signed by the Ministers of Energy of Greece, Israel and the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) for the construction of the East Med pipeline has burst a new period for the Eastern Mediterranean energy security. More precisely, the signing of this agreement has shown the willingness of the three parties apart from prospect energy producers also to become energy hubs for the European market, with all the possible economic and political benefits stemming from this.
At the same time, though, the possible economic and (geo)political upgrade of the three states threatens significant interests of the Turkey/”Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) axis. Concerning the former among the main pillars of its energy security is to remain among the principal energy hubs for the European markets. Thus, the development of a new energy route, with two of its three members states being already members of the Union, inevitably causes a threat for its energy interest. Concerning the TRNC, the political and economic benefits the East Med may bring to the RoC can contribute to upgrading its position in the international arena. Such a possibility worries the TRNC officials as they believe it can lessen their negotiating position on the discussions for the settlement of the Cyprus problem. Hence, the Turkey/TRNC axis has proceeded to a series of diplomatic and military actions aiming either to cancel the development of the East Med or at least avoid excluded from this agreement by claiming the pipeline passes through a part of their Exclusive Economic Zone.
Even though the Republics of Greece and Cyprus have both repeatedly highlighted their intention to avoid settling their disputes with the Turkey/TRNC axis through the application of military means, no one can rule out the possibility of escalation due to factors that cannot be predicted in advance. A possible accident, a false decision, or other tactical and operational factors always exist in these cases. The question posed here is: “which are the military capabilities the RoC must develop to deal with such an escalation”?
However, before answering this question, it is considered necessary to mention that the limitations governing the paper’s length and the author’s non-intention referring to unpublished or confidential data are the main reasons behind his decision to avoid referring to specific operational and tactical capabilities the RoC must develop. On the contrary, he seeks to limit the discussion on presenting the general framework on which those capabilities must be based.
To begin with, as with any other issue related to the relations between the states, the author shares the same view with the analysts considering each case study a fluid and dynamic process that is subject to significant limitations. Concerning the military capabilities, the author believes there are five limitations we need to take into consideration.
The first limitation is related to the examined state’s economic capabilities. We must not forget that in 2013 the RoC suffered its most significant economic recession since 1974, while it commonly accepted that it still tries to recover. This fact makes a drastic rise in the defense budget, at least during the upcoming years, a rather remote scenario. Thus, this paper takes for granted that the military expenditures will remain on the same percentage of the GDP as they are nowadays.
Secondly, and according to Charles Kegley (2007), the state’s military capabilities act as supportive means to their foreign policy. Concerning the RoC, its President has expressed the intention of solving the disputes with the Turkey/TRNC axis under the auspices of the International Law and, in any case, try to avoid a military escalation (Anastasiades, 2014). Based on this intention, we are led to the conclusion that the RoC military capabilities are mainly defense based, and the government aims to apply them strictly for self-defense reasons.
The third limitation is related to the threat perception. According to Marta Kepe et al. (2019), the multinational collaboration for the development of a shared military capability, as an armored vehicle, takes for granted the prior shared perception of threat. This statement makes the author believe the in-depth analysis of the threat in all the levels and the dimensions of the modern warfare (terrain, naval, air, cyber) are a necessary precondition before proceeding to the decision which military capacities must be upgraded.
The fourth limitation is related to the existing correlation on military capabilities. Strictly for reasons related to the paper’s length the author limits his discussion by saying that based on open sources (Aristotelous, 2015) the Turkey/TRNC ground forces stationed in the island of Cyprus are not in a position to make large scale offensive military operations against the RoC National Guard. However, Turkey has a naval and air superiority that acts as a factor of differentiating the existing balance in the ground forces.
The last limitation is the time the RoC has to develop the necessary military capabilities. The author has already stated that the Turkey/TRNC axis has already begun escalating with diplomatic means supported by low-scale and low intense military actions. Based on these facts, the author believes the RoC has the minimum available time to develop the necessary capabilities.
Concerning the military capabilities, the RoC must develop and based on Radin et al. (2019) argument, this paper identifies the following three areas:
- Retain-and-adapt, meaning the modernization of current systems,
- Buying new equipment,
- Adopting foreign models and concepts on the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
When it comes to the retention and adapt area, the author believes the lack of available time, the existing military capabilities correlation and the state’s defense budget make it necessary setting as a priority for the RoC to upgrade specific weapon systems so that it can lessen the Turkey/TRNC maritime and aircraft supremacy. More precisely, the author refers to the necessity of upgrading the existing anti naval and anti-aircraft systems serving on the RoC armed forces. This upgrading must include both the lethality and the distance of engagement. Notably, for the anti-naval ones, they must at least tangent to the outer limits of the RoC Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Also, concerning the anti-craft systems, they must be upgraded in a level that can be used against both aircraft and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) as the TRNC has already provided the facilities to Turkey to station such vehicles on the North part of the island (Sigmalive, 2019). In a second phase, the RoC officials must discuss the upgrade of other weapon systems that increase the anti-tank defense of the island with attack helicopters, anti-tank guided missiles, battle tanks, and smart artillery ammunition being among the priorities. Moreover, and even though it cannot be considered a weaponry upgrade, at least based on the conventional definition of the term, the author believes the RoC must investigate on increasing its cyber military capabilities. This upgrade must include both cyber defense but also and cyber-attack capabilities as it can act as an unconventional capability multiplier both in case of a military confrontation and also during the existing, crisis, situation.
The upgrading of the existing equipment will also determine the buying of new ones. The author believes the top priorities must be buying UCAVs, with the EU vehicle nEURON being a good choice by the time there are assurances that can soon enter the mass production. Also, the author considers a necessity buying mini (midget) submarines able to operate from permanent and non-permanent bases located to the island’s coasts up to the outer limits of the EEZ. The existence of such military equipment apart from the apparent upgrading of the state’s military capabilities will also cause an additional, economical, cost to the other side. Briefly, based on open sources, the seismographic and the drilling ships that Turkey has sent to the maritime area the RoC has deposited coordinates to the United Nations that they are parts of its EEZ, are usually escorted by one to two battleships and a supportive ship. Based on statements by Turkish officials, the daily cost for these ships is approximately one million dollars (Nedos, 2019). Thus, someone can imagine how much the maintenance costs of these operations would rise so that Turkey would maintain its confidence that could protect its interests in the particular maritime area.
Last but not least, this paper believes the critical question the staff members need to answer before suggesting the adoption of a foreign model is whether the particular concept was primarily developed to overcome similar cases like the one the RoC deals with. Briefly, this paper believes a good starting point to investigate the possible application of a model or a concept by the RoC governmental mechanism in general and its armed forces, in particular, is to investigate whether the state that has implemented it has taken into consideration similar limitations like those presented above. In case these preconditions are not fulfilled, the paper believes there are possibilities the applied concept not applying to the RoC and consequently causes more harm than benefits for the state’s military capabilities.
Summarizing the above, the RoC needs to proceed with a series of actions so that it can differentiate the existing military correlation, especially on the maritime and aerial dimensions. The East Med pipeline and the energy program of the RoC, in general, have inevitably contributed to increasing the tensions with the Turkey/TRNC axis, which until 2011 were strictly limited to the Cyprus problem. However, the author believes the upgrading of a state’s military capabilities is a three-area concept and is determined by a series of limitations that their non-fulfillment may harm the entire upgrade procedure.
Aristotelous, A. (2015). Center for European and International Affairs. Available at http://cceia.unic.ac.cy/wp-content/uploads/article06-A.Aristotelous-12-4.pdf
Kegley, C. (2007). World Politics: Trend and Transformation. Boston: Thomson Watsworth.
Kepe, M., Muravska, J., Flint , R., Retter, L., Ward, A., & Nathan, R. (2019). Opportunities for European Collaboration in Armored Vehicles. Cambridge: RAND Europe.
Nedos, V. (2019, September 26). Kathimerini.gr. Available at https://www.kathimerini.gr/1044338/article/epikairothta/politikh/met-empodiwn-oi-toyrkikes-gewtrhseis
Radin A., Davis, L., Geist, E., Han, E., Massicot, D., Povlock, M., Reach, C., . . . Long, A. (2019). The Future of the Russian Military Russia’s Ground Combat Capabilities and Implications for U.S.-Russia Competition. Cambridge: RAND Europe.