Re-evaluating the UN effect on Cyprus
If the battle of Lepanto had been won a few months earlier perhaps Famagasta would not have fallen. Its Venetian commander would not have been flayed alive, and I might not be writing an article on the United Nations force in Cyprus.
Yet who remembers the Venetian period on Cyprus? The presence of ‘blue berets’ in Cyprus, it could be argued, although shorter in duration than Venetian rule, has had a greater impact on European and, possibly, global history.
This thesis hinges on the importance one attaches to Turkey’s, and to a lesser extent Greece’s, contribution in containing the Soviet hordes on NATO’s southern flank during the Cold War.
However, ‘effects-based operations’, a tool now entering military lexicons, permits a reassessment of the ‘effects’.
UNFICYP is often touted as a UN failure but that force certainly is a NATO success story. Turkey and Greece, two NATO partners with large standing armies numbering many divisions, never came to blows over Cyprus. For that reason alone, the much maligned veterans of the so-called sunshine tours may have actually done more for NATO than their colleagues in 4 CMBG in deterring Russia’s western ambitions, particularly on NATO’s soft, southern underbelly.
These Canadians, in fact, deserve a special NATO medal. The ‘effects’ of their presence on Cyprus were more beneficial to NATO than that of Canada’s NATO brigade.
THE CALL FOR PEACEKEEPERS in Cyprus came shortly after the Cuban missile crisis as the US was becoming fully engaged in the Vietnam conflict. The UN force had scarcely deployed to Aphrodite’s isle when it seemed that the world’s two alignments might confront each other over the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. On Cyprus, the UN was asked to stand between what were labelled ‘Greek’ and ‘Turkish’ Cypriot communities when NATO couldn’t arrive at a suitable arrangement for doing so itself. Canada was at the forefront in providing a substantial combat arms force to UNFICYP. (Two Canadians still serve on Operation Snowgoose).
The main effect of the UN presence was to keep the Turkish and Greek militaries more focused on the Soviet threat during the ensuing decades than on each other over the Cyprus issue. At the time, both armies had more manpower in their divisions facing the Warsaw Pact armies than there were Cypriot males of military age.
One can only assume the important role of the US Cyprus base and British forces in the Sovereign Base Area in 1967, and again in 1974, especially after the sinking of an American spy ship by Israeli aircraft. The Middle East conflicts illustrate the benefits accrued to NATO indirectly through the Cyprus-based assets of the major Alliance partners. Both the Americans and the British are still in Cyprus under the Cold War arrangements made prior to the deployment of UN troops.
Admittedly, the UN presence has done little to help the people of Cyprus. This is a partial UN failure. Reconciliation on the island most likely will come through the desire of the young to share the benefits of membership in the European Union. Turkey’s EU membership application is now a political factor. So too is the prosperity in much of Europe seen by a new generation of Cypriots on both sides of the Green Line. No one can deny that the UN presence bought the time for such an evolution in Cypriot sentiment to occur.
Lest we forget, bravery was called for on the part of members of the Canadian contingent in NATO’s surrogate UN force on Cyprus. Major General Forand was awarded his Medal of Bravery for actions under fire in 1974 Cyprus when the island was invaded by one of Canada’s NATO allies, Turkey. At the time he was a captain.
ARMCHAIR STRATEGISTS, military historians and think-tank commentators can debate endlessly the relative significance of Turkish and Greek membership in NATO, and the significance Cyprus plays in their internal politics. However, ‘effects-based evaluation’ demonstrates that the Cyprus UN presence was not the failure that some pundits suggest it was.
The apparent effect for NATO staff was that another international organization with someone else’s money helped ameliorate a possible alliance-breaking confrontation. Moreover, the Cypriots have had to endure the palatable presence of UNFICYP for a shorter period in their history than when the island was ruled by Venice, hardly known for benign governance.
If ‘effects-based planning’ and ‘effects-based operations’ are now part of the military process, then any attempt to define success, particularly of ongoing operations, must now consider ‘effects-based evaluations’. It might improve the view.
Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC) is a retired Canadian Armour officer who wore a blue beret in UN mission areas on Cyprus, on the Golan, in South Lebanon, in Afghanistan, in Macedonia, in Sarajevo and in Haiti. He is a recipient of Canada’s Meritorious Service Cross, the UNPROFOR Force Commander’s Commendation, the UNMIH Force Commander’s Commendation, and the US Army Commendation Medal. He also served in HQ CFE.