MANY Greek Cypriots may have felt national pride watching the National Guard’s tanks, armoured vehicles, missile launchers and troops in Thursday’s annual military parade to mark independence day. This national pride is also felt by our politicians, who have regularly exploited the issue of defence which, against all logic, is a vote winner.
Glafcos Clerides won the 1998 presidential elections because he had ordered the S300 missiles from Russia which cost close to 300 million pounds but never arrived in Cyprus.
Very few people – certainly no politicians – have ever questioned the folly of defence spending, which has been a big waste of the taxpayer’s money for decades. On the contrary every purchase of new military equipment is universally welcomed by the politicians and the media. Nobody dares to question the arms purchases for fear of being accused by the moral majority of lacking patriotism and of having a defeatist’s mindset. Rationality is never allowed to creep into discussions about defence.
For instance, has anybody asked whether we are getting any value for the money we have been spending on defence every year? Had the purchase of heavy tanks by the Clerides government and subsequently by the Christofias government, strengthened our defence capability in any realistic way? Had these tanks shifted the colossal imbalance of power between Cyprus and Turkey? The answer to both questions is ‘no’. In the end, the only purpose of having tanks, armoured vehicles etc is to use in the parade.
The scandal is that the politicians maintain this squandering of public money on arms without having any plan of using them. It is not as if there has ever been a military plan to retake the occupied territory and are building up our defence capability for this purpose; nor is there much chance of repelling a Turkish attack in the highly unlikely event that one was launched. All politicians know this, but maintain the defence myth alive because it wins votes and gives people a false sense of security.
The truth is that despite the propaganda, Cyprus would never be in a position to defend itself against Turkey even if people were prepared to make the big sacrifices necessary, which they are clearly not.
According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute from 1988 to 2011 Cyprus had spent US$14 billion on defence, which was about the size of our public debt at the time. During the same period Turkey’s defence spending was US$434 billion. Any confrontation would be a no-contest.
Yet the defence myth has been kept alive and reinforced with the annual military parade, because there has to be some justification for the big salaries being paid to ridiculously high number of under-occupied, National Guard officers (the Guard has more colonels, brigadiers and generals than the Turkish occupying force which numbers 40,000 troops) and other personnel with public service pay and pensions. For how much longer will the taxpayer be picking up the bill for the defence charade?