Cyprus Mail
Opinion

Does Cyprus need a National Security Council?

By Demetrios Nicolaides

DURING his election campaign, President Anastasides highlighted that he would seek to create a National Security Council (NSC) if elected. He is now moving forwarded with fulfilling this campaign promise, but is encountering a great deal of resistance from other political parties and political commentators.

This has sparked a broader debate about the need for a NSC with many people suggesting that such a council is unnecessary and merely a tool to reward political patronage.

These individuals suggest that former Defence Minister and DIKO member Fotis Fotiou is to be appointed as head of the NSC, for his support of Anastasiades while DIKO clashed with Anastasiades and withdrew from the government. However, we should not discount the creation of a NSC based on this premise entirely. An NSC, even if the council head is appointed due to political patronage, can have many positive outcomes.

 

What is a National Security Council & What does it do?

 

A National Security Council is typically chaired by a country’s Head of State (President or Prime Minister) and is comprised of either the Minister of Defence and/or Minister of Foreign Affairs, along with other military and foreign affairs advisors such as the Head of the Army, Chief of Police, Head of anti-terrorism and others.

With respect to its functions, a NSC typically examines and identifies social, environmental, political, economic and military issues that it perceives to be of high importance that place the continued survival of the state at some degree of risk, whether real or perceived. After an NSC has identified a real or perceived matter of national security, it will explore, develop and execute strategies that will either resolve the threat entirely or mitigate the potential damages.

The operation of a NSC can be confused or misinterpreted with the functions and responsibilities of a Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministry and while their areas of competency may indeed overlap, an NSC usually offers greater depth in formulating a state’s national security interests. Essentially a NSC evaluates, develops and executes a state’s National Security Policy.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accomplishes the same tasks with respect to foreign policy and the Ministry of Defence with respect to defence policy. A state’s defence policy explores how that state will defend itself from conventional and un-conventional military attack. In this capacity, a Minister will ensure that a state has adequate military forces and an appropriate defence strategy.

A state’s foreign policy outlines how the state will interact with other countries and other international actors. Of course, aspects of a state’s foreign and defence policy are guided by the state’s national security policy but in Cyprus the national security policy is vaguely defined and not governed or determined by a central authority.

Currently, Cyprus’ security policy is linked primarily to the challenges posed by the ongoing and unresolved conflict. Thus it is largely oriented around military and political aspects of security, which is insufficient in today’s globalized world.

Additional forms of security such as economic, environmental, and cyber are increasingly as important as more traditional forms of security.

The ability of a state to wage and win war is no longer the single most important factor in ensuring a state’s survival. With the proliferation of non-state actors and global interdependence, other forms of security are vital. Creating a NSC will allow the development of a more comprehensive national security policy that will ultimately allow for the development and maintenance of a stronger state.

 

What are Cyprus’ national security threats?

 

The Republic of Cyprus faces a host of threats from domestic and international social, military, economic and political forces that all require great attention. In the past, these threats and challenges have often been addressed in a reactive manner by attempting to mitigate the negative consequences of an event after it has occurred.

Establishing a NSC will allow for greater foresight and thus enable preventive measures to be taken to limit potential threats to national security, before they occur.

While we might be tempted to pass-off the risks to Cyprus’ national security as inconsequential or implausible, we only have to examine the island’s history where we will find a constant challenges to national security, existence and survival.

It can be certain that due to the island’s strategic geographic location, which functions as a double-edged sword, Cyprus will continue to face challenges to its national security well into the foreseeable future. A NSC will allow the state to analyze potential future challenges and devise proactive strategies to counter these threats before they become a reality.

With an increase in regional destabilization, due primarily to the Arab Spring and the ongoing civil war in Syria, coupled with our increasing cooperation with Israel and our now ‘strategic’ partnership with the United States, new security threats may indeed find their way to Cyprus.

Perhaps a militant group may not want to directly harm Cyprus, but rather target British military installations or American targets across the island. Our history of foreign intervention, can only be changed by greater internal cooperation and coordination to recognize potential threats and handle them accordingly. Just as any modern state, Cyprus has to worry carefully about all forms of national security threats, including all social, political, military, environmental, cyber and economic threats.

Military security is one of the earliest forms of national security which stipulates that the ability of a state to defend itself from foreign aggression is paramount to its continued existence. A state’s strength in military security is primarily defined by its capacity to use military force. This is the primary area of concern of the National Guard and the Minister of Defence.

They are responsible for identifying potential threats to military security, devising strategies and plans to resolve existing and perceived military threats. Naturally, the primary threat to Cyprus military security stems from the lack of resolution to the Cyprus problem and the presence of approximately 40,000 Turkish forces on the island.

Due to the protraction of the Cyprus conflict, the threats to our military security and well known and our plans for dealing with these threats are well developed. This of course takes into account our military strength and capacity in opposition to another military force, particularly that of Turkey.

Political or Social Security is primarily concerned with the maintenance of social order and those issues that may threaten sovereignty.

This is representative of more modern understandings of national security, as it identifies the importance and relevance of non-state actors, which may challenge national security and cannot be resolved through traditional military means.

These threats to national security can come from international organization such as the United Nations and the European Union, who erode member state’s sovereignty to a certain extent. In Cyprus, decisions of the European Court of Human Rights or other international conventions that may affect the favorable reunification of Cyprus are often considered as matters of national security. Cyprus has paid a great deal of attention to its political security, as it realizes that its military security is insufficient to maintain solely the state’s continued existence.

It is on this premise that progressive governments have sought to ensure the non-recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ and accede to the European Union. By being a member of large international organizations and by pressing other states not to recognize the ‘TRNC’, the political survival of the Republic can be safeguarded. It was primarily on this premise that former President Tassos Papadopoulos rejected the 2004 Annan Plan. While this was indeed a more significant issue in the past, the protraction of the conflict has allowed the government to strengthen its degree of political security. As a full member of the EU and a prospective member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, recent statements from US Vice President Joe Biden that the United States recognizes only the Republic of Cyprus, strengthens Cyprus’ political security.

The concept of economic security is well known and traditionally dealt primarily with a state’s control and exploitation of natural resources that were necessary to the country’s economic activity. In today’s globalized and modern society, understandings of economic security are shifting globally as states are becoming more interdependent.

For Cyprus, this is becoming an increasingly important area of concern, particularly due to the current economic situation. Historically however, Cyprus has not had to pay too much attention to its economic security as the island developed well as desirable tourist destination. However, with the recent economic collapse, greater care and attention is needed.

The near collapse of the banking system has led to a deep recession and increased unemployment. Ensuring a strong, viable and sustainable economy is not merely a matter of concern for the Minister of Finance, but for the continued survival of the state and society.

A NSC can identify potential threats to our economic security, such as a possible collapse in the banking sector and take corrective action to prevent such a collapse or mitigate the negative impacts as much as possible. Furthermore, with the recent discover of natural gas, appropriate steps must be taken to ensure that these natural resources are protected and utilized in a manner consistent with national security.

Environmental security may not be attributed the same importance as the previous forms of security and an environmental issue is not rarely outlined as a matter of national security. However, for smaller states, like Cyprus, they can be of greater importance.

Indeed, access to fresh water is a significant environmental challenge for Cyprus, which has had to occasionally impose water cuts to ensure that appropriate access to fresh water is sustainable. Limited fresh water can affect a number of factors which can subsequently have more significant repercussions. Diminished access to fresh water would affect, first and foremost, farming and agriculture which would of course negatively impact food production. Furthermore, it can affect basic services such as sanitation which can also potentially spread disease and cause other complications.

A combination of all of the above factors will most certainly negatively impact tourism and foreign business activity. The ‘Northern Cyprus Water Supply Project’ is designed to supply fresh water for drinking and irrigation purposes from Turkey to northern Cyprus via a pipeline under the Mediterranean Sea.

The pipeline aims to provide the north of Cyprus with adequate fresh water for a period of 50 years. In 2008, due to extremely low rainfall and in anticipation of a hot summer, the Republic of Cyprus secured a contract with the Greek-based Ocean Tankers Company, to supply Cyprus with 50,000 cubic meters of water a day for a period of 160 days. Furthermore, in August 2013, the Republic of Cyprus signed an agreement with Israel to cooperate on water supply and sewage treatment, among other aspects.

 

The benefits and disadvantages?

 

It should also be noted that the creation of a NSC is not merely an attempt by Anastasiades to give his ‘cronies’ a government appointment, but rather it is an integral part of his broader foreign and defence realignment policy.

At the onset, Anastasiades indicated that it would be a priority for his government to show the ‘West’, that Cyprus was a reliable partner in an unstable region. Anastasiades stated that Cyprus would seek to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace and work more closely with Cyprus’ European partners on matters of security and defence policy. His pro-American and pro-European foreign policy received a welcome boost when US Vice President Joe Biden visited Cyprus and described the relationship with Cyprus as ‘strategic’.

This is a significant deviation from the previous government’s foreign and security policy which sought to maintain positive relations with Syria and criticized EU federalist objectives. This is not to suggest that merely by having a NSC, Cyprus will become more closely aligned with the United States and the European powers, but when taken in context with Anastasiades’ re-alignment of Cypriot foreign and defence policy, it indeed suggests a more modern and critical way of examining, understanding and responding to national security threats.

Another significant benefit of having a NSC is that it can assist in critically exploring regional and international developments more constructively, rather than through the lens of the Cyprus conflict. Part of the problem that has led to the current state of affairs in Cyprus, socially, economically and politically, is the dominance of the Cyprus problem as the main instrument of foreign, defence and security policy.

A NSC can indeed encourage a broader understanding of the threats posed to Cyprus and allow a greater exploration of the real and practical challenges that Cyprus faces. By thinking constructively about the challenges of fresh water, food production and economic security, the use of the Cyprus problem as the dominant guided force in determining foreign, defence and security policy can be mitigated, thus paving the way for more modern interpretations.

However, it is also important to explore some of the plausible negative consequences of a NSC. Rather than working to mitigate the dominance of the Cyprus problem as the main guiding force of foreign, defence and security policy, a NSC instilled with a nationalist agenda, may actually achieve the exact opposite. It may thus further enlarge the extent to which the Cyprus problem dominates policy decision making.

Cyprus’ security policy may thus be formulated entirely through the lens of the Cyprus problem. This will ensure a focus on more traditional aspects of security and make the NSC an infective and bureaucratic body. Constructed properly, a NSC will allow the state to focus on alternative security challenges and concentrate on curbing potential terrorist activity, developing a more strategic partnership with the ‘West’ and Israel, strengthening the economy and developing a more sustainable and stronger future. Indeed, one of Cyprus’ biggest problems is our inability to work together and focus on the challenges to our state and society.

All throughout history, Cyprus has been conquered by foreign armies and internally some of us have benefited as the expense of our neighbors.  By working together and identifying common threats and matters of national security importance, we can build a stronger society that will allow us to live in prosperity and peace. Furthermore, in the event of reunification, a NSC would act as a vital instrument of reconciliation and reintegration. Successful reunification will undoubtedly call for realignment in Cypriot security policy, which an established NSC would be able to contend with.

A bi-communal security policy can help to bring both communities closer by identifying and tackling mutual security threats. This will contribute to developing a stronger allegiance to the new bi-communal state as it works to tackle the challenges of Greek and Turkish Cypriots together for the promise of a safer, more secure and peaceful future.

 

Dr Demetrios Nicolaides, PhD in Political Science

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