Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

For whom does the bell toll?

The collapse of the Cyprus talks in Crans-Montana is a no-win situation that should sadden all Cypriots says
Antonis Antoniou

Yet another attempt to solve the Gordian knot of the Cyprus Problem has come to nothing; the Cypriot President responsible for such an ‘achievement’ was welcomed back to Cyprus as a hero by many in the media and large parts of the Greek Cypriot population. Reading some of the main headlines, reports and so called post-conference analyses offered by many journalists, you would have thought that once more Cyprus has been saved from a disastrous outcome. The President of the Republic once more in the history of Cyprus averted disaster that everybody else wanted to impose on Cyprus. This is a day for celebration. How sad! How sad that the current president, who supported the 2004 Annan Plan, did not take the opportunity presented and lacked vision, strategic thinking and leadership to secure a solution to the Cyprus Problem.

Many Greek Cypriot commentators came to the conclusion that the only losers to emerge out of the current situation are the Turkish Cypriots, who face a very stark choice. However, as per John Donne, the loss to the Turkish Cypriots is also a loss to the Greek Cypriots, hence the title of the article. This is without doubt a no-win situation for anybody. All Cypriots should be saddened with this outcome, since absolutely nothing has been achieved. The situation has worsened for all concerned.

Why did the negotiations not reach a satisfactory outcome? Situations such as this are never one sided, and such negotiations break down mainly because the participants do not demonstrate flexibility, strategic thinking and advanced planning. It seems none of the sides considered the various scenarios that could have evolved during the negotiations, and made moves/decisions on the ‘hoof’ rather than as a result of careful planning and strategic thinking.

How prepared was the Greek Cypriot side

Given the situation on the ground, it is expected that Turkey would only entertain a solution that satisfies its own aspirations and terms. Therefore, the onus of careful scenario planning and game planning in advance of such negotiations should fall on the Greek Cypriots, and to a lesser extent the Greeks, since after all, it is the Greek Cypriots that want more from Turkey. Part of the preparation should have been to figure out how to work towards achieving the desirable outcomes. Only lack of imagination and foresight would have prevented a side from reaching a compromise solution that meets most of its acceptable criteria/parameters in such negotiations.

Starting from the fact that the Greek Cypriot side would like more compromises from Turkey in order to achieve the outcomes necessary for a viable and lasting solution that could be verified by referenda, the Greek Cypriot side should have gone to Crans-Montana with all possible scenarios considered and a game plan that would have encouraged Turkey to make the necessary compromises, given the mistrust between the sides.

Even without all the details of what happened before and after Crans-Montana, one can draw certain conclusions:

The Turkish Cypriot negotiating power was to a large extent controlled by Turkey and thus big compromises needed the “approval” of Turkey, although Mustafa Akinci appeared to be a much more genuine and honest interlocutor that any of his predecessors. The appropriate strategy for the Greek Cypriots should have always been to make it easier for Akinci to push the boundaries and thus help him to make compromises needed to move the process forward.

The current negotiating process started with high expectations and with a good ‘chemistry’ between the leaders. Unfortunately, beyond the willingness to engage in serious negotiations, insufficient planning and care has been demonstrated, as evidenced by the amount of time that it took for the two parties to agree to join a conference that would address all chapters relating to the Cyprus Problem (this is a problem that has been discussed many, many times over the last 43 years and everybody knows what the issues of contention are between the sides). It is important to always remember that Turkey in pursuing its interest, and would like to exchange as little as possible for big compromises from the Greek Cypriots. The Greek Cypriots on the other hand, expect many more compromises from Turkey (since Turkey currently holds most of the cards although not all) and at the same time would like to reduce Turkey’s expectations on what it can receive in return. Thus, the Greek Cypriot side should have always been much better prepared, as it is the side that has most to gain from a solution. The fact that so much time was wasted is in itself evidence that there was lack of strategic thinking and scenario planning, otherwise the process would have reached the International conference stage much more quickly. The Greek Cypriot side not only seemed to lack careful planning, strategic direction and preparation in advance of the talks, but it also appeared very indecisive at critical stages and with one ‘eye’ on the forthcoming Presidential elections.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci seems more honest than those who have come before him

The collapse of the July 2017 Conference in Switzerland allows a number of conclusions to be drawn by simply looking at all public statements. Remember that the stated objective of the Greek Cypriot side was to reverse the outcomes of the 1974 invasion and subsequent occupation and thus unite the country for the good of all its citizens. In the light of this, one wonders how serious was the Greek Cypriot’s negotiating plan when at first it submitted proposals that did not seem to be consistent with the agreed framework outlined by the UN Secretary General and subsequently, in order to avoid the blame game for failure, submitted new proposals that were first leaked to the press instead of being sharing with their counterparts. From a strategic point of view, that was a disaster and yet another own goal by giving ammunition to the other side to question the integrity of the proposals being put forward.

It seems that the objective was to address the local audience and not the interlocutors from whom you want to obtain something. Such a move made absolutely no sense in terms of negotiating a complex issue. Public negotiations, while they may satisfy your own people, will never lead to a good outcome. In addition, the request by the Greek and Greek Cypriot sides of a written statement with regard to Turkey’s flexibility towards troops and intervention, instead of waiting for this to be ratified in a subsequent meeting with the Prime Ministers of the Guarantor Countries, has made a difficult situation much worse.

No doubt, it seems that Turkey wanted this change in position to be seen as part of a wider solution and a package or even a game plan rather than as a single issue where the other side could be seen to have gained something for nothing. A good understanding of Game Theory would have suggested thinking through the concerns of the other side and thus making it easier and certainly not more difficult for them to ‘sell’ the idea(s) to their own audience and people. It is conceivable that the Greek Cypriot side’s insistence could have been (mis)interpreted by the other side to imply that President Anastasiades only wanted to obtain a very important concession that could have ‘exposed’ the Turkish side.

Given the lack of trust between the sides, they probably thought that it was more likely that the negotiations would have been suspended so that President Anastasiades could come back to Cyprus with a very strong card to win the forthcoming elections and then at some stage closer to the end of his second term start the negotiations from where they stopped. While somebody may suggest that this point of view is far-fetched and unrealistic, in terms of negotiating it was a likely scenario in the eyes of the other party and as such a good reason to withdraw their proposal which eventually led to the collapse of the conference and a frustrated UN Secretary General simply wishing both sides “good luck for the future” in his last press conference.

A careful plan in advanced of the Conference would have prevented scenarios such as this from occurring. Why would you want to aggravate your interlocutors from whom you want to obtain important concessions? Thus, the position adopted and subsequently defended by the Greek Cypriot and Greek sides are never optimal in terms of Game Theory and a strategic plan and never produce a positive outcome. Inevitably, Cyprus is now in a worse situation than it was at the beginning of this round of negotiations.

The current Greek government has many more important things to deal with than take on the responsibility for solving the Cyprus Problem. Some would say this is a rather cynical view, but it is a fact that the Greek government is far too weak to take on matters that could complicate the status quo and open up new problems. It is much easier to be very ‘patriotic’ and tough than make difficult decisions that could easily open other issues with regard its relations with Turkey. The Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias seemed not to have been prepared for the Geneva Conference in January 2017. Similarly the circulation of his non-document on November 19, 2016 was not a coincidence, but a careful action to slow things down.

Again looking at the actions of the Greek government in the current round of negotiations, one can only conclude that the overriding objective was not to engage sufficiently, but to be seen to be tough, as toughness signals a strong position. Negotiations are about give and take and it is inevitable that if you seriously want to get something from your interlocutors then by definition you will be prepared to give something in return, otherwise there is absolutely no point of even going to such negotiations. If the Greek government’s position was that of zero Turkish troops after the solution and zero guarantees as it was announced all the time before and during the negotiations, then in all seriousness there was absolutely no point to enter into negotiations with Turkey.

Taking an extreme position whether right or wrong, in itself, is never a good negotiating strategy. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that by advocating a position that the other side would not accept could ever lead to a negotiable outcome that satisfies all parties. I am not suggesting here that the position of the Greek government was right or wrong as a policy to pursue, but I am suggesting that if adherence to such a policy is a non-negotiable position, then there is no need to negotiate, since negotiations that fail always lead to worse outcomes that the starting position. In serious negotiations you can achieve much more by keeping low public tones and being well prepared with policies and arguments to persuade those taking part in the negotiations.

Negotiations also require a careful game plan for all scenarios including how the other side will respond, interpret your statements and moves and equally important how it could be helped to be seen by its stakeholders as if all sides won, in order to achieve desirable outcomes. One wonders what is the objective being discussed here? If you lost something and want to get it back, how does it help to take a non-negotiable position that you know that the other party will never accept, or pushing your interlocutors to make moves that could create problems for their stakeholders? Even if there was no intent to expose the other party, the fact that the Turkish side reacted when pushed to present their policy on paper in advance of a package solution being signed, could be interpreted as they felt they were being cornered and thus they withdrew their stated intention. Taken together most evidence seems to support the position advocated here with regard to the Greek government’s position towards the current negotiations.

The only way of solving a complex issue is by negotiating a package solution under strict confidentially with respect for the views of the other party in which there will be positives for all parties concerned, without publicly exposing one party as losing out. Simple Game Theory suggests that there was a win-win situation for all parties, had they been strategic and visionary enough.

Antonis Antoniou is a writer, educator and researcher and has both academic and consulting experience. He holds a BA, MSc and PhD degrees and worked as a Professor of Economics and Head of Department of Economics & Finance at both Brunel and Durham Universities and as Dean of Durham Business School, Durham University. He has published many academic papers and more recently has worked as an economic/financial consultant

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