Book Review: The future is a repetition of the past, albeit with different colours

Book Review: William Mallinson – ‘Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus: Diplomacy in the Eastern Mediterranean’ (Cambridge Scholars Publishing)

In seeking to shed new light on the role of America in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, William Mallinson’s book shows just how little has changed in the region.

Turkish tanks on the streets of Nicosia in 1974

At a time when talks on the Cyprus issue have recommenced, and the Eastern Mediterranean is once again at the epicentre of turmoil, William Mallinson’s “Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus” is a stimulating contribution to the discussion on the region, albeit one that is limited in scope.

In stark contrast to other Middle Eastern/Mediterranean countries, serious pieces of work on the island have been few and far between. Even fewer have been the books discussing Cyprus internal politics, with most writers laying out possible solutions to the conflict from a geopolitical perspective. As a result, the complex state of the island’s inter-communal politics has generated much intellectual interest, but little of this has resulted in high-quality research on the politics on the ground.

The keen observer can’t help but think that this is not by accident. The politics of Cyprus has long triggered nationalist reflexes and mutual accusations. Its main actors have undergone so much conflict that few things are left to be said.

In this context, Mallinson’s book doesn’t aim to introduce a new argument. Rather, it sheds more light on the Cypriot issue’s most formative period. And he chooses Henry Kissinger, in particular, as the great facilitator, and for many the great mastermind, of the 1974 invasion.

The book is not a polemical, ad hominem attack, although after its completion the reader will find it hard to like Kissinger. Instead, it is a ‘politely’ academic book, which aims to paint a complete picture of Kissinger the man and statesman, his influences and his politics, and most importantly, their impact on Cyprus.

Thus, as the author asserts, “original documents form the basis” of his views. And herein lies the book’s main strength: a focus on hard evidence stemming from the author’s intimacy with diplomatic archives and books, with a genuine attmpt at objectivity rather than simply the confirmation of a certain theoretical paradigm.

It begins with an outline of Kissinger’s theoretical background, with the reader given an inclusive picture of the man’s ideas, intellectual contradictions and obsessions. Highly influenced by the Austrian statesman, Klemens von Metternich, who famously helped defeat Napoleon, Kissinger ascribes minimal importance to idealistic notions such as human rights.Rather, he talks about the Westphalian order and its emphasis on national sovereignty (only paying lip service to the latter when it comes to Cyprus), believing that the Russians should be kept at bay at all costs.

Mallinson notes that in the first part of Kissinger’s memoirs, written in 1979, Turkey is mentioned 5 times, while Greece and Cyprus are totally omitted. In the second volume, written in 1982, he postpones discussing the issue, as it continues to “exists unresolved”. But in the third volume, written in 1999, Kissinger finally gives a “full account” of the conflict, describing it in terms of ethnic division and atavistic bitterness between the two communities.

In doing so, Kissinger displays a profound ignorance of even rudimentary historical facts. And at one point asserts that it was Byzantine rule that led to the predominance of a Greek majority on the island (and not the latter’s existence there for three thousand years).

On the invasion of Cyprus, the book doesn’t offer much new. This is not the author’s fault, and the reader might be surprised by the secretiveness still surrounding the issue after all those decades: not all of Kissinger’s papers and transcripts have been released and some may even have been destroyed.

Similarly, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office files regarding the 1958 bombing of the Turkish Counsell in Nicosia, which Rauf Denktash, the founding president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, admitted was perpetrated by the Turkish Cypriots but blamed on the Greeks, were only released in 2014.

And right after the book was completed, Greek Defence Minister Kammenos promised to make public the so-called ‘Cyprus File’ detailing the investigation conducted by the Greek government regarding the invasion. This has yet to be fulfilled.

Limited by access to such sources, Mallinson still paints as detailed a picture as possible of the climate, the plots and the machinations before and after the invasions. And one of the book’s main attractions lies in the author’s ability to weave together the politics of the Kissinger era with today’s Cyprus question.

In a telling passage, he quotes British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan’s letter to President Ford in America which asserts that “in the end, only the US can pull chestnuts out of the fire”, reminding the reader how, today, Britain is virtually mute regarding a solution.

Instead, Mallinson describes Britain’s ardency to preserve the “special relationship” by succumbing to US pressure to maintain military bases on the island, even though the British High Commissioner in Cyprus, Stephen Oliver, affirmed the bases were, to put it one way, “not diamonds”. Reading this, one cannot help but think of the parallels with the modern invasion of Iraq.

Likewise, the book does well to reminds us that on the day of the Turkish invasion, Kissinger was preoccupied with threatening to cut off military aid to Greece and not Turkey. And today, the latter country’s incursions into the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone, its threats against oil and gas companies doing business in Cyprus and its vassalization of the northern part of the island are met with equal silence from the US.

Mallinson concludes with a discussion of the current lay of the geopolitical land and how the great powers are seeking to navigate it. He sees Russia as the “only cat among the pigeons”, although he is wisely cautious as to whether Putin will choose to flex his muscles in Cyprus too.

Indeed, Russia’s Cypriot policy has been very discreet. In three licensing rounds, Russian companies have made no offers for Cypriot gas, which is striking given the Kremlin’s assertive regional politics recently.

In the meantime, Mallinson argues that the US is condoning an illegal occupation on the island. Continuing with Kissinger’s ‘principles initiative’, a lop-sided, vague and opaque effort which led to the 2004 Annan Plan and “is likely to lead to yet another” stale attempt at resolution.

Towards the book’s end, Mallinson cites a personal letter sent to him in 1998 by the Counsellor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in Athens which asserts that Turkey (and Israel) are of paramount importance to the US, as “a matter of long-standing policy and practice”. Mallinson’s conclusion is that things were exactly the same in 1998 as they were in the 1970s, and have “hardly altered today”.

The author likes to quote Francesco Guicciardini, a 16th-century Italian thinker and statesman who famously pronounced that the future is not much more than a repetition of the past, albeit with different colours. The reader can’t help but think that this has surely been the case with Cyprus. Given the abject failure of the recent talks, the inescapable conclusion is that we look doomed to tread the same road again.

By Charalampos Tsitsopoulos

Original article posted on, 30th April 2017

Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus: Diplomacy in the Eastern Mediterranean is currently being featured as Cambridge Scholars’ Book of the Month: to purchase a copy at a 60% discount, please click here.

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