The legacy of bad promises

21 October 2007
The legacy of bad promises

EuropeNews October 21 2007 By Henrik R Clausen

Here is an interesting editorial about the Mistrust between Turkey and the US. It follows the Turkish government line with loyalty, which is obviously not so good for the neighbours of Turkey. One can easily be dismissive about that, but there is a point that Sedat Laciner gets absolutely right:

The legacy of bad promises. Laciner focuses primarily on the anti-American sentiment. Here, I will look closer on a different angle, that of Cyprus:

Both the European Union and the United States have been giving Turkey serveral unsustainable promises. One of the first and most significant was the Ankara Agreement of 1963, when a prospect of full EC membership was given. This was in the spirit of the time, when blocking Soviet expansion was vital, progress (economically and democratically) was widespread, and religion played no significant role in politics. While all of these factors have changed dramatically since then, the promise given, and the implicit acknoledgement of Turkey as a 'European' country has never been reassessed, and is even today being used as a major argument for Turkish EU membership. EU civil servants are strugglng hard to fulfill this, in spite of the obvious lack of due dilligence on the issue.

Other promises suffer from lack of due dilligence as well. The worst of these is to lift the isolation of the TRNC if they would vote for the Annan Plan. Some key issues:

  • The idea of 'bribing' referendums is fundamentally wrong. One should present the proposals being voted upon without trying to 'purchase' any particular outcome.
  • The prize promised was one that neither the EU or the US could legally deliver. The TRNC is a rouge state, established and run basically by the Turkish army, and deserves no step towards recognition by any UN member. UN Security Council Resolution 541 is explicit on this issue.
  • The Annan Plan had a strong pro-Turkish bias, which (not self-centered obstinancy) was the cause for its rejection in the non-occupied part of Cyprus.
  • The so-called 'isolation' of the TRNC is self-imposed, enforced by the unruly army of Turkey, not by any outside power. As a logical consequence, the isolation is legally upheld by relevant legal entities, such as the European Court of Justice. If Turkey was to lift the occupation of the region, it would by default and effective immediately, be a full member of the European Union, permitting its citizens the full benefits of membership.
  • The complaint about the 'isolation' serves as a pretext for Turkey to avoid recognizing the Republic of Cyprus and implementing the EU customs union towards Cyprus. The purpose of this is uncertain, although it does look like a subversive move against the legal government of the island.

Now, how can our politicians make such hollow promises? It appears to be an appeasement of a large and unrule NATO power, an attempt to 'purchase' loyalty. Something that in the long term is both expensive and ineffective.

It is worth recalling that international law, by its very nature, is voluntary. While international courts do exist, their legitimacy and independence is limited, and they have very limited power to correct the action of large states and other organisations. They are not in a position to strictly uphold the law in a complex matter such as this.

It is no wonder that Turkey calls on our politicians to make good on these promises. If they do so, the division of Cyprus will become irreversible, the destruction of its cultural heritage in the north will continue, and the precedent in other issues pertaining to invasions to 'protect minorities' will be dangerous.

Similar bending of principles have taken place in the cases of the PKK and Iraq. In particular the American government has made half-hearted statements, promises and concessions expecting Turkish gratitude. When Turkey presses to use the full consequence of the PKK's 'Terrorist' label, the US government backs down, to the annoyance of everyone. Why does it back down in the first place?

Because the PKK is not a terrorist group in the 'War on Terror' sense of the phrase. It attacks primarily millitary targets, not civilians, and is thuse more of an illegal millitia than a terrorrist group. However, by blurring this distinction, Turkey understand itself in possession of a carte blanche to destroy it unconditionally, something that the US does not really support. Thus the feeling of betrayal on the side of Turkey, strong both in the government, the army and the general public.

It is understandable that our politicians are having trouble with the promises they have given. They bought them a fair amount of immediate goodwill from Turkey and avoided many a confrontation. Furher, it takes unsual guts and integrity to admit mistakes of this magnitude and back down from these promises. It has ruined many a political career, and more will certainly be in the danger zone if this was done.

However, how can we afford to undermine and eventually abandon the international legal system that has served us so well since WWII? It is, in the opinion of the author, better to let a few heads 'roll', stick to the fundamental UN principle of not rewarding aggression, pardon the mistaken concessions, and take the trouble that *will* follow.