Four countries lie at the fringes of Europe, on the borders of the eastern Mediterranean— Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel—and all of them face a similar strategic predicament. Although located near the West and themselves Western in many ways, they are adjacent to a region of great turmoil. Regimes in several countries of the nearby turmoil zone are supporting terror, acquiring long-range missiles, and developing weapons of mass destruction. As such, these four cannot fully enjoy the advantages of regional stability, as their fellow Western states can, being susceptible to threats and other forms of aggressive behavior.

The quartet can best address their common problem by enhancing strategic cooperation among themselves and perhaps even forging an eastern Mediterranean alliance. Such a step would have implications for Western interests as well as the Middle East, and it is something the U. S. government should promote. Because the main block to such cooperation or alliance is the tense relationship between Greece and Turkey, arising primarily from the division of Cyprus, that is the issue it most needs to address.

The West's New Frontier

Ian O. Lesser, a RAND security expert, has described three models for conceptualizing security in the Mediterranean region: a European "near abroad"; a strategic corridor to reach areas of vital interests; and an arena for North-South conflict and cooperation.1 These are valid, but perhaps an even better viewpoint, from a Western strategic perspective, is to see the eastern Mediterranean as a new frontier.

Since the crumbling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet bloc two years later, the West has in several ways enlarged its influence eastward. The European Union (EU), primarily an economic bloc, opened its doors to several countries once in the Soviet orbit. The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), a military alliance, accepted the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary as members. The Bosnian and Kosovar crises then encouraged NATO to expand its security space to the south and to intervene militarily in that region.2 Thus have the boundaries of the West moved eastward and southeastward. An expansion to the eastern Mediterranean, parallel to the one into eastern Europe, would also further Western security.3

The eastern Mediterranean is already the West's new outer limit. It is where the European attitude toward the use of force meets a very non-European attitude. It is where two strategic cultures meet, each one entertaining very different notions of behavior during conflict.4 The eastern Mediterranean harbors a variety of political entities, being perhaps the only area in the world where Western democracies live side by side with rogue states, authoritarian rich oil producers, and some of the poorest countries.5 Such gaps in wealth increase international tensions and nourish revisionist aspirations, as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon so dramatically showed.

Political turmoil and economic underdevelopment in this region (and beyond it) provide severe challenges to international order and stability.6 The conflict in Lebanon, the Azeri-Armenian clashes, and the war in Afghanistan are a few examples of ethnic conflict. Tensions between Turkey and Iran and between Turkey and Syria could erupt into a conventional war. Some of the region's states support international terrorism and radical Islamic movements—such as Hizbullah, Hamas, and the Taliban. Until these states are successful in building democracy and prosperity, the influence of revisionist and predatory states will continue to grow and to threaten the West militarily and demographically. Their poverty and political instability encourage emigration and the export of terrorism. Moreover, the response of the poor states to the strategic dominance of the West focuses on the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Thus do Iraq, Iran, and others pursue the nuclear option.

The West's long-term strategic interest lies in strengthening Western-oriented states in the eastern Mediterranean whose policies could have a potential to pacify some countries within this zone of turmoil and help to bring their people into the West's fold. That can be achieved by strengthening pro-Western elites and encouraging them to adopt economic policies conducive to growth as well as to link their national economies to the global economy. Jordan, for example, is an Arab country that could in effect join the West. Other candidates include states of the former Soviet Union such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakstan, all of which have developed rudimentary democratic institutions and look toward the West. Most countries, however, will have difficulties extricating themselves from the whims of autocratic rulers and poverty for generations to come.

A Westernized Quartet

Among the countries of the eastern Mediterranean, however, four stand out: Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel. Democratic and relatively prosperous, the four have successfully managed to modernize their economies and societies. All are democracies that display the requisite democratic civil society and political institutions. Their economies are equipped to meet the challenges of globalization, their citizens enjoy a reasonably high standard of living. They all have adopted a pro-West foreign policy and are linked to European institutions such as the EU and NATO. Above all, the majority of their people have long held aspirations to be considered Western, something that cannot be said of peoples in the other countries of this region.

These similarities among the four have not always been obvious. Israel's vital economic and military links have been with the United States and Europe, to be sure, but only recently has that unequivocal orientation emerged in Greece and Cyprus, as they depart from past policies designed to court Third World countries. Turkey's political leadership, following that country's rejection by the EU in 1997, occasionally questioned Ankara's traditional pro-West stance, but a pro-Western judgment has now prevailed, especially after the EU's acceptance of Turkey's candidacy in late 1999. For the first time in many years, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel are in the same boat, strategically speaking.

All of them are located at the margins of the Western bloc, and this has great consequence. While Westerners have become softer, the four pro-West societies in the eastern Mediterranean still display martial qualities and outlooks. The West, and particularly Europe, is not ready to meet the security challenges from across the Mediterranean. In the relaxed atmosphere of the post-cold war era, Europeans believe that most military threats have been eliminated, and such beliefs have translated into serious cuts in military spending and a contraction of military capabilities. A Western unwillingness to risk casualties is considered by strategist Edward Lutwak to be a distinguishing feature of a new era of conflict, given social, demographic, and cultural developments in the West.7 Conceptually, politicians question the usefulness of military force, and publics are increasingly sensitive to casualties on both sides of an armed conflict, unless it is obviously defensive. Thus are pictures of Iraqi dead and wounded a constraint on Allied freedom of action in Iraq.

By contrast, all countries in the greater Middle East and the Caucasus feel threatened in one way or another by their immediate neighbors, and they understand that the use of military force is part of the international game. In a summary of this spirit, Daniel Byman and Jerrold Green say of the Persian Gulf area that "The region's Zeitgeist also favors violence, where guerrillas are lauded and peacemakers ridiculed."8 The East Mediterranean is in the same situation. George Papandreou, the Greek minister of foreign affairs, notes that "Whereas the end of the cold war boosted a sense of security in central Europe, the collapse of communism had a very different impact on southeastern Europe, and Greece in particular."9 Turkey emerged from the cold war with a perception of threat. Foreign Minister Hikmet Çetin said in 1993 that "its geopolitical and geostrategic location places Turkey in the neighborhood of the most unstable, uncertain and unpredictable region of the world . . . it has turned into a frontline state faced with multiple fronts."10 Similarly, the prevalent view in Cyprus has been that "the end of the cold war and bipolarity has brought back a new era of instability and more volatility."11 Consequently, even small Cyprus has made attempts to enhance its defensive capability. For Israel, according to the late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, the post-cold war strategic environment of Israel contained potential existential threats even greater than before, stemming primarily from the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.12 All his successors concurred with this evaluation. In contrast to Western Europe and the United States, none of the four has reduced its defense budget in the post-cold war era. The quartet, in short, share a high threat perception and are ready to fight for their national interests, which are essentially Western ones.

These four states could become the core for a new equation of forces in the eastern Mediterranean and change the current geometry of the greater Middle East by weakening Iraq and Iran while enhancing the moderate states. This alignment would create a democratic bloc, and thus influence the balance between democracies and authoritarian regimes in the region. It could also have other benefits: moderate the behavior of littoral rogue states such as Libya and Syria; bring Egypt closer to the West; work for an American endorsement of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline (thereby turning Turkey into an energy hub, reducing the leverage of Iran and the Persian Gulf oil-producing states); and strengthen the pro-Western and secular orientation of Turkey. In all, the synergy created by bringing together the four countries—their geo-strategic location, their national assets and their diasporas—can make an important contribution to the defense of the West and the spread of Western values.

Relations among the Four

But if Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel are to serve this geostrategic purpose, they must minimize tensions among themselves. The Western quartet has a long way to go before achieving a better coordination of its foreign polices, and their interactions have to be institutionalized at various levels. Although they have a long way to go on those fronts, and although none of them has formally adopted the strategic vision presented here, they have in fact acted in accord with it—and this helps explain their improved relations in recent years.

Only Israeli-Turkish relations contain so far an element of security cooperation, thanks to the significant changes that have taken place during the last decade, and especially since 1996. They reached several agreements on military and defense industry cooperation, ranging from joint training exercises to reciprocal port access for naval vessels and the reciprocal training of military aircraft in each other's air space. Military-industrial cooperation includes Israel's modernizing Turkey's F-4s and F-5s, and the transfer of technology from advanced missiles to assault rifles. The collaboration extended also to intelligence gathering and strategic talks.13

The need to overcome the hostility of neighboring Arab countries has long prompted Jerusalem to leapfrog over them and seek strong relations with somewhat more distant, non-Arab countries. Already in the 1950s, Israel courted Greece and Turkey, though giving greater importance to the latter,14 in part to demonstrate its ability to establish good relations with a Muslim country. Another reason was that the leaders of Greece and Cyprus (such as Andreas Papandreou and Archbishop Makarios) adopted a Third World–oriented foreign policy that made them almost invariably predisposed to accept Arab positions vis-à-vis Israel, while Turkey had ambivalent attitudes toward the Arab countries and consistently adopted pro-American positions.

Nonetheless, despite its interest in improving relations with Turkey, Israel refrained from taking sides in Greco-Turkish disputes and instead followed the American line of detached impartiality. This approach continued into the 1990s, at a time of dramatically improved Turkish-Israeli relations. Athens initially believed it could balance Turkish military superiority by an entente with Syria, and, later on, that it could to some extent match the combined might of Israel and Turkey by developing even better ties with Damascus and Tehran. Thus, an entente between Greece and Turkey would be welcome in Israel, although it has no stake in a specific outcome pertaining to the Turkish-Greek rivalry.

Greek relations with Israel have recently seen an apparent reversal of the historic coolness that characterized their ties. (Greece opened an embassy in Israel only in 1991.) Greece is now calling upon Israel to embark upon a new era of cooperation, including a security partnership designed to maintain regional stability. There are indications, as expressed by Akis Tzohatzopoulos, the Greek defense minister, that Greek worries about a sinister dimension to Turkish-Israeli ties have been replaced by a better understanding of the real – and more positive –motivations behind this relationship.15 In May 2000, President Constatinos Stephanopoulos paid an official visit to Israel—the first Greek presidential visit ever—and expressed hope for an increase in the military cooperation between the two countries, as well as for an improvement in economic and other ties.16 Furthermore, Foreign Minister George Papandreou did not rule out a strategic triangle among Greece, Israel, and Turkey.17

It was only in 1994 that Cyprus upgraded relations with Israel by sending an ambassador. It signed a series of economic and cultural agreements in the mid-1990s. Recently, Cyprus also concluded several deals purchasing military equipment from Israel. Jerusalem also supports the inclusion of Cyprus in the EU. The improved relationship was marked by the first exchange of presidential visits. Israeli president Ezer Weizman went to Cyprus in November 1998, while President Glafcos Clerides, who shares a Royal Air Force pilot past with his Israeli counterpart, reciprocated in March 2000.

But the biggest development is the rapprochement in Greco-Turkish relations. Although both members of NATO, Turkey and Greece do not coordinate between themselves against the threats most likely to arise from the east. In fact, they have a long history of contention. In the early nineteenth century, the Greeks fought the Ottoman empire, the precursor of modern Turkey, to achieve independence. In the post-World War II period, relations between the two states have been particularly tense since 1974, when Turkey dispatched troops to Cyprus, leading to the island's partition into Turkish and Greek sectors.18 In addition to arguing bitterly about Cyprus, Athens and Ankara have disputed rights to the airspace over the Aegean Sea and the seabed beneath it. As recently as January 1996, the two countries almost went to war, when a crisis broke out after a Turkish vessel ran aground on an Aegean islet of Imia (referred to as Kardak by the Turks); hostilities were prevented by the U.S. government, which negotiated a mutual troop withdrawal.

Symbolic of the new good will, when Turkey and Greece were both struck by devastating earthquakes in August and September 1999, each sent aid to the other, producing an unfamiliar warmth in their relationship. The Greek government in particular, spearheaded by Foreign Minister Papandreou, adopted a new approach, one premised on the realization that a more European Turkey is in Greece's national interest. Athens finally understood that an Islamist, anti-European Turkey would be its worst neighbor. Acting on this understanding, Athens dropped its longstanding opposition to Turkey's membership in the EU and, as a result, Turkey became an official candidate for membership in December 1999. In January 2000, Papandreou made a historic visit to Ankara—the first for a Greek foreign minister since 1962—and the two sides discussed a variety of venues for cooperation. They have also instituted mechanisms for political consultations. In June 2000, Greek territory was for the first time the scene of a NATO exercise that included a Turkish military contingent (air, ground, and navy). In November the two states announced agreement on confidence building measures.

Solving the Cyprus Problem

Positive as these signs are, Greek-Turkish tensions cannot really be resolved until the Cyprus problem is dealt with. A Cyprus breakthrough will pave the way for substantially improved Greek-Turkish relations and enhance prospects for settling the many Aegean disputes. Ending tensions over Cyprus would have many additional benefits.

Extend the EU's influence in the eastern Mediterranean and increase the European commitment to security there because it would:

* Permit better foreign policy coordination between Greece and Turkey that reduces further the latter's tensions with the European states, enhancing the chances for Turkish membership in the EU. Western interests are well served by policies that buttress Turkey's Western orientation and strengthen the links between Turkey and the West.

* Remove an explosive issue from Turkey's domestic political agenda and weaken both Islamist and ultra-nationalist forces, the ones most skeptical of integration with the West. As these critics overlap with those who look unfavorably on good relations with Israel, solving the Cyprus problem will also enhance Israeli-Turkish relations.

* Reduce the attraction of links between Greece or Cyprus and states unfriendly to Western interests, Syria in particular. A Greek-Syrian entente means that Athens acts on behalf of Damascus in international fora. The Greek lobby in Washington mobilizes to further Syrian interests. Worse yet would be a Greek-Syrian-Iranian axis, actively considered in some Greek quarters and already possessing some reality, for it would expose Europe to drug trafficking and terrorism while facilitating the leakage of sensitive technology and equipment from Europe to the rogue states.

* Ease the inclusion of a multiethnic Cyprus into the EU. A Cyprus accession to the EU before Ankara and Athens reach an understanding on the future of the island would be destructive to the rapprochement between the two. In contrast, the expansion of the EU to Turkey and Cyprus would serve as a precedent for the inclusion in the EU of states not unequivocally European, either in religious or geographical terms, paving the way for Israel's possibly joining the EU. This would be a wise policy on the part of the EU, inasmuch as Europe is Israel's major economic partner and Israel has shown interest in upgrading its status in the EU.

* Bring Europe closer to Israel and raise the possibility of Israel's eventual entrance into a broad collective security arrangement with Europe, one that would ultimately commit the Europeans to Israel's survival and help convince the Arab states of the futility of any effort to dismantle the Jewish state.

* Make Israel's relations with Turkey more acceptable to the Europeans by lessening European displeasure with Turkey.

Allow the quartet to serve Western interests better. It would:

* Focus Turkey's attention on the real troublemakers in the Middle East—Iran, Iraq, and Syria—and not on Greece. The West should prefer Turkey not to be distracted by Greece, and the end to the Cyprus dispute allows at least some of the energies captured by Ankara's preoccupation with the island to be diverted to the more serious threats.

* Free up Turkey to play a more effective role in Central Asia, where it competes with less-than-benign influences from Russia and Iran.

* Permit more Greek, Turkish, and Cypriot involvement in the Levant, where, for example, they might help save Lebanon from the Syrian grip by joining with Israel to demand a withdrawal of Syrian troops from that country. Turkey, in particularly, has good leverage on Damascus because of its superior military force and its control of river waters flowing into Syria.

*Allow Israel greater confidence of Western support in its struggle against international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Reduce the dangers in Cyprus itself:

* Prevent rogue states, such as Syria and Libya, from meddling in the affairs of Cyprus. Such states could capitalize on Cypriots' fears of Turkey to arm various elements on the island and strengthen anti-Western elements there.

* Diminish the chances of an extremist Islamic state emerging in northern Cyprus. The continuation of partition could lead to the radicalization of Islam in the Turkish part of Cyprus, especially given Iran's interest in such a development.

* Reduce Russia's ability to increase its influence, at NATO's expense, in the eastern Mediterranean by capitalizing on local conflicts such as the Cyprus issue. Moscow has long considered the eastern Mediterranean its backyard. The new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, supports the Russian military-industrial complex and a more assertive and confrontational approach toward Western interests. The Russian navy has renewed its emphasis on force projection and plans to send its vessels further out from the country's shores.19

Other benefits:

* Require serious thinking in Washington on issues so far considered marginal.

* Harmonize the Greek and the Jewish lobbies in Washington, two powerful pressure groups favoring a strong U.S. role in the eastern Mediterranean.

* Show the potential of countries espousing Western values to go beyond their own kind to form alliances. Cooperation among countries adhering to the three monotheistic religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – proves that pluralism as a core value offers a wonderful opportunity to act in accordance with one's security interests, as well as with cherished principles. Mutual interests transcend religious differences.

Resolving the Cyprus dispute—or even reaching an interim agreement, tacit or formal, on how to proceed to its resolution—is thus a key step to lessening the historic enmity between Turks and Greeks and enhancing coordination among the four countries; and this in turn would help extend democracy and free market to the zones of turmoil.

U.S. Policy

In contrast to this more energetic approach to ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, Westerners generally have a policy of benign neglect toward the Cyprus issue, hoping for little better than to preserve the status quo. This difference may result from a reluctance to intervene when allies are involved. That said, recently improved relations between Athens and Ankara, as well as the EU's December 1999 decision to consider Turkey's membership, could lay the groundwork for Washington to seek an acceptable modus vivendi on Cyprus. The appointment of Alfred Moses as the American Cyprus mediator in September 1999 seems to indicate greater American activism. In May 2000, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced her intent to encourage real progress towards resolution of the major questions dividing Turkey and Greece.20 The two states are more ripe than ever for reaching an understanding on Cyprus, as the two capitals relegated this issue to a lower priority in their foreign policy agenda. Public discourse in both countries regarding Cyprus has also become more conciliatory.

The analysis here indicates that the importance of a Cyprus settlement issue is greater than usually ascribed to it in most diplomatic quarters. Reaching an understanding on the political future of the island has positive spillover effect for the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Therefore, Cyprus deserves a greater effort on the part of U.S. diplomacy. As the Arab-Israeli conflict provides fewer chances for spectacular successes and photo opportunities, some of the U.S. diplomatic energy so far directed to the Middle East can be diverted to Cyprus. Washington's diplomacy can reinforce the current mediating efforts, the proximity talks held under the sponsorship of the U.N. Such a direction may yield significant strategic benefits. It is the responsibility of the United States, the dominant power in international affairs, to bring about greater cooperation among its allies and to pursue a course of action that enhances Western interests.
Efraim Inbar is director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Shmuel Sandler is the chair of the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University.
1 Ian O. Lesser, "The Changing Mediterranean Security Environment: A Translantic Perspective," Perspectives on Development: The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, ed. George Joffee (London: Frank Cass, 1999), pp. 212-28.

2 Ibid. p. 216.

3 Interestingly the first enlargement of NATO in 1952, to include Greece and Turkey, was in the same direction toward the eastern Mediterranean. See Ekavi Athannassopoulu, Turkey: Anglo-American Security Interests, 1945-1952. The First Enlargement of NATO (London: Frank Cass, 1999).

4 Stephen P. Rosen, "Military Effectiveness: Why Society Matters?" International Security, Spring 1995, pp. 11-13.

5 John Chipman, "Introduction," NATO's Southern Allies: Internal and External Challenges, ed. John Chipman (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 3.

6 Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky, The Real World Order: Zone of Peace/Zones of Turmoil (Chatham: Chatham House, 1993), pp. 36-59; Ian O. Lesser, Bruce R. Nardulli, and Lory A. Arghavan, "Sources of Conflict in the Greater Middle East," Sources of Conflict in the Twenty-first Century: Regional Futures and U.S. Strategy, ed. Zalmay Khalilzad and Ian O. Lesser (Santa Monica: RAND, 1988), pp. 171-229.

7 Edward N. Luttwak, "Where Are the Great Powers?" Foreign Affairs, July/August 1994, pp. 23-28.

8 Daniel L. Byman and Jerrold D. Green, "The Enigma of Political Stability in the Persian Gulf Monarchies," Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), Sept. 1999, p. 2.

9 George Papandreou, "Revision in Greek Foreign Policy," The Strategic Regional Report, Jan. 2000, p. 1.

10 Quoted in Duygu Bazoglu Sezer, Turkey's Political and Security Interests in the New Geostrategic Environment of the Expanded Middle East, Occasional Paper No. 19 (Washington: Henry L. Stimson Center, July 1994), p. 25

11 Andreas Theophanous, "Necessary Conditions for Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Case of Cyprus," Security and Cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, ed. Andreas Theophanous and Van Coufoudakis (Nicosia: Intercollege Press, 1997), p. 73.

12 Efraim Inbar, Rabin and Israel's National Security (Washington, D.C. and Baltimore: The Woodrow Wilson Center and the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), p. 138-39.

13 Amikam Nachmani, "The Remarkable Turkish-Israeli Tie," Middle East Quarterly, June 1998, pp. 19-30; Efraim Inbar, The Turkish-Israeli Entente (London: King's College Mediterranean Studies, forthcoming).

14 Amikam Nachmani, Israel, Turkey, and Greece: Uneasy Relations in the East Mediterranean (London: Frank Cass, 1987), pp. 43-82.

15 The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 12, 1999.

16 Ibid., May 17, 2000.

17 Ha‘aretz, May 15, 2000.

18 Andrew Wilson, The Aegean Dispute, Adelphi Paper No. 15 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1979-80); Richard Clogg, "Greek-Turkish Relations in the Post-1974 Period," The Greek-Turkish Conflict in the 1990s: Domestic and External Influences, ed. Dimitri Constas (London: Macmillan, 1991), pp. 12-25.

19 "Reviving Russia's Navy: Putin's New Doctrine," Strategic Comments, July 2000, pp. 1-2.

20 Newspot, July-August 2000, p. 3.