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Cyprus’s Military Balance: Greek and Turkish Forces in Comparison

December 17, 2006

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

After the end of the Cold War in 1989, only a small corner in Europe remained divided along an “iron curtain” with its own divided capital. Cyprus, a beautiful island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, is the only state in Europe that has part of its territory (37 percent) occupied and its capital, Nicosia, divided, along the infamous “Green Line.” Despite the Turkish self-declared Republic of Northern Cyprus, created after the 1974 invasion, there is only one Cyprus recognized by international law and that is the 73 percent Greek-inhabited Cypriot Republic. Even though the Turkish Army stands firm on the rest of the territory; the so called “Republic of Northern Cyprus” has not been recognized by any state in the world and there have been plenty of UN condemnations calling for a withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the island.

In April 2004, the two sides were close to an agreement based on the principles of the “Annan plan.” The referendum, held by the Greek Cypriot side, rejected the proposals by a 76 percent majority, thus reflecting the strong mood in the country for a solution based more on justice rather than on compromise. Currently Turkey is being pressed by the EU to accept the Cypriot democracy as a state entity and at the same time to lift the bans that keep Cypriot airplanes and ships out of Turkish territorial waters and air. Since the acceptance of the Republic of Cyprus into the European Union, time is ticking away for the Turks to balance their regional aspirations and their desired status quo in the Eastern Mediterranean with their ambition to becoming a member state in the enlarged European family. Turkey’s failure to open its ports to Cypriot vessels led to a predictably harsh report card from the EU in November 2006, and there is not currently much reason for optimism in the near future.

Wary of the Turkish armed presence, the Cypriot Republic has greatly increased its military capabilities over the past decade by acquiring state-of-the-art Russian weaponry and at the same time expanding its diplomatic capabilities beyond its traditional fraternal friendship with Greece. Already Cypriot officers attend four military Study Groups in Brussels and regularly train alongside officers from other member states regarding issues such as naval strategic transport, threats from nuclear proliferation and the use of UAV-type aircraft. Moreover Coast Guard exercises are being held in Cyprus with the assistance of other EU members, with the main aim of curbing illegal immigration from the Middle East. Lastly, Cyprus is a part of the Battle Group composed of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. It is supposed to become operational by October 2007.

The Turkish Cypriot population relies heavily on the annual economic assistance of Turkey, as well as on the formidable Turkish-stationed in their part of the island. The Turkish Army often upgrades its systems and holds military exercises on a regular basis. Turkey has stated many times that it will never recognize Cyprus as an independent state and it seems that it is not in their interest to do so unless it is pressed significantly to do so by the world powers, namely the USA and EU.

The old thinking in the Turkish military remains in vogue today regarding Cyprus. It hypothesizes that a united Cyprus would soon fell under Greek domination, thus allowing the Greek to encircle the Turkish periphery from Eastern Thrace to the Aegean shores and down to the Alexandrine Gulf. Adding the perilous conditions on the southeastern borders of Turkey, where Kurdish guerilla groups are regaining strength, bolstered by their brethren across the hills in Iraq, as well as the old enmities with Armenia and Syria and the unknown factor of America’s plans for far eastern neighbor Iran, it seems likely that Turkey will continue to manifest the symptoms of the “Sevres syndrome,” an outlook “mirrored by the narrow notion of security — limited to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state — that characterizes Turkish politics.”

On the military level now, Turkey’s forces are generally superior in numbers, whilst the Greek Cypriots have at their disposal high-quality armaments and the conviction that they will fight hard and make a “last stand” in case of a war to defend their homeland. The geographical terrain of Cyprus is less than 9,250 sqkm — excluding the British Bases — and it is unlikely that any conflict will result in a kind of warfare that will involve large numbers of tanks and troop movements. Special Forces, along with artillery and missiles, would play the decisive role for a quick victory one either side. Furthermore a potential conflict would draw Greece and Turkey into the war, thus enlarging the skirmishes on a much wider front, so as to encompass most of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin. In any such conflict, the interests of the United States and the EU would be to control the situation as soon as possible and act in order to stop a wider war. Again, the side that would be able to move faster and more dynamically in the first couple of days would probably create the “facts on the ground’ and emerge the winner.

The Cyprus issue has achieved global importance due to the geopolitical placement of the country, just opposite from Israel and the Middle East, and just a few miles north of the Suez Canal. Recently, France signed a defense contract with Cyprus, because of its involvement in Lebanon’s peacekeeping force, and Germany also has agreed to use military installation in Cyprus in order to support its operations in Beirut. The UK now holds its own two sovereign bases that have a surface area of up to 3 percent of the island, and it seems unquestionable that Britain will retain its historic geo-strategic position here for decades to come.

For their part, Greece and Turkey now have their own national troops based on the island, even though the former are vastly outnumbered by the latter. Both countries also have continuously vowed to support their own side in case of any conflict. Other players in the area include the USA, Russia (which has cultivated strong ties with the Greeks over the past 15 years as well) and Israel, which views Cyprus as its safe haven in case of a major Arab offensive in the future. Cyprus also is vital for the humanitarian relief of Lebanon, and recently more than 100,000 Lebanese citizens were transferred via Cyprus to safety in various locations worldwide.

The Cypriot government helped evacuate, house and repatriate 13,500 Americans during the Israeli war against Lebanon this past July. On October 25, as if to give a final sending-off gift to a tourism season disrupted by the war, an American Naval vessel, the USS Eisenhower, pulled in to Cyprus for four days. “This routine port visit offers a shore leave opportunity for the more than 5,000 crew members and is a way for America to thank Cyprus for its support during the Lebanon crisis,” announced a US embassy statement.

On overall assessment, the Cyprus issue in inexorably connected with all of the other chronic problems in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East area. The Israeli-Arab conflict, the Greek-Turkish brinkmanship and the ambitious of the Great Powers will dominate the Cypriot future, since this island is a naval fortress adrift in the most vital and sensitive area for world security nowadays. It is also a hub of global commerce with a well established banking industry which processes billions in legal and not-so-legal funds, making it again a place of great importance and interest for powerful people around the world.

Equipment and personnel breakdown of military balance in Cyprus

Land Armies

Republic of Cyprus National Guard (plus Greek national forces)

Tanks: 41 (T-80U type), 82 (M48MOLD type), 113 (AMX-30 type)-Russian, US and French types respectively.

Armored vehicles: 43 (BMP-3 Type), 124 (Cascavel Type), 27 (Jararaca Type), 150 (Leonidas II type), 131 ( VAB VCI Type).- Russian, Brazilian, Greek and French types respectively.

Artillery: 8 (M110A2 Type), 12 (M107 Type), 12 (Zuzana Type), 12 (Mk3F Type), 12 (TR-FI Type), 12 (M114 Type), 72 (M56 Type), 20 (M-1944)- USA, Slovakian and Russian types. 100mm, 105mm, 155 mm, 175 mm, 203 mm.

Rocket launchers: 4 (BM-21 Grad type), 24 (M-63 Plamen type)- All Russian types: 40x122mm, 32x128mm, respectively.

Antiaircraft systems: 6 (Tor-M1 type), 12 (Skyguard type) – Russian and Italian types

Antiaircraft systems: 12 (Atlas-Mistral type), 18 (Mistral type), 100 (9K32M-Strela type)- French and Russian types.

Antiaircraft machine guns: 24 (GDF Type), 50 (M-55 Type)- 2x35mm, and 3×20 mm respectively.

Antitank weapons: 50 (Milan type), 1,000 (Apilas type), 1,000 (RPG-7V type), and unknown number of M72A2 Law type.- 112mm, 85 mm, 66 mm respectively

Other weapons: 150 (M40A1-106mm), 114(MO-RT61-120 mm), 26 (M2/M60-107 mm), 180 (E-44-81 mm), 50 (M19- 60 mm)

Turkish Cypriot Army (plus Turkish national forces)

Tanks: 386 (M48A5 type) US origin

Armored vehicles: 200 (AIFV type), 200 (M-113 type)- US and Turkish respectively

Artillery: 12 (M115 type), 24 (M44T type), 35 (M52T type), 12 (M110 type), 36 (M114 type), 90 (M101 type)- US origin: 203 mm, 155 mm, 155 mm, 203 mm, 155 mm and 105 mm respectively.

Rocket launchers: 18 (T-122)- Turkish origin, 40×122 mm.

Antiaircraft systems: 170 (Stinger missiles), 18 (Igla missiles), US and Russian respectively

Antiaircraft machine guns: 84 (M1 type)- US origin, 40 mm.

Antitank systems: 36 (TOW type), 12 (Konkurs-M type), 48 (MILAN type)- USA, Russian and French types respectively

Other weapons: 170 (M40A1-106 mm), 30 (HY-12DI-120 mm), 100 (M2/M30-107 mm), 175 (M1/M29-81 mm)

Navy and Air Force

Republic of Cyprus Navy and Air Force (plus Greek national forces)

Combat helicopters: 11 (Mi-35P type), 4 (Gazelle type)- Russian and French types respectively

Transport and General Use helicopters: 4 (Bell type)- US origin

Aircraft: 1 (BN-2T type), 1 (BN-Maritime type), 1 (PC-9 type)

Patrol boats: 15 of different Greek, Israeli and Italian types. Most of them speed boats with heavy equipment

Surface-to-sea missiles: 24 (Exocet MM40 Type)- French origin

Turkish Cypriot Navy and Air Force (plus Turkish national forces)

General Purpose helicopters: 4 (UH-1H type)- US origin

Aircraft: 3 (T-41D type), 1 (An-2 Colt type)

Patrol boats: 2 speed light weight speed boats

Manpower

Republic of Cyprus National Guard (plus Greek national forces)

13,000 active-duty, plus 65,000 reserves

Turkish Cypriot armed forces (plus Turkish national forces)

40,000 active-duty, plus 25,000 reserves

NOTE: To the above military balance one has to take into consideration the general balance of powers between Greece and Turkey. Also weapons such as electronic warfare, special operations vehicles, training equipment, support vehicles, ammunition, rifles-machine guns, mines, bombs, jeeps, trucks and radars were not accounted for in this survey.

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