Foreign Military Bases in Cyprus

By Stefanos Stefanou
Secretary of the Cyprus Peace Council

Dear friends,

First of all I’d like to thank the organizers of the discussion for inviting me to participate as a speaker on the subject: “British Military Bases in Cyprus - An obstacle for peace in Cyprus and in the Middle East”.
Great Britain has two big military bases in the territory of the Cyprus Republic. The biggest one is located within the boundaries of the Limassol district and the other one in Larnaca district, in the southern part of the island. Their territory is 92 square miles and taking into account the size of the island, the British bases in Cyprus are one of the biggest in the world. According to the Agreements the British have the right to use the airports, the roads, the ports and the airspace of the Cyprus Republic.
And not only this! The British military bases in Cyprus are the only ones in the world which claim to be sovereign, the only ones which refuse to pay rent to the country "hosting" them and one of the few for which no time limit for their abolition is provided for. Even on matters where the Zurich-London agreements provide concrete terms as regards to the mission to the bases, the British very often violate them. According to the Agreements the bases can be used only by Britain or any countries which belong to the Commonwealth in order to promote peace and cooperation, life-saving mission etc. I am not in a position to know when the USA became a member of the Commonwealth, in any case in British bases for quite a few years they have become permanent residents. Also, I fail to find any justification in order to "baptise" the imperialist intervention of the USA and their close allies in Iraq as a peace operation.
Great Britain acquired the right to establish their bases in Cyprus through the so called Zurich-London agreements which gave Cyprus its independence. The Zurich-London agreements have been imposed on the people of Cyprus by the British and American imperialism using the services of the ruling classes of Greece and Turkey. The establishment of the bases was a left over of the British colonialism and imperialism on the island. The presence of the British military bases as well as the illegal presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus and the non solution of the Cyprus problem have turned the island into one of the most militarised areas on our planet and a continuous source of anomaly and dangers in the area and beyond.
There is no doubt that normality, stability and peace in the region which is burdened with a host of other problems -mainly the Palestinian problem- can be served only by a viable and workable solution of the Cyprus problem. They can be served only by a solution that would lead to an end of the Turkish occupation and to the reunification of Cyprus, in a bizonal and bicommunal federation, as well as to the abolition of the military bases and to demilitarization of the united federal republic of Cyprus.
The issue of the British military bases in Cyprus has various aspects. In my speech I will approach the issue from its political aspect which directly refers to the essence of the policy and strategy of British and American imperialism in the Eastern Mediterranean and the region of the Middle East.
In its history Cyprus has witnessed many conquerors due to its geographical position in the centre of three continents. From the ancient years it was a target for every big power which was intending to control the routes from Europe to Middle East, Asia and North East Africa.
A few decades ago a papyrus was found in Egypt on which a message was written from an Egyptian Pharaoh to a King of Cyprus; at that time Cyprus was named Alasia. The Egyptian Pharaoh was complaining to his counterpart that pirates where attacking Egyptian soil and ships causing hardship to the people and was asking for the termination of such practices. In his reply, the Cypriot King acknowledged the existence of the problem but expressed -however- his inability to act upon it.
By analogy, the abovementioned happens to this day. The British Bases, which operate without any control, are the starting point for the contemporary pirates, the imperialists, in order to mount attacks and pose a threat to the wider region.
To understand this role it is necessary to look at it in connection with the condition and antagonisms, which existed at concrete periods.
In the second half of the 1950s, when the question of the future of Cyprus was firmly put on the agenda, the Cold War was at its height. In the period of the Cold War the colonial system was collapsing and many countries in Asia and Africa gained their independence. Cyprus due to its significant geographical position was in a position to give serious advantages to that power which controlled it.

First of all the southern borders of the then Soviet Union could be monitored from Cyprus. A whole spying network system was developed which monitored the movements of the Soviets in the southern part of that huge country. This spying network was supported by the development of powerful on-land radar, which are to be found in the Akrotiri and Dhekelia bases but also on the highest peak of Cyprus, Mount Olympos on the Troodos mountain range. The network was complemented by the spying surveillance missions of the U2 airplanes, which at the rime were the most advanced planes. They would take off from Akrotiri bases.
Apart from spying against the Soviet Union, the existence of the bases in Cyprus helped British and American imperialism to control developments which took place during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s in the region of the Middle East and North East Africa and especially to control the growth of the national liberation movement which threatened the interests of the big multinational monopolies but also the geo-strategic interests of the USA and Britain that have great need of petrol. During the great petrol crisis of 1973 the Americans and the British intensified their efforts for a stronger and immediate control of the region and Cyprus due to its proximity to the Middle East is a perfect outpost.
A third factor in maintaining Cyprus in the sphere of influence of the West and its use as a launch pad for interventions is the capability it offers for the control of the only link from the Mediterranean to the Indian and the Pacific Oceans through the Suez canal. The Suez Canal is one of the most important keys in order to gain the control of the seas and oceans which are of great importance for the promotion of world domination. Cyprus was used as a launching pad for the intervention in Suez in the 1950’s.
The following question is often put: what is the role and significance of the bases after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War? Have the bases perhaps lost their role and are not really significant anymore?
I should say that various people in Cyprus and abroad have used such arguments to underestimate the role, which Great Britain and the USA attach to the British bases in Cyprus.
In today’s world, in the age of the so-called new world order, the British bases have not lost their importance, but moreover are being used by the British and the Americans in two specific directions:
1) They serve the aims of the USA for the consolidation of their world supremacy. It is characteristic that the bases were used both in the intervention of the USA and its close allies in Afghanistan and even more in the intervention in Iraq. They are also being used within the wider context of the new dogma of "pre-emptive" wars which constitute the pretext for interventions throughout the whole world.
Within this framework, the bases in Cyprus are being used for the development of the international spying (surveillance) system Echelon. Important installations that form part of this system have been deployed in the region of Ayios Nicolaos in the Dkehelia base near Larnaca.
2) The bases in Cyprus serve the British and the Americans so that they can have strategic advantages over other forces in the background of inter-imperialist contradictions. That is why for this exact reason Great Britain during its accession to the European Union targeted and managed to achieve an agreement that stipulated that the bases were not considered as territory of the EU, so that it would not be accountable to no-one.

The British bases and the position of the Cyprus left.
The Left in Cyprus, headed by AKEL from the very beginning came out against the existence of foreign bases on the island, which is, why it did not support the London-Zurich agreements in 1960. It’s position against the bases is based on the following:
a) they transform Cyprus into an unsinkable aircraft carrier for attacks against countries and peoples of the neighbouring region;
b) they constitute a source of danger for the people of the country. The role of the bases was always shady in the contemporary history of Cyprus, the climax being their role in the Turkish invasion of 1974;
c) they undermined the independence of Cyprus as well as questioning the sovereignty of its people.
d) they constitute a serious danger to the environment. British troops used to regularly host military exercises in the beautiful Akamas region which is a protective environmental area. A huge new antenna spying system has been upgraded recently in Akrotiri salt lake district which is also designated as a protective area. The damage is not only confined to the environment but also has had a serious effect on the health of the local population.

The opposition to the presence of the bases and the position in favour of their abolition was expressed and is expressed through various means (mass peace marches, demonstrations, appeals by organizations) etc.
The just, viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem is of key importance in creating the preconditions for the campaign to dismantle the bases.
As is well known Cyprus, due to the Turkish invasion of 1974 is de facto divided since 37% of its territory is occupied by Turkey. The main priority of the political leadership of the country is the termination of the occupation of the country and the reunification of the country and its people. The Cypriot people are struggling for a solution with a proper content, a solution which demilitarises Cyprus and which will not enable any foreign power to interfere in the internal affairs of its country, as was the case with the London-Zurich Agreements.
The achievement of such a solution, which will do away with the foreign occupation, will provide a strong impetus on the intensification of the struggle for the dismantling of the bases and the complete demilitarization of the island. One way of another the existence of the bases constitutes an anachronism which our people are obliged to put an end to.

14.6.2005. Brussel

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