The Jerusalem summit in the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was admittedly a success for all parties involved albeit for different reasons and motivations explicitly connected to domestic politics.
Israeli elections are coming up with voters lining up to elect a new Knesset assembly on the 9th of April and Pompeo gave a much needed boost to the popularity of embattled Israeli PM Netanyahu. On the Cyprus front the two sides are yet to agree on the terms of reference to restart talks, an issue that has endangered trust in the liberal wing of the ruling DISY party. Turkey’s local elections on the 31st of March coupled with the country’s threats against the Aegean and Cyprus EEZ compound complexity in the region. Greece’s next general election may take place as soon as the 26th of May with Tsipras focused on his legacy. On the other side of the Atlantic, Trumpian politics are concentrated on the China trade deal.
The factor that unifies the intentions of Israel, Cyprus, Greece and the US, at the international level, rests on the strategic ambition to create an alternative and secure energy corridor to Europe. The approach aims to rectify Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas as well as US dependence on Turkish security cooperation in the Middle East. The EastMed, the concept behind the move is currently political in nature as the ‘$7 billion’ estimated cost of constructing an underwater pipeline, 1/3 of Cyprus’s economic output is not a financially viable option, with LNG and Egypt the options currently being considered. It goes without saying that the security of Greece and Cyprus which is derived in this case by being open and cooperating with the US and Israel is proof of the benefits of the westward bound train.
Pompeo’s statement includes the democratic peace thesis and also connects energy with security
Secretary Pompeo, responding to statements on the EastMed project by the leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus said the following:
‘’President Anastasiades, you don’t know but about a week ago I spoke in Houston, Texas, to a big group of energy leaders from all around the world, talking about opportunities and projects just like this, about how energy connects up with our security interests in America and how the opportunities to create energy in places that we hadn’t had it before and transport it and create the infrastructure in places that we’ve not had it before is an enormous benefit. I think this is incredibly timely. Revisionist powers like Iran and Russia and China are all trying to take major footholds in the East and in the West, and we view the United States and Israel and the Republic of Cyprus and Greece as great, key partners in security and prosperity. So I’m very much looking forward to our conversation this evening. As we cooperate on these important energy issues, I know we’ll improve our security and prosperity even more broadly between our four nations. We believe this deeply. When free countries with free markets act together and work to develop infrastructure for energy, greater security always follows. And I know this too: If we do this right, we will attract the investment that will maximize these resources in a way that good infrastructure and open markets always do. I’m looking forward to cooperating with each of you in this opportunity in the Eastern Mediterranean’’.
Pompeo’s statement, which includes the democratic peace thesis and also connects energy with security, has both a liberal and a realist touch. At the same time the frequency and the use of the words free, prosperity, opportunity and cooperation is telling of the philosophy of western political culture.
Notwithstanding geopolitical determinism; local politics in the age of populism weigh more heavily in decision making and set an agenda for states that cloaks the line between local and global motivations. In the world of international relations, primarily realism, states see the world as a billiard model. Not all balls are the same size, with states that are powerful represented as large balls. When billiard balls collide small states move aside. This also explains the frantic analysis of news and statements coming out of regional powers such as Turkey in Cyprus media. That is, the argument goes, small states have no agency, and it is not up to them, since structurally they cannot punch above their weight. This model has come under pressure due to globalization and interdependence, as both small and big states need to cooperate in order to achieve and legitimize their ambitions.
We have seen repeatedly over the last decade and beyond that Cyprus negotiations are defined by election cycles on the island and in Turkey. The Turkish elections on the 31st of March are a case in point with Cyprus identifying the election as a key factor for the delay in restarting negotiations. People at the end of the day, care about jobs and their future. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the parts that are not ravaged by war, domestic rush for power is a potent driver for political action that outpaces international engagements.
That is why the cobweb model for analysing global politics is preferred, a model that allows for cooperation, dependency and interaction that does not result in a zero sum game. States in this example are pictured as balls tethered to each other, restraining collisions and enabling interactions. What we witness however is a selective ’’buffet’’ reading of international relations whereby statism as expressed through populism and the interdependence approach alternate back and forth eroding the beneficial political path. Politicians cherry pick one of the two approaches whenever public opinion demands it.
By regressing to populism in the 26th of May European Parliament elections Cyprus runs the risk of disrupting its westward bound cooperation path that has proven so beneficial for the island in its efforts to search for energy resources, restore confidence in the economy; a path that has integrated Cyprus in the EUs forward security planning. The shift of allegiance and alliances that Cyprus attached itself to over the last 60 years, up to this day with the Jerusalem summit are represented by some analysts as a narrative of random convergence of strategic circumstances. Others believe that Cyprus has discovered the wheel. It is more likely that self-righteousness is an issue here and that troubles arise when we step off the westbound train and onto the billiard table.