Hydrocarbons and the Cyprus mediation process

Hydrocarbons and the Cyprus mediation process

United Nations-backed Cyprus negotiations have been suspended unilaterally by the Republic of Cyprus, after the Turkish seismic exploration vessel Barbaros entered the self-declared EEZ of Republic of Cyprus.  

The past four decades have witnessed futile mediation attempts on the Cyprus conflict. Each time, the negotiations were halted, collapsed or failed. Now the mediators are challenged not only by convincing the sides to make concessions during the negotiations but also with the task of de-escalating the present conflict and bringing mainly the Greek Cypriots to the table.

I have two main questions in mind: 1) Why would the parties in Cyprus agree to come back to the negotiating table? 2) Which factors would lead the parties to sign an agreement in Cyprus? Each side might have different reasons but the “readiness” of the sides can assist us in explaining both processes. Then, what are the variables of readiness? I can note that the most significant one is motivation. Motivation derives from a) a sense that conflict is unwinnable b) a sense that the conflict generates unacceptable costs or risks.

The main aim of starting a negotiation and being willing to engage in concession-making is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating. If the best alternative to a negotiate settlement (BATNA) of the sides to the conflict is better than any solution, the sides will not see any need to negotiate. Accordingly, the key strategy of the third party and the international community is to bring the sides to a fair level of readiness (with the leverages that they can use), meaning altering the BATNAs. So the success of the mediation process is directly related to both the control of BATNAs and the readiness.

However, this control becomes very difficult in the case of asymmetric conflicts (where one enjoys the benefits of being recognized internationally and the other one is not). The third party can use a number of mechanisms for such asymmetric sides. To motivate the weaker side is easier than the stronger side.

Thus the pressure can be formulated for the sides differently. The stronger side should feel the costs and the risks with the pressure of the third parties.  But at the same time, there should be a mutually perceived way out. Mediators tried to use these elements and intervene in Cyprus at the beginning of 2000s to some extent.

Up until the 2004 referendum, the third parties, the U.N. together with the European Union and the United States, believed that the potential EU membership of Cyprus would create a sense of pressure to create enough motivation to make concessions to end the conflict. But it was unsuccessful at bringing an end to the conflict. The big mistake of the mechanism was that when in December 1999, the EU Council delinked membership and the requirement that the conflict by settled. How did the Greek Cypriot side read that? It meant the continuation of the conflict does not generate unacceptable costs and risks. A lack of change in their BATNA left their motivation and their readiness at a very low level for change. The level of their readiness became very low – curtailing their concession-making but leaving them at the table. Being the weaker side (having no BATNA), the Turkish Cypriots increased their levels of readiness. The unequal readiness of the sides prevented the agreement. But the blame lies not only with the Cypriots, but third-party inefficiency as well. This period of mediation in Cyprus offers broad potential for the third parties/international community/mediators to recognize the underlying factors for failure and success in peace-making in the world.

Now the mediator in Cyprus is challenged not only by initiating and carrying on negotiations but the hydro-carbon issue as well. Natural gas must be used as an incentive to Greek Cypriots for the solution of the Cyprus problem, not the other way round.  In order to balance the readiness of the sides for a negotiated settlement, an incentive that can be used exists now. Giving the carrot like in 1999 to the Greek Cypriots will not resolve but bring about a partition of the island. Now the ball is in the hands of the international community. The problem of natural reserves may provide a window of opportunity for the readiness of the sides if the correct interventions are made by the mediators and third parties.
Dr. Zeliha Khashman is head of the International Relations Deptartment at Near East University.