The British, the Mediterranean, and the Anglo-Cypriot Relationship: What Went Wrong and Can It Be Put Back?
Professor, University of London
‘For Great Britain’ the distinguished diplomatic historian E.H. Carr said in a lecture during 1937 ‘the Mediterranean problem is, in its final analysis, a problem of the way in, the way through, and the way out.
If you consider the steps by which Great Britain be came a Mediterranean power, you will find that her policy has always been dominated by this question of entrances and exits’. Carr was writing in the after-blast of the crisis over Abyssinia, in its strategic aspect essentially a Mediterranean crisis. If you read the history of most Mediterranean countries during the 1930s, Abyssinia crops up prominently. Books on Cyprus largely ignore it. The introspectiveness of Cypriot affairs – both of the Cypriots themselves, and the British in Cyprus – is a theme I will come back to.
The ambivalence of Cyprus in British strategic assessments from 1878 onwards lies in the fact that Cyprus is not, in any very precise sense, on the way in, through or out of anywhere in the Mediterranean. It is not an opening such as Gibraltar, the Straits of Constantinople, Alexandria/Suez, or indeed Alexandretta, nor does it have the centrally commanding position of Malta. ‘Cyprus I should not propose to consider’ a senior Admiralty planner sniffily remarked in 1898 when considering where the British Mediterranean Fleet should be based at the outbreak of any war ‘as it has no harbours and no strategic value’. Such dismissiveness on the part of British military planners could be endlessly quoted.