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It is Time to Arm Cyprus

A Belgian F-16 Fighting Falcon receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, while flying over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Feb. 25, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. William Greer)

Forty-five years ago, the U.S. Congress imposed an arms embargo on Cyprus. “Defense articles of United States origin may not be transferred to or used on Cyprus by Turkey or Greece,” the amendment to the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act read. The logic of the arms embargo was two-fold: deny weaponry in order to encourage diplomacy and avoid a regional arms race.

It failed. Not only did the embargo punish Cyprus for Turkey’s invasion more than a decade before, but subsequent diplomacy also went nowhere.

Turkey simply doubled down on its occupation. Today, Turkey uses its military might to occupy portions of Syria and Iraq, threaten Greece, and it pursues ethnic cleansing against Kurds, Yezidis, and Armenians. Egemen Bagis, one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s closest advisors and today his ambassador in Prague, even threatened to use force against Americans. Over the past two years, Turkey has shredded the status quo on the island with unilateral moves toward Varosha. It has even established a drone base at an airstrip in occupied northern Cyprus from which it can threaten much of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Two years ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo moved to right the wrong and roll back the arms embargo. In practice, however, the Pentagon only chipped away at it, though, providing Cyprus non-lethal goods. As the Biden administration considers the future of the embargo, it is time to do far more and arm Cyprus.

The reasons to do so are multifold:

First, it helps Ukraine. Because of the unilateral American embargo, much of Cyprus’ weaponry today is Soviet or Russian in origin. The country’s National Guard still uses Russian rifles, rocket propelled grenades. It drives Russian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, and flies Russian helicopters among others. Cypriot artillery is Russian, Yugoslavian, or from elsewhere in the former Eastern bloc. While Israel reportedly is providing its Iron Dome defense to the island, much of Cyprus’ existing air defense is also Russian in origin.

As Western European countries resist the provision of weaponry and equipment to Ukraine because they fear either depleting their stocks or because their rhetorical support for Ukraine’s resistance surpasses their actual willingness to aid Kyiv, Cypriot equipment could be available and because Ukraine also traditionally relies on Russian and East Bloc equipment, would require no retraining.

This, however, would require the United States to replace it. Doing so would fulfill a U.S. national interest. As Erdogan has driven Turkey away from the West, Cyprus has embraced the West fully and without precondition. It deserves Washington’s unflinching support.

Arming Cyprus is also necessary for balance. The Biden administration has endorsed the sale of F-16s and F-16 upgrades to Ankara, largely as a consolation package after Turkey lost the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Any such enhancement to Turkey’s air force is misguided, especially given Erdogan’s recent threats against Greece and Turkey’s revanchism.

For President Joe Biden to endorse an F-16 sale to Turkey without first guaranteeing Greece a qualitative military edge and providing Cyprus upgraded anti-aircraft systems, advanced drones, if not fighter jets would endanger allies and lead Erdogan to believe he had a green light for regional aggression.

None of this would be cheap. The total population of Cyprus is only about 1.3 million. The country simply cannot afford to buy top-shelf weapons systems. The financial bottom line, however, should not be the only consideration. After all, defending the liberal order from revisionist states like Russia and Turkey does not come cheap. Neither President Franklin Delano Roosevelt nor the Congress demanded the Lend Lease Act turn a profit. Nor did the Truman administration insist the Berlin Airlift make a profit. Both understood the value to the United States and the international liberal order far exceeded the immediate investment.

So it is today with Cyprus. The island, at least the two-thirds that Turkey does not occupy, alongside Israel and Greece are the frontline for democracies holding back an axis of autocracy. The United States has committed itself to Israel’s defense and enhanced its security alliance with Greece. The Cypriot arms embargo, while loosened by Pompeo, remains an artifact of the past with profound ramifications in the present day.

It is time to reverse course and provide Cyprus with a first-world military.

Expert Biography: Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).



  1. xheavy

    September 16, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    Cyprus is used economically by Gaming and other Online Companies from a Russian Majority City to gain American Dollars using Free to play models with gambling cues and so on as a workaround to the previous Economic embargo when the UKR invasion took place by Mastercard and Visa plus US Banking.

    Alot of internet companies formerly in Russia, Belarus etc affected by the embargo shifted their companies to operate out of Cyprus. I myself made sure that I am not holding any accounts with them and do not spend dollars that go out of the USA to Cyprus etc. Which I consider to be Russian.

    As far as the Warsaw Pact Ex Soviet weaponry, thats on its way out. Many Nations are shipping whatever they have to Ukraine to be disposed of in battle and then turn to Europe and USA to get the finest most modern western replacements for free under the NATO framework.

    The Turks at the bottom of the Pile have shown by their actions they are playing both sides in addition to bypassing Western Banking Bans on SWIFT etc by a majority of their banks gaining commerce and thus a living on the new Russian MIR System which is the replacement of western based banking systems. I dont consider the Turks to be NATO anymore. It will be a time before NATO Command and Brussels realize this as well.

  2. 403Forbidden

    September 16, 2022 at 5:52 pm

    Arming cyprus would be same as sending arms to syria’s Assad.

    US has always been an ally of erdogan and this has been borne out by biden sending more advanced weaponry to ankara while greece gets weapons from europe.

    US has never been a force for peace or justice in the mediterannean and so cyprus has paid dearly the last 55 years for this US stance.

  3. Sanel77

    September 16, 2022 at 10:26 pm

    Michael Rubin is a sad pathetic creature. His fetishness with Turkey and it’s army are no coincidence. 9 out of ten articles he writes these days are in this subject. Two possibilities here. Either well paid to push out these pathetic stories without taking a breath, or maybe he just dreams about being intimately surrounded by big Turkish man with large beards. With a proven loser like this U just st never know.

  4. GhostTomahawk

    September 17, 2022 at 1:04 am


    How about this.

    The United States needs to withdraw from NATO and stop subsidizing war and war materiel in other nations. This practice has never been an effective deterrent to war and only has encouraged more war in every theater we employ this strategy.

    Its time for the world’s nations to defend themselves. If that means some borders get rearranged.. so be it. Most of these pitiful European nations wouldn’t exist if the US Tax payer wasn’t funding their existence in some way. Once upon a time that was fine because US citizens would go there and spend money with a favorable exchange rate. The Euro changed that. There is no reason to be funding any of these country’s defense as we get NOTHING from it.

    Into the deep end they go. Sink or swim. We should care less really.

  5. Michael David Rubin

    September 17, 2022 at 1:59 am

    Dr. Rubin – greetings from a namesake; & appreciation for your insight.
    First, as per the 2 current comments, doing anything whatsoever about Cyprus stirs passions, no matter what the measures suggested.
    The complexity of arms supply to Cyprus & its economic arrangements also tend to defy merely rational, much less nuanced, solutions.
    Added to that is the purely reactive nature of this White House, whose competence in dealing with real or potential military threats has yet to be demonstrated.
    With respect, urging WH policymakers to do anything proactive is probably a waste of your knowledge & time.
    Applying a real arms embargo on Turkey, however, &/or proxies of anti-Western influence, of any source, would be a possible practical undertaking, enforced by U.S. Navy military & cyber interdiction.
    Perhaps you could persuade State or DOD figures to quietly implement such a move?
    The by-now “theoretical” participation by Erdogan in NATO, as has been true for some decades, can continue to be maintained or modified diplomatically, in accordance with whatever intricate balancing of regional dynamics may seem advantageous.
    Michael David Rubin

  6. pagar

    September 17, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    Arming Cyprus (by great nation on earth USA) will only HAPPEN once hell freezes over.

    Turkey today houses several important American military bases / facilities, including missile tracking radar stations. What really good thing has Cyprus got to offer US military.

    Nothing ! Zilch ! Nada. Zip.

  7. ffinder

    September 17, 2022 at 2:39 pm

    Why is Turkey still in NATO?

    Turkey should have been expelled from NATO a long time ago…

    The list of activities that Turkey does against Nato is so long
    that I won’t bother collecting…
    From human rights abuses [no wonder, Erdogan has been turning Turkey
    into an Islamofascist regime for a long time]
    to invading other countries killing and rapping,
    and buying lethal weapons from Russia
    while Turkey doesn’t impose sanctions on Russia that NATO imposed.

    Just like Finland and Sweden are becoming NATO members
    because they fear a Russian invasion,
    Cyprus should become a NATO member because they fear a Turkish invasion.
    Turkey has already invaded >1/3 of Cyprus.

    Why is Turkey still in NATO?


  8. Adam

    September 17, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    If you arm Cyrprus, it would provoke Turqia to invade the whole island.

    The best solution Cyrprus is: Northern Ireland and Ireland Republic exmaple. Northern Cyprus should be part of Turqia and Cyrprus Republic should stay as independent country.

  9. cobo

    September 17, 2022 at 5:42 pm

    The Western world was born and secured by Greece. The situation with Turkey is complex. Cyprus is in the middle of it. If there is any place in the world that I completely advocate a diplomatic solution it is here. Exploitable resources need to be shared. Ancient feelings need to be respected and dealt with. Fuck Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. Turkey is the key to developing a solid relationship with Central Asia. That is important. Russia will one day be brought back into our sphere of relationships, once the Soviets are removed. Turkey can also help with that.

  10. Jacksonian Libertarian

    September 18, 2022 at 3:32 am

    I don’t think American troops should be asked to shed their blood to keep Erdogan the Islamic Dictator of Turkey in power. Turkey should be kicked out of NATO.

    America should just leave NATO. It will take Russia decades to rebuild its military, and Europe can easily handle them. That wouldn’t prevent America from helping individual allies in Europe, with weapons and training. And it would allow America to turn its focus to preparing the Strategic Blockade of the China Sea, by arming the 1st Island chain surrounding it.

    Actions will speak louder than words to the Communist Chinese.

  11. Paul

    September 18, 2022 at 10:09 pm

    100% agree, Mr. Rubin. I never understood why the US punished the victim and rewarded the aggressor for so many decades, aside from the tired trope of Turkey’s “geostrategic improtance/” Turning a blind eye to Turkish expansionism by the US State Department since 1974 has certainly contributed to the current situation today, where Turkey is a destabilizing force in Syria, Iraq, the Causcasus, Libya, and, as always in the E Med vis a vis Cyprus and Greece. It’s time the US stop betting on the wrong horse and recognize who are its real allies in the region–and the real democracies in the region as well.

  12. Fevos Papadopoulos

    September 19, 2022 at 6:15 am

    Its time we see things as they are, without any kind of bias, the countries that support Western ideas, culture, democracy, freedom, are Israel and Greece, they definetely, deserve and need the support of the US to keep their hard work, and to continue stabilizing the region against those who want to destabilize and create an environment of terror. Mr. Rubin I always read your posts, and I can say that I agree 100%.

  13. Joshua

    September 19, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    I’ve been to Cyprus and have seen their worn out equipment staged along the line of contact, the weakly held Cypriot outposts, etc. Cyprus should be armed with modern western arms to help deter their dangerous Turkish neighbor.

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