After World War II, the old enemies Greece and Turkey were allies in NATO with a common stake in the security of the eastern Mediterranean. But their atavistic bitterness found a focus in the island of Cyprus, forty-four miles from mainland Turkey, with a population 80 percent Greek and about 20 percent Turk--a lethal cocktail.
As in many other nations of mixed nationalities, a tenuous civil peace had been possible while the island was under foreign rule. But when the British granted independence to the island in 1960, with Britain, Greece, and Turkey as guarantors of its internal arrangements, the subtle Greek Orthodox Archbishop Makarios III, leader of the Greek Cypriot community and of the campaign against British rule, found himself obliged to concede a degree of self-government to the Turkish minority, offensive to all his notions of government or nationality. He did not have his heart in it, and with independence he systematically reneged on what he promised, seeking to create in effect a unitary state in which the Turkish minority would always be outvoted. The history of independent Cyprus was thus plagued by communal strife, and in 1967 Turkey's threat to intervene militarily was aborted only at the last moment by a strong warning from President Johnson. It had become since an article of faith in Turkish politics that this submission to American preferences had been unwise and would never be repeated. I had always taken it for granted that the next communal crisis in Cyprus would provoke Turkish intervention.
Makarios nevertheless continued to play with fire. In 1972 he introduced Czech arms on the island for the apparent purpose of creating a private paramilitary unit to counterbalance those set up by the constitution. In 1974 he again took on the Greek-dominated National Guard in an effort to bring them under his control. Greece was then governed by a military junta, violently
anti-Communist, deeply suspicious of Makarios's flirtation with radical Third World countries, which it took to be a sign of his pro-Communist sympathies. It therefore encouraged plans to overthrow him and install in Cyprus a regime more in sympathy with Greece, oblivious to the fact than an overthrow of the constitutional arrangement on Cyprus would free Turkey of previous restraints. . . .
On July 15--six days after my return from the Soviet Union and Europe--Makarios was overthrown in a coup d'etat just as he returned from a weekend in the mountains; he was nearly assassinated. He was replaced by an unsavory adventurer, Nikos Sampson, known as a strong supporter of union with Greece. A crisis was now inevitable.
There was nothing we needed less than a crisis--especially one that would involve two NATO allies. Whomever we supported and whatever the outcome, the eastern flank of the Mediterranean would be in jeopardy. . . .
During the week of July 15 I therefore dispatched Joe Sisco to London, Ankara, and Athens. Britain, as one of the guarantor powers, was seeking to mediate between the parties. Sisco's mission was to help Britain start a negotiating process that might delay a Turkish invasion and enable the structure under Sampson in Cyprus to fall of its own weight. But Turkey was not interested in a negotiated solution; it was determined to settle old scores. On July 19 it invaded Cyprus, meeting unexpectedly strong resistance. . . .
During the night of July 21-22, we forced a cease-fire by threatening Turkey that we would move nuclear weapons from forward positions--especially where they might be involved in a war with Greece. It stopped Turkish military operations while Turkey was occupying only a small enclave on the island; this created conditions for new negotiations slated to start two days hence, with the Turkish minority obviously in an improved bargaining position and with some hope of achieving more equitable internal arrangements.
On July 22, the junta in Athens was overthrown and replaced by a democratic government under the distinguished conservative leader Constantine Karamanlis. Within days, the mood in America changed. The very groups that had castigated us for our reluctance to assault Greece now wanted us to turn against Turkey over a crisis started by Greece, to gear our policies to the domestic structures of the government in Athens and Ankara regardless of the origins or merits of the dispute on Cyprus, to take a one-sided position regardless of our interest in easing the conflict between two strategic allies in the eastern Mediterranean. . . . For two weeks we maintained our tightrope act, but during the weekend following Nixon's resignation the crisis erupted again, culminating in a second Turkish invasion of the island. While Ford struggled to restore executive authority over the next months, a freewheeling Congress destroyed the equilibrium between the parties we had precariously maintained; it legislated a heavy-handed arms embargo against Turkey that destroyed all possibility of American mediation--at a cost from which we have not recovered to this day. . . .