NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus will earmark 2% of gross domestic product to defense spending in line with other European Union member states as a means to strengthen the east Mediterranean island nation’s foreign policy bargaining power, the new Cypriot president said Friday.
Nikos Christodoulides told reporters after a visit to a special forces training camp that he aims to put Cyprus among other countries like Greece and France, “at the core” of a recent EU push to bolster the bloc’s deterrent capabilities and defense infrastructure.
“I also served as foreign minister and I know that without a strong deterrent force, without a strong defense, your say in foreign policy matters is clearly limited,” Christodoulides said.
According to official figures, Cyprus’ GDP in 2022 was estimated at 27 billion euros. A 2% of GDP target would mark a slight increase in current expenditure on ethnically split Cyprus’ military. It’s also reflective of NATO members’ commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on defense spending, although Christodoulides has said he has no intention to apply for membership in the military alliance at this time.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded following an Athens junta-backed coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island’s northern third where it maintains more than 35,000 troops.
“As long as there’s occupation in our country, we are obligated to bolster our deterrent capabilities,” said Christodoulides.
The president, who defeated a career diplomat in a Feb. 12 runoff to win the presidency, said his government would also strive to underscore Cyprus’ status as a member of the EU to upgrade defense cooperation with neighboring countries.
He also hailed the September 2022 full lifting of a decades-old U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus as a significant decision that his government would “utilize.” The decision renders Cyprus eligible for ““exports, re-exports and transfers of defense articles … for the fiscal year 2023.”