THE series of disputes dividing two of America's most strategically important allies is surely disconcerting. For the United States, the situation poses the classic dilemma a third party faces whenever two of its friends are engaged in a serious quarrel. Given that the strategic space of Greece and Turkey is highly interdependent, the US cannot afford to make a choice between them. For the ``loss'' of one would weaken considerably the defensibility and accessibility of the other, resulting in net collective damage. The US can choose in this intra-alliance quarrel only one of the following sensible options: Let us call them ``passive evenhandedness'' and ``active evenhandedness.'' Passive evenhandedness begins with the premise that the US cannot afford to interfere and dictate the terms of a settlement in the Aegean dispute and in Cyprus. It leaves the process of settlement exclusively in the hands of Greece and Turkey and in third-party mediation and adjudication procedures -- especially those involving the United Nations Secretary-General. Evenhandedness, however, is maintained in the pre-settlement period by preserving, not by disturbing, the existing military balance of power in the Greek-Turkish ratio of armaments.
Active evenhandedness goes a step beyond the calculated preservation of the Greek-Turkish balance. It is a policy in which America's equidistant friendship with two important allies is augmented by prudent initiatives designed to solve the Greek-Turkish disputes. At present the US has a golden opportunity to upgrade its mediating role in the vital region. The Cyprus question is genuinely ripe for a solution, especially if the US were to apply some gentle but firm prodding in the direction of Turkey, whose armed forces occupy a sizable portion of the Republic of Cyprus. While the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot positions have converged considerably over the years, there is still Turkish resistance to the idea of allowing Cyprus to remain a cohesive and unified state. A mutually acceptable settlement should involve a biregional (or bizonal) federation that reserves the rights of representation of the state of Cyprus to the federal government; that protects the basic civil rights and freedoms of all Cypriot citizens equally and indivisibly; that removes the armed forces of mainland Greece and mainland Turkey from the island; and that maintains the nonaligned status of the Cypriot government while permitting British functions to continue as in the past in the British base areas.
A settlement in Cyprus, which is now within reach, would have an immensely positive impact in the remaining Greek-Turkish disputes. It would create a climate of goodwill which will spill over into the troubled Aegean waters. Agreements which in the current climate of mutual suspicion are considered unacceptable may then be arrived at as a result of substantive negotiations. Of course, no future settlement will be arrived at in the Aegean if it is to create a situation where Greece's eastern Aegean islands (representing a significant portion of the total population of Greece) become enclaved into a Turkish ``security zone.'' Countries do not voluntarily place vital portions of their territory and population under the protection of their neighbors.
If, despite all best efforts, the Cyprus and Aegean disputes remain unsettled, then the uneasy peace in the region will be maintained through the continued preservation of the post-1974 military balance between Greece and Turkey. Any disturbance of the balance of power at the expense of Greece would unduly enhance Turkey's power. It would encourage further revisionist challenges to the territorial status quo and negatively affect stability in this part of the world.
Greece and Turkey can be helped. Secretary Shultz's recent visit to the two nations manifests a useful reawakening of American interest in the troubled triangle of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus.
Theodore A. Couloumbis is professor of international relations at the University of Thessaloniki, and Dimitris K. Konstas is professor of international relations at the Pantios School of Political Sciences in Athens.