Global Politics

Turkey's role in Libya

by Matthew Brunwasser

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference on Monday that the Turks agreed to take part in three missions with NATO: "One of them is Turkey taking over duty of humanitarian aid distribution from Benghazi airport. The second mission is the control of air zone. We said "yes' to it. And the third mission is — we have agreed our naval forces taking part in the control of the corridor between Crete island and Benghazi," said Erdogan.

Turkey hesitated to sign on to the intervention in Libya. Turkey has had close economic ties with Libya, about $15 billion in trade, investments and contracts. Bahcesehir University political scientist Nora Fisher Onar says the Turks have big economic ambitions, and Libya is part of their plan.

"They want to be Turkey inc." she said. "They want to be a corporation in an era of globalization that can serve as the crossroads for business relationships across the region that will be empowering to the Turkish economy and help these people consolidate their position as political leaders of the country".

So, Turkey opposed it when French President Nicholas Sarkozy spearheaded the intervention. The Turks opposed the effort for another reason. Professor Fisher Onar says they figured that Arab public opinion would be against military intervention.

She said: "And when they saw this was not the case, they said 'we have these cards to play as a NATO member, we have developed this whole web of relationships, let's try to position ourselves to parlay these cards rather than write ourselves out of intervention and let Sarkozy lead it".

In other words, Turkey had political considerations too. Dimitar Bechev is a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. He says the Turks want to be treated as legitimate players in the region.

Bechev said: "They don't like it when decisions have been taken and they are not involved in the planning stage, or in making the political decisions. Rather they are only asked in the second stage to contribute troops, so they are asked to do the fighting, but not the decision-making".

Turkey has been "prickly" with NATO. Bechev says that being testy with the alliance enables the Turks to win points with many countries in the middle east and northern Africa.

"They can go to the Arabs and say 'look, we are part of the coalition, but we are a restraining force, we moderate the involvement. And by the way, there won't be any Turkish planes, let alone ground troops involved. We won't be firing the bullets," says Bechev.

And so Turkey is playing a role it has played many times before. It is trying to advance its interests by promoting those of the Muslim world and the west, while antagonizing neither.

  • Turkish_fighter400.jpg

    Credit: SRA Alan Port

    An F-16C Falcon from the Turkish Air Force waits to take on fuel from a 100th Air Expeditionary Wing KC-135R Stratotanker (not shown) from RAF Mildenhall United Kingdom on Mar. 31, 1999. The Falcon is armed with AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles on the wingtips and AIM-9 Sidewinders on the inboard wing stations while on patrol in support of Operation Allied Force.

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