Turkish Gambit: Impact of Aggressive Foreign Policy

Conflicts in the Middle East attract interventions by regional powers. The Turkish parliament’s approval of troop deployment to assist one side in the Libyan civil conflict reveals some themes, explains Mustafa Batman, an International Fox Fellow at Yale University. Turkey’s involvement in Libya, like many in the region, centers on oil and began with a signed agreement on maritime boundaries with Libya – a response to resist a coalition formed by Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Greece to develop and distribute Eastern Mediterranean natural gas reserves. Interventions can disrupt traditional partnerships. In Turkey’s case, its intervention with Russia against the Syrian Democratic Forces countered goals of the US as a fellow NATO member. Yet, months later, the Libyan intervention puts Turkey and Russia on opposite sides. Finally, interventions can become a tool for rallying domestic public opinion. Batman argues that sending troops to Libya could be more disruptive for Turkey’s domestic politics than its previous interventions in Syria. He urges the international community to discourage interventions and sanctions, both of which risk provoking nationalist ire. – YaleGlobal

Turkish Gambit: Impact of Aggressive Foreign Policy

Turkey pursues energy and political power with aggressive policies – intervention in Libya could be more disruptive than its moves in Syria
Mustafa Batman
Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Changing partners: Libyan General Khalifa Haftar plans against Turkish intervention; his backer Vladimir Putin now on the opposing side of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

NEW HAVEN: Conflicts in the Middle East attract an entanglement of interventions, any of which could turn the region into a powder keg, and Turkish intervention in Libyan civil conflict adds a new dimension. Turkey’s parliament approved a bill to deploy Turkish troops to Libya to assist and advise the forces of Government of National Accord against the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Greece, Israel and Cyprus denounced the Turkish decision as provocative and destabilizing for the region. Behind these military and diplomatic maneuvers lie a struggle for energy and political power.

Fahreetin Altun, Republic of Turkey’s communication director, announced the aim on Twitter: “Turkey will work toward defending the international law, achieving security, and preserving peace in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. We will prevent any effort to exploit the conflict in the region. At the same time, we are also ready to cooperate on establishing stability.” A UN agreement formed Libya’s Government of National Accord in 2015, supported by the United States and the European Union.

Avoiding containment: Turkey and Libya sign an agreement on maritime boundaries, responding to plans by Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Greece to develop natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean (Source: Anadolu Agency)

Yet oil is at the center of this conflict as the Turkish government pursues aggressive foreign policy against a coalition of Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish policy began with a signed agreement on Mediterranean maritime boundaries with Libya – a response to Cyprus forming the coalition to develop the Eastern Mediterranean energy sector. Turkish authorities described its agreement as a means to prevent the coalition's attempt to encircle Turkey. Greece, Israel and Cyprus denounced the Turkish-Libyan agreement as provocative, suggesting it undermines international efforts to stabilize the region. Those countries also signed a pipeline deal for shipping natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. Turkey’s diplomatic move was also a response to attempts to exclude Turkey from Mediterranean gas exploration. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted that no project can proceed without Turkey’s consent following its deal with Libya.

Cyprus regards Turkey’s attempt to explore gas in the Eastern Mediterranean as provocative. The European Union has threatened sanctions, and the US Secretary of State has described Turkey’s activities as “illegal.” Even so, Fatih Donmez, Turkey’s energy minister, declared such activities will “continue with determination.” Hence, the government views intervention in Libya as the only way to achieve Turkish goals for the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish troops will work to secure the government of Libya against General Haftar’s forces. Turkey also sought to guarantee its seat in the international conference on Libya held in Berlin in January.

Turkey seeks to use its military power to force other countries in the region to accept its demands, as it did with two interventions in Syria. However, the consequences of sending Turkish troops to Libya could be more disruptive for domestic politics than the interventions in Syria for four reasons.

First, the 2016 attempted coup resulted in a rise of nationalism and anti-Americanism in Turkey after public opinion assumed the soldiers who joined were linked to NATO and the US-supported cleric Fethullah Gülen, a notion reinforced by the Turkish government.

Second, the government had revised its vision on Syrian policy, focusing on destroying the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group that had garnered sympathy from the West for their steadfast defense of Northern Syria against the Islamic State. A majority of Turkish citizens supported the interventions, accepting these as war against the terrorist group PKK, after documents suggested that Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned PKK leader, formulated the democratic-self administration program of Syrian Democratic Forces during peace negotiations in 2013. Threats of US sanctions also helped Turkish leaders win domestic support.

All political parties in the Turkish assembly, except the People’s Democratic Party, supported the policies in Syria. However, Turkey’s gains remain unclear. Furthermore, the intervention had costs: 180 lives lost in Operation Euphrates Shield, Operation Olive Branch and Operation Peace Spring. Defense spending expanded, representing 12.9 percent of the total budget, and the unemployment rate increased to 14 percent, with the currency flailing and inflation exceeding 11 percent in December.

Third, the nationalist atmosphere posed negative consequences for the Syrian refugees in Turkey as well as the Erdoğan government. Turkish nationalists blame the government’s refugee policies for the country’s economic problems, and Erdoğan had announced a plan to send refugees to the safe zone in Syria. Many Turks did not see that settlement plan as viable, and Turkey’s many political parties were not keen to take another risk as the government attracted international condemnation for its actions in Syria.

The Republican People’s Party, the Good Party and the People’s Democratic Party rejected the bill to deploy Turkish troops in Libya. The opposition labeled the new adventure in Libya as a neo-Ottomanist policy. The Future Party, led by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu – the key person behind Turkey’s Syrian policy – also opposed the decision to send troops to Libya.

Steady increase: Turkey ranks among the world’s top nations for military strength (Source: Macrotrends, SIPRI, Global Firepower)

The opposition parties support diplomacy and dialogue, and the Republican People’s Party, the main opposition party in the assembly, holds a view similar to that of NATO, claiming that supporting one side during internal conflicts can promote instability. The Good Party and People’s Democratic Party also suggest that the government’s aggressive policies during the Syrian War and Arab Spring, supported by leaders linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, resulted in Turkey’s isolation and destroyed good relations with Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iran.

Fourth, critics questioned the creation of new alliances in Libya. While Turkey, Iran and Russia close in on a deal for Syria, Russian support to the regime in Idlib triggered another refugee crisis. Over the next few months, hundreds of thousands of more people may head for the Turkish border, and Turkey has not signaled how it will handle this challenge.

The Idlib crisis and Turkey’s intervention in Libya may put Turkey and Russia at opposite sides once again. A ceasefire for Libya brokered by Russia and Turkey began 12 January. If international conferences do not achieve peace, Turkey could destroy its relationship with Russia and result in total isolation for Turkey in the region.

All in all, the Turkish gambit has two goals. First, it desires to keep the GNA in power in Libya to secure advantages in the Eastern Mediterranean and increase economic activities in North Africa by using the nation as an entryway. By sending troops to Libya, Turkey secures a seat at international conferences deciding the country’s fate. Turkey uses its military power for diplomatic advantages, but at the risk of losing respect in the international arena. Among the outcomes in the Berlin conference is a call for termination of all military movements by, or in direct support of, the conflict parties in Libya. Countries that do not abide by the arms embargo could face sanctions, which could be a useful tool for Erdoğan in the domestic arena.

The more important goal for the Erdoğan government is restoring popularity at home. Economic problems, rising of secularism among young generations and authoritarian tactics contributed to the government’s losses in 2019 municipal elections, especially in Istanbul. Moreover, the Justice and Development Party is in crisis, as former party leaders create new political parties: the Future Party of Davutoğlu and another to be announced under the leadership of Ali Babacan, former economic minister. Erdoğan may sense his only option is to rely on threats from other countries, instigating nationalism, to restore his popularity.

The international arena, in that sense, should work to find new solutions to develop diplomacy and dialogue throughout the Middle East and discourage interventions. Imposing sanctions on Turkey only increase nationalism, an appeal to historical glory under Ottoman rule legitimizing anti-democratic and anti-liberal governance.

Mustafa Batman is a Fox Fellow at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies in Yale University and a PhD candidate at Ataturk Institute for Modern Turkish History in Bogazici University. His research focuses on late Ottoman and Modern Turkish history, exploring contentious politics with a comparative historical study of negotiation practices of people in the late Ottoman Empire.

© 2020 YaleGlobal and the MacMillan Center


Turkish Foreign policy is not the reminisces of Ottoman Empire, it is the national security of the country ,all around Turkey was set on fire since 2003, first the Iraq war, which cost Turkish economy over $100 billion dollar damage in trade with Iraq and pipeline exporting Iraq's oil from Turkey, and gave raise to PKK terrorists on the other side of the border which Saddam was keeping in check, than came to Syrian intervention and results of that is more devastating in terms of economy and 4 million refugees floating the country. which are still there costing the country $40 billion in expenses accumulated over 8.5 years than Greeks with Cyprus declaring the entire eastern Mediterranean sea their economic zone leaving Turkey a area which soon they can not be able to cast their fishing pole , that is ridiculous to say Turkey is trashing the neighborhood when it was only trying to protect their rights, please revisit the issue without the prejudice of them been Muslim, seems the west like to report from that point of view of religion rather than the rights of the country.

Ok "Matthew" . What is it with all Turks in the West having a complex with their names. What is wrong with mehmet , or attila or Skatobay?
You forgot to mention the Kurdish genocide mehmet. 40k Kurds died because your king believe they are superior. You are an aggressive jihadi nation that will be controlled by the West again because the sick lady of the Middle East needs a cure

"First, the 2016 attempted coup resulted in a rise of nationalism and anti-Americanism in Turkey after public opinion assumed the soldiers who joined were linked to NATO and the US-supported cleric Fethullah Gülen, a notion reinforced by the Turkish government."

I found the argument here unsatisfactory. The coup attempted had huge impact in Turkish politics, however the public opinion should not be considered as "assumption". Fethullah Gulen and its organized cult is strongly believed as the criminal with sufficient evidence, and it is *assumed* to be supported by some US institutions by almost all components of the society (not only by Erdogan voters). For instance, people who votes for secular opposition are disappointed by the claimed support for Islamist Gulen cult.

Secondly, I believe the comment that Turkey, Russia and Iran are on the same side in Syria is exaggerated and therefore the prediction that Turkey and Russia-Iran will desroy their relationships due to Libya crisis is improper.

Currently Turkey is occupying and invading 4 countries.Since 1974 is occupying 40% of Cyprus,Since 1990 is invading northern Iraq Since 2011 is invading and occupying parts of Syria and now Libya. Turkey is denying Kurds the right of self determination Kurds consist one fifth of turkey's population they are being chased and murdered by Turks just because they seek their independence.Lets not forget Turks perpetrated the first massive world genocide.During world war I the Turks slaughtered at least one million of christian Armenians just because they were Christians.At the same period they committed ethnic cleansing in Minor Asia against the remaining christians the Greeks and the Assyrians.Nowdays Turkey is invading the Exclusive Economic Zone of the sovereign state of Cyprus .Turkey not only occupies northern Cyprus but is currently invading the Exclusive Economic Zone of the non Occupied Cyprus in the south of the island.Thats a region that has no common boundaries with Turkey.The non occupied Cyprus is a member of European Union. Moreover Turkey after having invaded Syria and sided with Isis at the beginning of Syrian conflict drove almost 1,5 million of refugees jihadists included to Greece and EU. Every day Turkish authorities allow boats from Aegean Turkish shores to reach Greek islands and embark hundreds of illegal immigrants(Pakistanis Afgans Algerians etc) and Syrians.At the same time the peaceful regime of Turkey violates the sovereignty of Greece it seizes Exclusive Economic Zone of the Greek islands of Crete Dodecanese Rhodes and Kastelorizo claiming it has direct frontiers with the Muslim brotherhood two cities(Tripoli and Mizrata) Regime of Tripoli Libya .Just a look of the map is enough to broke into laughs.
What else this clandestine nation is yet to do...International community the past decades fed the turkish beast and now Turkey is unleashed