No Man's Land: Turkey-Libya Deal and Possible Risks
Turkey is commonly accepted as a pivot state which is defined as having “military, economic or ideational strategic assets” that attract great powers. Pivot states are at the heart of great powers’ interests and consequently, great powers use coercive and co-optive means to pivot them into their spheres of influence.
Accepting Turkey as a key pivot state is not only because of its military and economic power but also because of its significant geographic location and its longstanding membership of NATO. Moreover in today’s multipolar international system, it gains more importance than ever. Turkey has established good relations with its neighbors and sometimes played a mediatory role in the region. However, for the past decade Turkey’s posture has been affected by unexpected shocks and crises, such as buying S-400 air missiles, conducting operations in Syria, or threatening the EU with an influx of Syrian refugees. Additionally, Turkey surprisingly signed a military partnership with Libyan Prime Minister Sarraj, which caused a large opposition block, including the EU, US and Middle Eastern countries, to form against Turkey. In this regard, this blog analyzes the possible risks that the Turkey-Libya deal might produce and its potential effects on the EU.
Internal Conflict of Libya and the Turkey-Libya Deal
After the toppling of Gaddafi in 2011, a transitional government was founded with the task of progressing Libya to a permanent democratic constitution. Ultimately, with the UN-led Skhirat Agreement in 2015, all parties involved in the Libyan constitutional crisis were united and the political status of the country was settled. Thus, this unification formed the Government of National Accord (GNA) under Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and a House of Representatives (HoR) as its assembly, which were officially recognized by the UN. The HoR assigned General Haftar as commander and his forces as their official army, but this wasn’t accepted by Prime Minister Sarraj’s administration. Moreover, due to the struggle over statecraft and oil reserves, there has been a great conflict between Gen. Haftar’s forces and Prime Minister Sarraj’s administration.
In order to preserve its interests on the hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey signed a delimitation agreement with Libya in November 2019. Libyan Prime Minister Sarraj agreed to sign the deal to get credible external military and economic support against Gen. Haftar’s offensive. Therefore, Turkey deployed military force in Libya to back Prime Minister Sarraj. More precisely, The Guardian reported that 2000 Turkey-backed Syrian fighters have been deployed to Libya, traveling through Turkey’s territory.
Libya became the location for proxy wars. Allegedly, on Gen. Haftar’s side, there are Russian and Sudanese mercenaries, as well as the supply of weaponry support from Egypt, UAE, Russia, and France. The side of Prime Minister Sarraj is militarily supported by a group of officers from Turkey and Turkey-backed Syrian fighters, as well as economic aid from Qatar and political support from Italy.
On January 13, 2020, Russia hosted a peace summit in Moscow between Prime Minister Sarraj and Gen. Haftar along with Turkey's participation. However, the summit did not bring about any results because Gen. Haftar refused to sign the ceasefire agreement. Rather, his visit to Jordan on his way back to Libya was reportedly perceived as having possible contact with US deployed officials in Jordan. This could be interpreted that Russia’s influence on Gen. Haftar is limited. After this failed attempt, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the initiative to address the conflict in Libya by inviting 12 countries to an International Conference on 19 January 2020 in Berlin, in which Prime Minister Sarraj and Gen. Haftar participated and which resulted in a 55-point communique and technical follow-up committees.
Turkey wants to apply a similar strategy in Syria to Libya. However, the situation in Libya is different from Syria in terms of the number of actors and their interests. Besides, Gen. Haftar is not strongly steered by Russia like Assad is, and Prime Minister Sarraj is not guided only by Turkey as the UN is the main influential actor. Furthermore, Turkey's distance from the region could affect its logistics due to the long line of communications, and most importantly air support in case of any eminent threat that requires a time-sensitive intervention. Besides Russia, the US and the EU are also intervening great powers in Libya that need to be considered.
As Turkey sees its presence in Libya as its central strategy to preserve its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey may apply severe military measures. No other countries have publicly announced their commitment in Libya with their official military forces. Hence, if any kind of sectarian and accidental damage or conflicts thorough mercenaries that is perceived to be advantageous for one side occurs, this will give the other groups the justification to use force to preserve their interests. Due to Turkey’s open military support any harm to its forces would compel Turkey to retaliate, while other countries do not need to respond militarily as they do not have direct military power in the region.
Given Turkey's purchase of S-400 air missiles from Russia and Russia’s investments in the Middle East, Russia would refrain from a direct confrontation with Turkey, though their interests in the region occasionally clash, as for example the conflict over Idlib between Turkey and the Russian- backed Assad regime. Nevertheless, a stable Turkey-Russia relationship is still desired by both parties. Rather, having close relations with Turkey is a crucial gain for Russia, as it created a huge crack in NATO.
Needless to say, the EU will be the most affected actor. Any conflicts between sides that bring about a stalemate, or any interference that prolongs the crisis in Libya, will cause a power vacuum that could deteriorate the flow of migration coming from Libyan soil to Europe as well.
Turkey’s current posture tends to cause mayhem for its interests and security as well as its allies. Turkey can naturally implement any necessary political or military means to preserve its profits, but it should keep it in its abiding alliance system.