Analyst Simon Schofield of the London based Human Security Centre warns that “Turkey’s tightrope could finally snap in Libya”.
Schofield describes Turkey’s strategy as Neo-Ottoman, aggressively pursing an expansionist foreign policy, including the benefits of a partnership with Russia while at the same time trying to reap the benefits of its NATO membership. However, this expansionism, flirtation with Russia and escalation in Libya could end up harming Turkey's position. It was also what led the Netherlands to suspend Turkey’s article 5 privileges. Although Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte described Turkey as “one of the strongest NATO members” crucial to NATO “geopolitically" and "strategically”, Rutte’s coalition partners voted in favour of two anti-Turkey motions recently – the first calling to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Kurdish Syria, and the other rejecting a Turkish invocation of article 5 so long as Turkey conducts operations against the SDF.
In response to Turkey’s military push into Rojava (Syria), Norway and the Netherlands also suspended arms exports to the fellow NATO member.
According to Schofield, rather than working with NATO, Turkey seems to prefer developing “limited partnerships of convenience” with Russia and Iran in Syria, Qatar in Libya, and Venezuela, as well as expanding its influence through connecting to and supporting Muslim Brotherhood governments and parties, and Jihadist groups, from Syria to Libya. Schofield explains all these as having “zero interest” in ending conflicts, and that they “thrive on chaos and destruction”.
However, in showing a preference for “transactional” relationships with rogue actors and only “paying lip service” to its official allies, Turkey is walking a “tightrope act” that could end badly, especially in Libya.
Turkey seems to have an ideological connection to the Muslim Brotherhood elements that make up the “crumbling” GNA. Turkey also has clear economic interests in Libya, and Turkey is dependent on the survival of the GNA to prop up its bold move to stake out the exclusive economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s claim to these energy reserves depends on the GNA’s survival, and so it announced its troops deployment, including bringing in Syrian militants.
However, as the LNA, backed by Russian mercenaries seized Sirte, and could make a move on Misrata, especially if the ceasefire talks break down, Turkish mercenaries could end up having to face off against Russian ones. Schofield wonders whether the Erdogan – Putin meeting in Ankara last week that led to the ceasefire push reflected more of a “gentleman’s agreement to divide the spoils” or Putin telling “Erdogan that he should back down”.
Schofield concludes that the manner in which events will unfold will depend on the nature of the Turkish-Russian relationship – and how quickly the cooperation will break down once interests diverge and Turkey finds itself increasingly alone in the region without real allies.
Schofield makes an important point - Turkey may soon find itself alone and vulnerable, having alienated its traditional allies and abandoned by its new "friends of convenience."
We will add a point that we have made before on this site: the GNA - in backing Turkey's Eastern-Med move and accepting (or asking?) for Turkish military support also seems to have alienated itself regionally. Essentially, the GNA may also be walking down a tightrope that could snap. As the major European and regional powers meet in Berlin this weekend to discuss their future involvement in Libya, this is a key point that should be raised. The GNA may be too beholden to a Turkey that has become a point of regional instability. At the same time, Haftar has also not shown himself to be a figure that can bring much needed stability.
The coming days and weeks will teach us a lot of an ambitious Turkey over-reached, and if a desperate GNA grasped at a tight-rope that is set to snap for help.