Monday, March 28, 2011

The Libyan Rift

I have a briefing up on the World Politics Review website that looks further at the difficulties Turkey has faced in formulating its Libya policy, how that has affected relations with some of its allies and what lessons that might provide in other cases of regional instability. From the briefing:
Ankara has backed off from its initial opposition to NATO being involved in the Libya crisis and is now even expressing its willingness to take a leading role in the military operation there. But Turkey's initial position and its hard bargaining within NATO before finally agreeing to let the alliance take over military operations in Libya could reinforce a gathering impression that Ankara is acting as a spoiler and outlier within the organization. That impression first surfaced following Turkey's initial opposition to the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO's new secretary-general in 2009, and it was further established by the tough conditions Ankara initially set for joining the alliance's missile defense program. If not addressed, it could risk hardening into a dangerous split between Turkey and NATO.

Meanwhile, relations between Turkey and France, which were already strained before the Libyan crisis because of differences over Ankara's European Union membership bid, appear to be heading towards an even rougher patch. Turkey was noticeably among the countries not invited to the Paris meeting that led to the start of military action against Libya, with French officials suggesting that Ankara's stated opposition to an intervention there disqualified it from attending. Turkish leaders, in response, have obliquely accused Paris of being motivated by oil concerns and seem to have made a priority of reducing the French leadership role in the Libyan operation.

The fact that an ambitious middle power like France spearheaded the action in Libya highlights the ways in which the crisis represents a missed opportunity for Turkey to have assumed the kind of regional leadership role it aspires to play. While Erdogan, Davutoglu and other Turkish leaders have long talked about their desire to create a proactive Middle East foreign policy that respects regional sensitivities, Ankara's undefined and overly accommodating approach to the Libyan crisis, at least in the early stages, left the door open for other actors to step in and assert their vision for how the problem should be resolved.

Turkey, though, could look at Libya as a dress rehearsal. With unrest continuing in Yemen and especially in neighboring Syria -- two countries where Ankara has recently been investing heavily in both political and economic terms -- Turkey is likely to be faced with some of the same, if not more-complicated, policy problems it faced in Libya. How Ankara chooses to confront those challenges could very well be an indicator of the lessons it has drawn from the Libyan crisis.
You can find the full piece here, and a look at Turkey's Libya policy by the Economist's Amberin Zaman here.

For Ankara, of course, the biggest worry right now is probably what's taking place in next-door Syria. Writing in Today's Zaman, Omer Taspinar suggests that events there could provide another test for Turkey and its efforts to become a regional leaders. From his piece:
Ankara has had a love affair with Damascus under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government over the last eight years. The Syrian-Turkish bilateral relationship is a remarkable story of a journey from enmity to best friendship. This puts a lot responsibility and pressure on Turkey’s shoulders. The events in Syria will provide a crucial litmus test for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan in terms of testing his commitment to democratization in the region.

Turkey is uniquely placed to apply some friendly advice and pressure on Syria for constitutional reforms. Over the weekend Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto─člu delivered a lecture in which he emphasized the importance of striking the right balance in the Middle East between freedom and democracy. Damascus may be in no mood to listen, but this is the right time for Turkey to use its leverage with Syria to send a clear message that change is unavoidable. Syria’s balance between freedom and security will need to change with rapid political, social and economic reforms. The Assad regime needs to act now.
More here.

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