Thursday, March 10, 2011

Libyan Roulette

I have a piece up on the Eurasianet website looking at the dilemma Turkey is facing in formulating its approach to the crisis in Libya, which has found Ankara, as one analyst put it, “torn between a kind of idealistic narrative of Turkish foreign policy and a more mercantilist realpolitik

From the piece:
Only a few weeks ago, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was in the vanguard of those calling for political change in Egypt. These days, Erdogan’s government in Ankara is taking a very different approach toward the uprising in Libya.

Turkey is opposing the imposition of sanctions against the regime of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, as well as resisting any NATO-led military intervention in the country. Erdogan also pointedly refused suggestions that he return a “human rights” prize awarded to him in 2009 in Tripoli by a Qaddafi family foundation.

While Erdogan’s position on the Egyptian crisis helped raise Turkey’s profile in the Middle East, experts say Ankara’s stance on Libya – a large part of it dictated by concerns over the fate of large-scale Turkish investments in the North African country – could prove problematic, possibly diminishing some of the country’s newfound regional prestige.

“The ongoing Libyan crisis, with no end in sight, has created a problem for the Turkish government,” says Bulent Aliriza, head of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The contradiction here is that instead of being able to repeat what he said during the Egyptian crisis, Prime Minister Erdogan has clearly taken into account ... commercial interests which require maintaining ties with the embattled [Libyan] regime. That undercuts the role of Turkey as a potential model for countries in the Middle East.”

Ankara’s Libya policy, particularly its opposition to any sort of NATO-led intervention there, could also undermine some of the recent gains Turkey has made in repairing its ties with the United States, says Omer Taspinar, a Turkey expert at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

“I think it’s costing in terms of [U.S. President Barack] Obama’s patience and it’s costing in terms of relations with the Pentagon, which has been a strong supporter of Turkey. It’s being seen as a serious mistake by Turkey,” he said.
Turkey’s economic interests in Libya are extensive, particularly in the construction sector, where the country has secured some $15.5 billion in tenders over the last five years, representing 15 percent of its global contracting business. Trade between the two countries has also been growing steadily, increasing by 60 percent over the last two years.

When Turkey was forced to evacuate the estimated 25,000 of its citizens working in Libya in a massive rescue operation, Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan assured journalists, as one newspaper put it, “that Turkish contractors have no intention of pulling out from Libya but have simply paused operations for security reasons.”

“We have a huge stake, a lot of interest in that country. The situation for us is different than other countries, so we have to be very careful,” Selim Yenel, a deputy undersecretary at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a recent briefing in Washington. “When Qaddafi is killing his own people, you have to be careful about your own citizens. Nobody knows what is going to happen there, so we have to be more cautious.”
The full piece can be found here. Joshua Walker and Nader Habibi offer another critical look at Turkey's stance on Libya here.

No comments: