Libya and the ability to say ‘No’

YUSUF ERGEN *
ANKARA
 
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, in an address to Parliament on March 22, said, “Turkey will never ever be a side pointing weapons at the Libyan people.”

Decades are fairly short periods of time for states. When these periods are evaluated within the scope of the political history of the world, the time scale stretches even further and as a result, conceptualizations become narrower.
There was intense traffic in state concepts during the 20th and 21st centuries. Within this context, when we take into consideration world systems, there are certain important turning points in the history of Turkey’s foreign policy.
Undoubtedly the most critical of these turning points was the talks on the 2003 Iraq War and the motion on March 1, 2003. Ever since the March 1 motion Turkey has started observing more independent policies and for over two months it has been taking historically successful steps, whether passive or active, regarding developments in the Middle East.
Turkey, a member of NATO, has reached its current position as a result of the attitude it displayed during the talks on the motion to allow US forces to use Turkish military bases to attack Iraq and its ability to start saying “no” when necessary and to take autonomous decisions.
Turkey’s continued success after the Iraq War won the approval of people in the region and prevented post-war problems from deepening. Similarly, Turkey was able to say “no” to America’s request to send a fleet to the Black Sea during the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, based on the Montreux Convention.
But Turkey had to wait many years before it could strategically say “no.” A structure that was defeated in World War I and whose influence continues to decline does not have many options other than to say “yes” in foreign policy to the structure that won World War I and that spent the 20th century making rapid change and progress. It was only during World War II that Turkey learned how to be strategically “neutral,” which was a step up from saying “yes” to everything. The ability of Turkey to give priority to its own matters and be neutral toward foreign issues had the potential to give Turkey the opportunity to achieve significant success. After World War II, Turkey’s foreign policy entered a period in which relations with nations states started maturing. By the 1980s, Turkey’s foreign policy took a step further and moved on to active diplomacy.

After 1980, the period of diplomatic idleness was replaced by active relations under the presidency of Turgut Özal and relations with other countries started taking shape. Sept. 11 2001 gave a forced momentum to Turkey’s foreign policy due to Turkey’s location and historical role. This momentum created an imperative role for Turkey, both geographically and historically. This role did not concern idle relations or the diplomacy of idle relations, rather it gave Turkey economic, cultural, political, social, civil and legal roles. Now Turkey has a foreign policy that is more dynamic, original and self confident.

Expanding rights and freedoms

For example, while all countries in the world placed limitations on freedoms because of security-oriented policies they adopted after the 9/11 attacks, Turkey was the only country to expand rights and freedoms despite the wars and tension going on in nearby regions. With the determination to implement this vision, Turkey became the only country in the world and region with the willpower to quell the fire in the Middle East.

In this way, with a dignified, principled, balanced and wise approach, Turkey developed a well-timed proactive dynamic foreign policy technique that it has carried out in liaison with all regional and global actors.

Turkey managed to come to this point from the March 1 motion by not assessing foreign policy solely from the perspective of “relations.”

The relations, which are based on “continuous contact” regarding diplomatic affairs, has enabled Turkey to establish trustful, healthy, smooth and maximum cooperation with neighbors. As a result Turkey’s reputation in foreign policy has improved. With a holistic understanding of foreign policy, Turkey was able to develop soft power aside from its strong deterrent power by using its influence effectively and in a coordinated fashion.

Turkey’s “continuous contact” diplomacy was ushered in by its independent and unique foreign policy attitude which started off with Turkey’s ability to say “no,” has given Turkey the opportunity to take the initiative ahead of the air operations launched against Libya with UN resolution 1973. Turkey’s ability to save thousands of citizens from Libya in a short time by launching the biggest ever evacuation operation shortly after incidents erupted in Libya, which drew the attention of the entire world, shows that Turkey’s continuous contact diplomacy is successful.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, who is constantly in contact with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague to discuss the developments in Libya, has communicated Turkey’s stance to his counterparts. Turkey’s rejections center on four points: a) Not turning Libya into Iraq, making sure the process does not result in occupation; b) Keeping the intervention limited, making sure civilians are not killed in Libya; c) Making sure the operation does not create the perception that foreign powers want to divide Libya’s resources; and d) Keeping regional sensitivities in mind.

Turkey’s chess game by ‘No’

When a NATO spokesperson announced details of the weapons embargo and humanitarian aid following the NATO meeting in Brussels, they said Turkey would have an inspection role, confirming Turkey’s successful participation. The UN said that Turkey would take part in the inspection of the arms embargo on Libya with five frigates and one submarine and Turkey has prepared itself for this role both politically and diplomatically.

Politically, in addition to Turkey’s decision not to be involved in the operations launched by France against Libya, the messages Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an communicated to the Arab world from the Saudi capital of Jeddah help to keep the positive perceptions of Turkey strong.

Diplomatically, Turkey has tested the clearness of the behavior of other NATO member countries, particularly France, by pointing to the meeting in Paris in which Turkey was not invited. By not siding with the confusing attitudes concerning this issue Turkey communicated an important message to the world and especially the Arab world. In addition to this, according to a telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Erdo?an, which was reported in the media, Turkey confirmed its support for UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 on protecting the Libyan people. Moreover, Turkey’s mission of offering humanitarian aid and inspecting the arms embargo obstructs one of France’s long term interests. These steps have brought Turkey a step closer to its vision of being a country that is not influenced, but influences, that is not determined, but determines; and this has implications for the presidential elections to be held in France next year.

* Yusuf Ergen is a political analyst based in Ankara.


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