Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Turkey compromises on NATO role in Libya

The Anatolian news agency just reported, citing NATO officials in Brussels that Turkey has agreed to participate in the alliance's naval operation off Libya. A NATO meeting is under way in Brussels. Brigadier Pierre Saint Anand of NATO's military staff told a media briefing that Turkey was sending five warships and a submarine to join a separate NATO operation off Libya to enforce a UN arms embargo. This seems a volte-face by Ankara. Only yesterday, Turkish PM Recep Erdogan, addressing AKP ruling party MPs in Ankara categorically opposed NATO operation. In fact, he attacked French President Nikolas Sarkozy by name for queering the pitch of implementation of R-1973. He alleged Sarkozy was using Libya operation to boost his domestic popularity ahead of 2012 election. “Nobody told him [NS] to undertake such a role. He took this step on his own."
Erdogan also said Libya operations should be under UN umbrella. Although, he hinted Turkey could take part in the following areas: a) No combat role; b) Turkey could contribute by securing the airport in Benghazi; c) Securing the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Libya; d) Deploying ships in the Mediterranean, between Crete island and Benghazi, apparently to help implement an arms embargo on Libya.
Turkey's participation, if confirmed officially, will no doubt significantly enhance NATO capabilities and profile. Turkey has the second largest military within NATO, next to US; it is a Muslim country; and, any expansion of NATO operations in future such as deployment of ground troops in Libya (which is being talked about) will substantially draw on Turkish resources. What prompted Ankara's rethink is unclear. Barack Obama had spoken to Erdogan. If Turkey indeed shifts its stance, it becomes a diplomatic coup for Obama and there is nothing stopping NATO intervention in Libya. Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe is visiting Ankara on Thursday to coordinate with the Turkish military on the alliance's operations in Libya, which indicates Ankara is falling in line.
Quite possibly, some cosmetic formula is being worked at Brussels today out so that Turkish leadership doesn't lose face. NATO will not take “political leadership” of the international coalition in Libya but will have a planning and operational role to enforce a U.N.-backed no-fly zone, the French foreign minister said Wednesday.

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