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Libya – Bone Of Contention For NATO

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Libya – Bone Of Contention For NATO

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg launched a new initiative on 8 June

On June 8, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the “NATO 2030” initiative that determines the course of the Alliance’s development for the next decade. The strategy itself has not significantly changed the course of NATO’s development that has already been adopted.

The new strategy “NATO 2030” was presented quite unexpectedly without a traditional advertising company. It is likely that its presentation was planned to take place much later, but the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the brewing contradictions within the Alliance changed the plans of the NATO administration. As a result, one of the central statements of the Secretary-General was to emphasize the need to maintain commitment to the principles of the organization and its unity.

“But NATO must always be the forum for frank discussion and genuine consultation,” he said. “In fact, NATO is the only place that brings Europe and North America together every day: we have the structures and institutions in place. What we need is the political will to use NATO to decide and when necessary to act for our shared security.” 

One of the main destabilizing factors for NATO is Turkey’s independent policy in the Middle East and North Africa. The positions of the NATO member countries differ in their assessment of Turkey’s actions.

Despite numerous disagreements, Turkey remains one of the main US allies in the Middle East. The American unwillingness to lose these partnership relations is evidenced by the withdrawal of the US military from northern Syria in October 2019, which actually gave the green light for the start of Turkish Operation “Peace Spring” against Kurdish formations. The US also lifted sanctions imposed against Turkey in response to its military operation in Syria. Thus, although the cooperation between Turkey and the United States is dysfunctional, it remains cooperation since the role of Turkey is irreplaceable for the United States.

While the US is forced to accept Turkey’s policy, its NATO ally, France, is increasingly critical of Turkey’s policy.

Thus, on June 17, the French Defense Ministry urged NATO to address its “Turkey problem” amid rising tensions over Libya and other issues.

“We have known complicated moments in the alliance, but we can’t be an ostrich and can’t pretend there isn’t a Turkey problem at NATO. We have to see it, say it and handle it,” said a French defense ministry official.

The incident that occurred on the same day in the Mediterranean Sea was a proof of an unprecedented increase in tensions between these countries.  The French Ministry of Armed Forces accused the Turkish Navy of harassing a French warship.

Libya – Bone Of Contention For NATO

Turkish Navy frigate Gaziantep escorts drilling vessel Fatih October 30, 2018 © Reuters / Can Sezer

The Franco-Turkish contradictions are quite numerous and are present in various spheres.

The growing number of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe has become a severe challenge for the European Union and especially for France. The migration crisis has forced the EU to step up negotiations with Turkey, which has become a transit point for migrants. However, Turkey and the EU could not reach a final agreement that could completely secure the “European” border from the uncontrolled flow of refugees. In this way, Turkey now is able to influence the EU countries. For example, on February 29, Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the border with the European Union for refugees from Syria. Thousands of refugees have crossed the border with Greece. In early March, the government said that the situation with illegal migrants on the border with Turkey threatens the national security of Greece.

Membership in NATO gives Turkey the opportunity to manipulate the positions of other member countries, since all decisions of the organization are made by consensus. On this basis, a French defense official accused Turkey for dragging its feet over a defense plan for NATO in the Baltic and Poland, known as Eagle Defender.

“Turkey is refusing to accept these plans unless we recognize the PYD/PKK as a terrorist entity,” a French defense official said.

All this causes dissatisfaction among some NATO member countries, and first of all with France, which among other things has its own interests in Libya, where Turkey pursues an active policy. The conflict between the interests of France and Turkey in this region represent a “zero-sum game”.

Libya – Bone Of Contention For NATO

IMAGE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/energysource/2011/03/29/france-u-k-have-differing-motives-for-intervening-in-libya/#7ab69af5ad53

The NATO-led military intervention in Libya in 2011 was initiated by Paris, what was a big political surprise both for supporters and opponents of the intervention. France’s involvement in the region is based on the extensive interests it has historically had in Libya.

First of all, its interests are present in the energy sector. French oil companies are likely to be among those hoping for lucrative oil contracts in Libya. Among them is Total the world’s fourth largest oil and gas company, that was already involved in Libya. Considering Libya’s plentiful and largely unexplored energy reserves, French energy companies could stand to profit from helping rebels take power in Tripoli. Haftar controls important oil fields in southern Libya.

France also has geostrategic interests in Libya. Its southern border is of great importance to France because the former colonies of Chad and Niger are just across. Among other things, Libya is the main hub of the Western Mediterranean migration route. France fears that if Turkey gains influence in Libya it will also increase pressure on the whole of Europe by the migration flows.

Libya – Bone Of Contention For NATO

How Turkey uses migration to put pressure on Europe

While conserving an official position of support for “the legitimate government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj”, France is often accused of playing a double game. It ostensibly supports the U.N.-mediated peace process, led by former Lebanese Culture Minister Ghassan Salamé, a veteran Paris-based political scientist. Salamé, in post for two years, has been frustrated by the willingness of European powers including France to covertly back Haftar. Posting his resignation statement on his personal Twitter account, Salamé said he had spent two years trying to reunite the country and curb the influence of outsiders, but that he could no longer continue because of health reasons.

Libya – Bone Of Contention For NATO

Salamé posted his his resignation statement on his personal Twitter account

Thus, the interests of France contradict the interests of its NATO partner, Turkey. In the absence of its own energy resources, escalating international relations and the global crisis, Ankara relies on Libya as its potential oil province.

In turn, the interests of France contradict the interests of Italy, whose large oil company Eni was also forced to withdraw their staff from Libya in 2019. Supporting GNA, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, member of the anti-immigrant League party, accused France of cooperating with Haftar. As many refugees use Italy as a transit zone en route to Europe from elsewhere in Africa, Italian officials have a particular interest in Libya’s stability under GNA.

Germany also supports the legitimate government of PM Fayez al-Sarraj. It acts as an intermediary for the application of European partners.

Omid Nouripour, the foreign policy spokesman for the Greens in the Bundestag, said Germany’s government must “spare no effort to persuade the Italians and the French to agree on a common line.” At the same time, he emphasizes that France needs to take into account the importance of finding a balance of interests in order to promote a common European position. The task for Germany in this situation is to convince France to sacrifice its own interests.

This position of Germany is probably provoked by its unwillingness to increase tensions in German-American relations, which are already in a protracted crisis due to the policy of D. Trump. Germany’s top officials on Tuesday voiced concerns about the possible withdrawal of US troops, for possible redeployment to Poland.

“We think that the US presence in Germany is important for the security not just of Germany but also for the security of the United States and especially for the security of Europe,” said Foreign Minister of Germany, Heiko Maas.

In this way the Libyan agenda has become a bone of contention for NATO, whose members are not ready to sacrifice their interests in favor of transatlantic solidarity.

In turn, the interests of France are coordinated with the interests of Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Russia on the territory of Libya. They have interests that take precedence over economic ones.

For Egypt, it is an issue of the national security to counter radical Islamic ideology. Therefore, the organizations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Libya pose a threat to Egyptian security.

For Russia it is important to ensure the safety of its navigations in the Mediterranean Sea. Probably it may be advantageous for Russia to have a ship maintenance point in Libya, which would be employed as a facility for communication between the Russian Northern and the Black sea regions. Also the sensitive topic for the Russian Federation is the fight against Islamic fundamentalism and radicalism “on distant approaches.” Russia had already received a similar successful experience during its company in Syria.

The UAE seeks the economical strengthening of its elites. In the longer term it benefits the reinforcement of strategic cooperation in the triangle of Egypt-UAE-Russia that can significantly enhance the Emirates in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia in the struggle for leadership on the Arabian Peninsula.

Cooperation between France and the countries mentioned above would not only realize the interests of all parties, but it could also serve as an important step towards the stabilization of the situation in the region.

The existing problems of consolidation within NATO are caused by the reluctance of the main members of the Alliance to follow the agenda imposed by the United States that is not always profitable for them. Based on this, NATO is forced to take measures to strengthen its unity and to enhance coordination of its actions. The most effective method is to create a common external threat. Today, the image of Russia, created by pseudo-liberal Western propaganda, is perfectly suited for the role of a terrible threat. Moreover, Russia continues to pursue an active policy in the Middle East and North Africa, including Libya. It follows that the NATO bureaucracy should benefit from using the contradictions in Libya to strengthen discipline within the Alliance. On the other hand, given the divergent interests of its members, NATO’s efforts may have the opposite result. They can emphasize the lack of coincidence between the key-members’ positions and the NATO strategy beneficial for the US-British allies, or rather, for those who pursue a globalist agenda. In this situation, the leading European countries largely sacrifice their own benefits and serve the interests of the United States. Thus, theoretically, from the point of view of national interests, it is much more profitable for France to support Egypt-UAE-Russia triangle in Libya.

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