After initially opposing any NATO role in Libya, Turkey has revised its position following a UN Security Council decision last week authorizing use of force and a no-fly zone in the North African country to protect civilians from attacks by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Ankara is now rattled by activism on the part of France, which hastily organized a summit on Saturday of 22 Western and Arab countries and initiated the ongoing military campaign by launching the first aerial attacks on Gaddafi forces hours after conclusion of the summit. Turkish leaders have publicly criticized France for “turning the operation into a show of force” and questioned French motives in the operation, voicing suspicion that some partners seeking to act outside NATO have their eyes on Libya's mineral wealth. The Turkish government thus now demands that planning regarding any military action should be done within NATO, strictly in line with objectives set out in the UN decision.
In a show of eagerness to support NATO control in Libya, Ankara offered to send four frigates, one support ship and one submarine to help the alliance enforce an arms embargo on Libya. Parliament was to vote on a government motion to authorize the Libya mission later on Wednesday, following a closed-door session to discuss the crisis in the North African country and Turkey's policy. The government motion seeks broad power, demanding authority to decide on the scope of contributions to NATO operations to enforce the arms embargo for the next year.
News reports said Turkish F-16s might also be dispatched to the region to protect NATO’s AWACS surveillance planes and tanker planes. Hundreds of Turkish troops will be serving on the ships, which have already been sent to Libya’s coasts before a parliamentary vote in advance preparation for their mission. Two frigates were already in the region while one frigate and the support ship departed on Wednesday.
“We want NATO to be fully in charge of command and control of such an operation,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters after talks with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, late on Wednesday. “Two channels, two command systems -- this should not exist.”
Turkish objections to the nature of the current military campaign on Libya are holding up a deal in NATO on the alliance’s participation in the operations, particularly its planned role in enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libyan airspace. “What France is considering is continuing the operation by the coalition and getting support from NATO at the same time, but this is not what we want. We are saying, if NATO is going to do this, NATO ‘alone’ should do this,” a Turkish official was quoted as saying by Reuters.
In a swipe at France, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the same people who were reluctant to let Turkey into the European Union now spoke in terms of “crusades” regarding Libya, chiding the West for its attitude towards nations to the South and East. “I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in that direction would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on,” he told a conference in İstanbul.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said on Monday that President Nicolas Sarkozy had “taken the lead of a crusade to mobilize the UN Security Council, the Arab League and the African Union” to prevent massacres in Libya. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe played down the comment as a slip of the tongue but said on Thursday that the term “crusade” -- originally used for medieval Christian European invasions to capture the Holy Land from Muslims -- should be avoided.
Speaking to Turkish journalists accompanying him on a visit to Ghana on Wednesday, President Abdullah Gül aired suspicion that some coalition governments had ulterior motives and that Libya could be “looted” as Iraq had been: “Why? Because the aim (of coalition forces) is not the liberation of the Libyan people. There are hidden agendas and differing interests,” Gül said. “I worry that the things that happened in Iraq may be repeated in Libya. Iraq was looted; now I am afraid the same will happen in Libya,” he said, according to remarks carried by Reuters.
Criticism against ‘random military coalitions’
Gül also criticized the way the current military coalition – consisting of France, the United States and Britain – was formed and said it lacked an agreed policy, planning and exit strategy.
“Everything should have been planned beforehand. What will be done against Gaddafi? How will the Libyan opposition be involved? Will there be a ground operation? All these should have been decided in NATO. But some decided to act with opportunist intentions and start a fire instead,” Gül was quoted as saying in the Turkish press.
Foreign Minister Davutoğlu also criticized the Paris summit that paved the way for the French-US-British coalition’s attacks on Libya and warned of serious consequences if the Western coalition sets a precedent for similar cases in the future. “If we open the way for a pattern in which a group of countries join forces and launch an operation on a targeted country, we may end up having really big troubles, say, in the Middle East in the future,” Davutoğlu said in an interview with Turkish daily Star. “Any international military operation based on a UN Security Council resolution should have a clear mandate and clear objectives. If a coalition is to be formed, this should be coordinated by the UN,” Davutoğlu said in the interview, published on Thursday. “Therefore, the way the Paris summit was held is against international norms and practices. It is inconceivable for a group of countries to form a coalition amongst themselves, interpret UN decisions on the basis of their own understanding and launch a military operation on a certain country.” Davutoğlu warned such a practice could have two undesirable consequences: First, it would undermine confidence in the international community’s capacity to undertake operations to prevent humanitarian tragedies. Secondly, legitimate demands for change in the Middle East could lose their legitimacy as those opposition forces that campaign for democratic changes could end up being perceived as “agents of foreign intervention” in their own countries.
First contact with France
Meanwhile, the first diplomatic contact between Turkey and France took place on Thursday, when French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe phoned Davutoğlu. The two sides repeated their known positions, but agreed to stay in touch, officials said of the conversation. France opposes NATO control, saying that US-led NATO’s involvement would undermine support for the anti-Gaddafi operation in the Arab world. Davutoğlu, during a telephone conversation with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday rejected the French argument, putting the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister on the phone to explain that this is not how the Arabs would feel about NATO leading the operation.