On December 26th, 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced, to an assembly of his fellow Justice and Development Party (AKP or AK Parti) members, that he will be submitting a bill to the national legislature, on January 7th, 2020, to authorize the military deployment of Turkish regulars to Libya.
The direct military intervention of Turkey into the 2nd Libyan Civil War (2014 – Present) is a major move by the Erdoğan government. The troops are ostensibly to be deployed to the westerly city of Tripoli, home to the Government of National Accord (GNA), to defend the GNA from the encroaching oppositional forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
The civil war primarily features two main camps, Tripoli and Tobruk, and four generalized main actors for the ease of understanding. These are the General National Congress (GNC), the previously mentioned GNA, the House of Representatives (HoR), and the Libyan National Army (LNA).
After the conclusion of the 1st Libyan Civil War in 2011, the victorious National Transitional Council (NTC) was internationally recognized as the government of Libya in September, a month before the death of Brother Muammar al-Qaddafi. That upcoming July of 2012, elections were held to elect the Tripoli-based GNC.
The GNC, from the 2012 election, eventually imposed Wahabist Sharia in addition to banning the upcoming January 2014 elections. Khalifa Haftar, in control of the Libyan National Army (LNA), itself a holdover from 2011, launches „Operation Dignity“ to dissolve the GNC, in May, in response to the Islamist soft-coup.
In June, 2014, elections were held to replace the GNC with the soon-to-be named HoR, choosing to instead be based in Tobruk. As the new Tobruk government is established in August, that same month, remnants of the original GNC reconvened in Tripoli as the New GNC. The New GNC being more Islamist than before.
Within a month, the Supreme Constitutional Council (SCC), a high judiciary that had remained from the 2011 NTC, retroactively nullified the June elections that established the HoR. The HoR refused to recognize the ruling as it would have resulted in its dissolution.
By December of 2014, the HoR having refused to be dissolved, rules from Tobruk, and due to the nullification, the New GNC is restored as the legitimate government in Tripoli. All the while, the Libyan National Army, backing Tobruk as the HoR appointed the LNA leadership, (i.e. Haftar) is independently waging war against the GNC, new or not.
As an attempt at compromise, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was brokered between the GNC and the HoR in December, 2015.
The result was the creation of the Tripoli-based GNA, ostensibly being filled by both regimes, but in reality was rejected by both the GNC and the HoR.
The contemporary situation is that while the [New] GNC folded into the GNA, in accordance with the LPA in April of 2016, the HoR-backed LNA continues to fight towards Tripoli.
The current 2019 LNA offensive is the final advance on Tripoli, and they are swiftly encroaching upon the historic capital. The primary fighting force of Tripoli, the Misrata Militias, never recovered from the 2016 fight against the Islamic State.
The pyrrhic 2016 victory against Islamic State controlled Sirte, by the elite Misrata Militias, is clearly the turning point in the 2nd Civil War. The LNA gained control of 70% of the country by 2017, up from 30% the year before.
The situation for the GNA is dire, as their lack of war materials and men prevents any reasonable defense. Considering Russian mercenaries, as one example, are cooperating with the LNA to compound the issue, the request by Tripoli for foreign intervention makes sense.
AK Parti officials have made it painfully clear that the upcoming Turkish intervention in Libya (c. early 2020) is at the behest of the hosting GNA. Notably, the GNA is the only currently internationally recognized government in Libya. The formal request came from President Fayez al-Sarraj on 26 December 2019. Asking for „air, ground, and sea military support,” Ankara was presented with a blank check that placed no limit upon the potential strength of the interventionary force.
With the announcement, Turkish national interests in Libya have taken a hard right turn as they must now defend their new ally in an uphill battle. The GNA already has one foot in the grave. Erdoğan‘s decision to back up Tripoli, in full view of a disdainful NATO and oppositional Russian expeditionary forces, is indicative of the new political climate that now pervades the near-eastern periphery.
The AKP government is beginning to fully assert itself as an independent actor with uniquely Turkish national interests, and, as recent events show, is prepared to commit to its primary objective of coalescing an Ankara-centered. sphere of econo-militarial influence. The creation of the so-called „Istanbund“ is the personal ambition of Erdoğan and his AKP. In the foundational Neo-Ottomanist text, Strategic Depth, published by former Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoğlu in 2001, it promotes an expansionist foreign policy particularly in former Ottoman holdings. The author Davutoğlu goes on to describe the long-term objective of making:
“Turkey a center of stability in surrounding regions and a country providing a new vision…for international relations.”
Turkey has always been a poor sport in regards to maintaining NATO’s guidelines and interests. In fact, on several occasions, Turkish troops have attacked US and/or NATO forces due to utter negligence at best. The most recent incidents in American popular memory occurred during the 1st Turkish Intervention in the Syrian Civil War (2016 – 2017).
[Turkish Friction with NATO and the Turkish Intervention in Syria are both Covered in Depth Here]
The Istanbund is contingent upon a clear break with American imperial interests, and the direct competition with American influence in the Muslim and Turkic world. Such confrontations have already occured, and Ankara grows more conspicuous with each passing development.
During the Turkish reverse course, from 2002 until 2016, an observer could plot a fairly straight-forward narrative about the progression of events in Turkey. Beginning with the AKP supermajority victory in the 2002 National Elections, the Erdoğan government has sought nothing other than purging the strong Kemalist Republicanism within the repressive and ideological state apparatus. The anti-Republican consolidation of power into the hands of the AK Parti was not solidified until after the failed 2016 FaceTime Putsch. Using the failed coup de grace as justification, the Turkish state apparatus was decisively purged of the Kemalist opposition.
[The Founding of Turkey, Kemalism, and the Institutional Role of the Military are Covered at Great Length Here]
After 2016, having already encapsulated the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Azerbaijan, and the Syrian Turkmen Assembly (STM), Erdoğan shifted his sights abroad. Wielding influence over a nation far beyond one’s borders is the tell-tale sign of a resurgent Turkey as a global power. Erdoğan revealed his interest in defending the Turkish sphere of influence, on April 30th, saying he would, „spare no effort in confronting the conspiracy against the Libyan people.” Turkish Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, later added that if „the situation escalates [in Libya] then we have the right to defend Tripoli and its residents.”
On the 21st of December, Ankara and Tripoli ratified a security and military bund. The formation of a cooperative econo-militarial fellowship, Tripoli having already recognized in November the Turkish claim of maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean, constitutes the unapologetic founding act of the Istanbund. Erdoğan justified his actions by emphasizing the presence of „the Russian Wagner-Gruppe [mercenaries], Egypt, Abu Dhabi…” among the Tobruk-based LNA. Considering that the LNA is attacking the internationally recognized Libyan government, Turkey „could no longer have a cautiously approach.”
Libya is the foundry and crucible for Turkish ambitions as the Istanbund is taking shape. The Turkey-led coalition continues to grow as the AK Parti relies upon its repertoire among international Islamism. The Erdoğan government has earned the respect of sympathetic foreign powers by demonstrating his ideological commitment through the implementation of the Reverse Course.
Acting swiftly, Erdoğan visited the Tunisian President, Kais Saied, unannounced on the 25th of December, a day before the intervention proclamation, with his defense minister and spy chief in tow. Minister Bashagha made a point of reiterating that:
„There will be great cooperation between Turkey, Tunisia, and Algeria, and we will be in one alliance and this will serve our people, our security, the stability in the region.”
AK Parti bravado is not an isolated incident, and is a reflection of the grand historical transition from the hegemonic (i.e. American imperial) late-capital that enforced the global Pax Americana (1991 – 2001/2010s) at the end of the Cold War (1945 – 1991).
The Pax Americana, the historical period after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, where a general state of peace existed among nations until the War on Terror began in 2001. The American Hegemony. Peace through strength.
As the United States of America ceaselessly wages the War on Terror simultaneously in hotspots around the world, foreign policy has shifted away from cooperation to blunt force. The American Hegemony dissolved as peace was no longer ensured by a de facto, and most importantly, unchallenged, American political dominance, and has resulted in cracks in the influence of the geopolitical Dam de Paz d‘Americano.
Middling regional powers, like Turkey, South Africa, or Brazil, are eager to expand their sway over other nations, and to extend the reach of their econo-militarial might. As states are rational actors, they are governed by the same laws that constitute the physical and political sciences. As the foundation of American imperialism crumbles under its own self-cannibalization for capital‘s sake, new spheres of influence open up as America relinquishes the role of Hegemon.
In the past 18/19 years, the absence of a domineering suzerain from the imperial core has allowed the former third world (according to Chairman Mao’s Three Worlds Theory) to develop in a more or less era of world peace.
The roughly two decades, following the declaration of the Orwellian-esque perpetual War on Terror, has seen Turkey, under its longest period of stability in decades, aggressively pursue a policy of Neo-Ottomanism that has expanded Turkish influence beyond that of the Osmanoğlu. Particularly in Africa, the arena of choice for President Erdoğan. In stark contrast to the other global powers, aside from China, Turkey is by far the most involved on the continent.
During the Turkish Reverse Course, the AK Parti government built 29 embassies over the eight years between the AKP electoral victory and the Arab Spring. Starting in 2011, the Arab Spring (ending with the downfall of the Islamic State in 2016), was a time for military adventurism and expansion. Turkey established several military bases across the globe in areas neglected by the pre-occupied United States (Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Libya). Most notably in Sudan and Somalia.
It has yet to be seen how countries that have sided with Ankara will react when the Istanbund is forced to fight against another resurgent coalition. If military intervention in Libya on behalf of an ally succeeds, the new opportunities for military cooperation with Ankara from hesitant nations will see Erdoğan propelled to the top as a true challenger to the United States.
- „Erdoğan announces plan to send troops to Libya.“ Al-Jazeera. 26 December 2019.
- Christopher S Chivvis. Keith Crane. Peter Mandaville. Jeffery Martini. „Libya‘s Post-Qaddafi Transition.“ Rand Corporation. 2012.
- „Libya‘s national assembly elects former diplomat as prime minister.“ Reuters. 14 October 2012.
- Johannes M Becker. „Der Libyen-krieg: Das Öl und die ‘Veranwortung zu schützen.’“ LIT Verlag Münster. 2012.
- Aysa Akca. „Neo-Ottomanism: Turkey‘s foreign policy approach to Africa.“ CSIS. Accessed 30 December 2019.
- „Libya‘s GNA accepts Turkish offer of military support.“ Al-Jazeera. 19 December 2019.
- Keith Johnson. „Newly Aggressive Turkey Forges Alliance With Libya.“ Foreign Policy. 23 December 2019.
- Mikael Eriksson. Elias Bohman. „The Second Libyan Civil War: security developments during 2016–2017.“ Försvarsdepartmentet von Sverige. Februar 2018.
- Maximillian Popp. „Erdoğan nächster krieg.“ Der Spiegel. 22 Dezember 2019.
- „Libya makes formal request for Turkish military support, official says.“ Turkiye Radyo ve Televizyon Kurumu. 27 December 2019.