Turkey’s Yield Sign is Good for the Alliance

By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow

In the wake of President Obama’s televised speech last night and the deepening operations inside Libya, there’s been lot of talk over NATO taking over the Libyan no-fly zone tomorrow in the near future.  Up until now, the no-fly zone was established by an ad-hoc coalition of nations in support of the UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against the Gaddafi regime, led by France and including: the U.S., U.K., Canada, Italy, Demark, Belgium, Spain, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (the BBC has a great inventory of the military contributions here). NATO was the logical choice to enforce the no-fly zone in the beginning of the operation, but strong objections from Turkey caused a hiccup in the implementation—until those strong objections disappeared.


Well, not disappeared, but maybe assuaged.  Turkey is NATO’s only Muslim-majority country, and they refused to sign on to Libya’s no-fly zone because they were concerned about legitimacy and a formularized NATO command structure.  While legitimacy was gained by the UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force and the Arab League’s endorsement of the no-fly zone, France had been lobbying to be able to strike Gaddafi forces unilaterally if they didn’t think the Atlantic Alliance was doing enough.  This did not sit well with the Turks, who refused to enforce the UN resolution until NATO adopted a unified command structure (i.e. no rouge bombing missions by guys in berets).


The thing is, it’s difficult to see how France was right about this one.  The UN Resolution 1973, which authorizes the use of force, says civilians should be protected “by any means necessary”, which is UN-speak for “bomb them until you’re happy”,  so it’s tough to see an instance where NATO would be constrained by the UN.  And even though NATO is strained by the war in Afghanistan, its pretty unlikely that NATO allies would cut out of the bombing raids in the very near future.  There’ve been some pretty cynical reports coming from Paris that Libya is Sarkozy’sWag the Dog moment, in which he’s been extremely pugnacious to take attention away from his subterranean poll numbers.  It could also be that Sarko simply missed bad on Tunisia and Egypt, and is looking to make good on his commitment to democratic ideals by dialing up France’s rhetoric to 11.


Whatever the reason, Turkey was right to make sure that NATO had a clear mandate and command structure coming into this mission.  Turkey also saved face in the Muslim world for pondering the decision for a couple of days, and stressed the role of collateral civilian casualties that could accompany a NATO bombing campaign.  There wouldn’t be a lot to gain from France’s extracurricular bombing, and, as we’ve already seen, these sorties are dangerous enough.

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