Libya move and risk for strategic overextension

Libya move and risk for strategic overextension

Some of Turkey’s pious conservative elites do not like the idea of celebrating the New Year based on the false conviction that it is a Christian tradition.

Independent of religious convictions, the end of a year and the start of a new one provides to millions around the world an opportunity to take stock and look forward. Unless you are a diehard pessimist, it is a natural human reflex to be hopeful for the future and look for simple signs even if they do not involve substantial concrete promises. New Year’s Eve is such an occasion.

Whether Turkey’s ruling coalition of Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) likes it or not, the turn of the year has such symbolic importance throughout the world.

And when the world will look at Turkey, as of Jan. 2, 2020, they will see a country voting for a parliamentary motion to send military troops to Libya.

Turkey’s ruling elites can say they don’t care about the international perception. Or on the contrary, they might say they care about the perception and that they want to give a message about the urgency as well as Turkey’s firmness on the issue. And they might continue to justify their timing with consolidating Turkey’s national interests.

A nation-state can explain every move by national interests. But how to define national interests and what are the best strategies to secure those national interests might differ. Some might choose to consolidate them through engagement and some through confrontation. And these choices are also shaped not just by the national decision-makers but by outside conditions as well. So sometimes a nation-state is left with no choice but to opt for confrontation.

History is full of examples of engagement being much less harmful than confrontation and vice versa.

In the case of Turkey, the country has seen its star rising when it opted for full engagement with zero problems with their neighbors’ policy, which was adopted in the 2000s. Whereas in the last decade, marked with confrontation, cannot be defined as the brightest period this country has seen.

Interestingly, the ideological father of the “zero problem with neighbors” policy, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, betrayed his own engagement doctrine and opted for confrontation with the start of Arab uprisings at the beginning of the last decade.

He has among the highest responsibility for Turkish involvement in the Syrian war. It is an ironic twist of fate that once accused of Neo-Ottoman aspirations, Davutoğlu is now one of the fiercest critics of the AKP. Davutoğlu has been supportive of Turkey’s decision to reach an agreement with Libya on maritime zones, which has upset the balances in the Mediterranean, and the current Libya campaign might silence opposition within pious-conservative political circles.

It remains to be seen how Turkey’s campaign will evolve in Libya, whether it would be short or long term and whether it will bring the desired outcome or not.

What is really important at this stage is whether Turkey can sustain confrontation at several fronts and whether it might risk strategic overextension.

Whether Turkey’s claims are justified or not, it is the cost-benefit analysis of Libya campaign that will be decisive at the end of the day.

At a time when Turkey is facing difficulties in its economy and the Syrian war is draining the country’s financial resources, it might be timely to recall Yale historian Paul Kennedy’s book published almost 30 years ago: “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000.”

Great powers had to balance their economic strength with their military power and strategic commitments, Kennedy argued in his book. Failure to get this balance right risked overextension. Some might be recalling this concept while looking at news coming from the Turkish Parliament in the very first days of 2020.