What cards does France have against Turkey?
A tension between France and Turkey, two NATO allies, is escalating as the former is trying to play all the political and military cards it has in a bid to break the influence of the Turkish presence in the Libyan theater.
On the military front, in early June, a French warship maneuvered to inspect a Turkish vessel in the Mediterranean Sea with the suspicion that it was deploying arms and military equipment in violation of a U.N. arms embargo. Already in the area, the Turkish warships responded to the French warship’s dangerous maneuvers towards the civilian vessel, which was shipping medical equipment to Tripoli, as suggested by Turkish officials.
It’s uncertain whether the real French move was aiming to catch Turkey red-handed while smuggling arms to Libya or to provoke the Turkish navy at the expense of breaching the NATO principles.
France has brought the incident to the attention of the NATO as Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said a technical study will be held at the alliance. Those who are familiar with the discussions at NATO over the incident stress that it’s unlikely that Paris would get a result from Brussels on this case.
Well, France has another venue to appeal to in Brussels, the European Union, which Turkey is not a part of. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in an address to the French Senate on June 24, revisited Paris’ long-lasting push to end the Turkish accession process to the EU.
“France considers it essential that the European Union very quickly opens a comprehensive discussion, without taboos and naivety, on the prospects for its future relationship with Ankara,” he said, in line with President Emmanuel Macron’s earlier stance on the prospects of the Turkish membership.
“The European Union must firmly defend its interests because it has the means,” he added, but without touching on the fact that the bloc has failed to create a joint foreign and security policy thus remaining as a political dwarf when it comes to shaping regional geopolitical developments.
Turkey’s membership process is indeed halted due to a number of reasons, including Ankara’s abandonment of the Copenhagen political criteria, but France and other EU countries should also question to what extent they adopted a fair and equal stance to this country since the beginning of the negotiations in late 2005.
A carrot and stick approach against Turkey might be consistent and valid if the EU would be willing to help Turkey to proceed with the accession process by nixing some member states’ efforts to impose unilateral sanctions, to ease the conditions for further economic and social interaction between the two sides, etc.
The French move, therefore, will likely fall on the deaf ears in Ankara, Brussels and the capitals of the other member countries.
Another venue France may use is the U.N. as it is one of five permanent members of the Security Council. But there comes the problem of consistency. How the world would listen to a Security Council member which has been violating the resolutions it has either penned or voted for when it comes to the Libyan conflict?
The French policy concerning Libya since 2011 is believed to have a critical role in further dragging the North African country into chaos and Paris’ support to General Khalifa Haftar is a blatant denial of the 2015 intra-Libyan deal to reunite the country.
Another card France may use is the recently established anti-Turkey alliance in the region with the participation of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and others. Will the French people be happy if all these countries persuade Egypt for a cross-border military offensive into Libya and start a new regional war?
Libya has already turned into a conflict with multiple players who are chasing different opportunities and interests. It’s normal for France, as it is other countries present in Libya, to follow a policy in line with its regional interests. What is not normal is to observe that it has turned into an anti-Turkey spirit, often being reflected by the highest-level statements which are not left unanswered from Ankara.
Turkey and France had their channels open even in the most difficult days and they could always find a basis to proceed. Both French and Turkish diplomacy need to return to that routine and avoid escalation for the good sake of the structured bilateral relationship between the two nations.