NATO, as a whole could be brought to a stand still because of Turkey, a recent clash with fellow member France off the coast of Libya is an early indication.
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Imagine two countries who are military allies, what if they get into a shooting match?
Considering the present scenario and time, NATO could be in trouble.
This story that involves high seas skulduggery, clandestine gun-running, a punch up between people who are supposed to be friends, and an episode that could be fatal for the world’s biggest military alliance, started mundanely enough.
The Cirkin incident
On June 7, 2020, the Cirkin, a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship, quietly left a Turkish port and set sail toward the Libyan port of Misrata.
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The 5,800 tons of cargo wasn’t identified, but it probably wasn’t carpets.
— Yörük Işık (@YorukIsik) June 11, 2020
Because almost three Turkish warships escorted the Cirkin on its four-day, 1,000 mile journey in the ocean. The Cirkin was carrying military equipment for the Libyan army. This was being carried on the order of Government of National Accord (GNA), in contravention of the UN-imposed arms embargo.
Things started to go wrong just three days later, when a Greek helicopter, the Spetsai, moved towards the ship and desired permission to land a boarding party to inspect it. The Spetsai and its helicopter were executing as part of Operation Irini, this is an effort in the Mediterranean ventured by the European Council to implement a UN arms embargo on Libya. Cirkin’s Turkish escorts dismissed the plea.
The Spetsai responded to this by just surveying the Cirkin from a distance.
A French frigate, the Courbet, operating as part of Operation Sea Guardian, a NATO maritime security operation, was then informed by NATO that the Cirkin was perhaps carrying arms in violation of the UN embargo.
The Courbet withdrew, and the following day the Cirkin arrived in Misrata, where it discharged its cargo.
France pulls out of Operation Sea Guardian
France has criticized the actions that Turks took, it even filed an official complaint with NATO. To this NATO conducted a subsequent investigation which was believed to be “inconclusive,” yet the details remain private.
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For its part, Turkey requested France for an apology. Responding to this, France withdrew all of its forces from Operation Sea Guardian. Additionally France demanded that NATO should take the task of enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya, seriously. This is an act that would put it at conflict with Turkey, already a NATO member.
This incident sounds vague. It seems that the Operation Sea Guardian lacked any NATO mandate to operate in support of Operation Irini. In addition to this, the conclusion to interdict the Cirkin was taken unilaterally by France, void of any NATO authority.
Dysfunction in the NATO Alliance
After the June 10 incident, the European Union requested NATO to authorize ships allocated to Operation Sea Guardian to function in direct support of Operation Irini’s Libyan embargo enforcement mission. This is the fix. Any such authorization would need the collective approval of all of NATO’s members. This is what makes it impossible to be accomplished. Because Turkey will for sure put across a veto.
The circumstances that led to the confrontation between two ostensible NATO allies in the waters off Libya point to a level of dysfunction in the NATO alliance that underscores the reality that the 71-year old has outlived its utility. And that its current search for relevance outside of the post-Second World War transatlantic framework of rules-based order it was created to defend, has placed the alliance on a self-destructive path where it is increasingly in conflict with itself.
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