Turkish Eurasianist Approach in Libya: The Mavi Vatan Doctrine in Action

mavi vatan

In the highly unstable region of North Africa, Libya has become a theater of hybrid conflict since 2016 involving numerous actors, including two significant regional powers: Turkey and Russia. In the complex geopolitical landscape of Libya, Turkey emerges as a determined actor with deep-seated interests and motivations. This article aims to examine Turkey’s overall vision in Libya through the implementation of the Blue Homeland doctrine (Mavi Vatan), shedding light on the complex dynamics that are unfolding in this tense regional context.

Regional Influence Expansion: An Ambition Through Support for the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU)

Firstly, by strengthening its influence in Libya, Turkey sought to consolidate its position in the Eastern Mediterranean, a region of great significance due to its energy resources, vital shipping routes, and geopolitical stakes. As a coastal nation in the Mediterranean, Turkey views this area as strategically important for energy security and power projection. By establishing close relations with the internationally recognized Libyan government, Turkey was able to exert influence over political, economic, and security developments in this crucial region. This allowed Turkey to safeguard its maritime interests, promote regional stability, and ensure its own security in a complex geopolitical environment.

Secondly, this foreign policy provided significant economic benefits. Libya possesses substantial reserves of oil and gas, and by supporting the national government, Turkey aimed to secure access to these strategic energy resources. The energy industry was critical to the Turkish economy, and access to reliable and diversified sources of energy was essential to support economic growth and meet national needs. Furthermore, Turkey has substantial economic interests in Libya, particularly in sectors like construction, energy, infrastructure, and trade.

Thirdly, by actively supporting the GNU in Libya, Turkey aimed to counter the regional initiatives and influences of other state actors. Countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other regional actors supported the rival forces led by General Khalifa Haftar’s Eastern government. These regional powers sought to expand their influence and promote their interests in the Mediterranean region. By opposing these competing influences, Turkey sought to preserve its geopolitical interests, protect its regional partners and allies, and maintain a balance of power in the region. Turkey also considered that the stability of Libya was crucial for regional security, particularly in terms of countering terrorism, managing migration flows, and safeguarding Turkish interests in North Africa[1].

Finally, the expansion of its influence in Libya has provided Turkey with opportunities for cooperation and partnership with other regional and global actors. By strengthening its relations with the national government, Turkey has been able to develop strategic alliances, trade agreements, and political partnerships with other influential countries in the Mediterranean region and beyond. This has allowed Turkey to increase its diplomatic weight and have a stronger voice in regional and international affairs.

Davutoğlu and Turkey: Between Kemalist Secularism and Strategic Depth

According to many observers, the Libyan theater has been, even more than the Syrian conflict, an opportunity for Turkey to put its new military doctrine into practice.

This deeply Eurasianist doctrine would come as a replacement for a now-tested neo-Ottoman doctrine, particularly between 2000 and 2010, known as the “strategic depth”[2] doctrine of Ahmet Davutoğlu[3] popularizing the well-known “zero problems with neighbors” policy. (en turc Komşularla Sıfır Sorun Politikası).

The main ideas of this doctrine revolve around the role of the Turkish state as a sovereign nation, its relationships with the West, particularly the United States and Israel, which, according to Davutoğlu, had become too close in the latter half of the 20th century. He particularly criticized Turkey’s almost systematic alignment with Western leaders in foreign policy matters. In summary, the politician advocates distancing, or even abandoning, the Kemalist secular ideal of the nation-state in place since 1923, in favor of a return to what he calls a “natural strategic depth,” which consists of the Islamic arc stretching from Morocco to Indonesia[4].

Turkey as a Maritime Nation: The Foundations of the Mavi Vatan Doctrine

The Mavi Vatan doctrine is a strategic concept developed by Turkey to strengthen its presence and protect its interests in the seas surrounding the country. It aims to ensure Turkey’s national security, defend its sovereign rights, and promote its geopolitical objectives in key maritime regions. An essential aspect of the doctrine is the recognition of Turkey as a maritime nation with a long history of presence and influence in the neighboring seas. It underscores the strategic importance of the Aegean, Mediterranean, and Black Seas, which are areas of convergence for economic, political, and security interests. Turkey regards these seas as spaces where it has legitimate rights and interests that it must actively defend.

In this context, Turkey seeks to enhance its naval presence and develop its power projection capabilities in these maritime regions. It aims to maintain a modern, well-equipped naval force capable of acting swiftly to protect Turkish interests, deter potential threats, and preserve national sovereignty. The Mavi Vatan doctrine also places emphasis on the protection of natural and energy resources in the surrounding seas. This marks a significant departure from the traditional approach to building power of the Turkish Republic, which has historically focused primarily on terrestrial territory.

Turkey views these resources as crucial elements of its energy security and economic development. It conducts hydrocarbon exploration and production activities in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, even in contested areas, to safeguard its rights and ensure energy independence. Additionally, it underscores Turkey’s geostrategic significance as a bridge between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. By maintaining a strong naval presence and regional influence, Turkey aims to play an active role in international affairs, promote regional cooperation, and protect its economic, security, and political interests.

However, the Mavi Vatan doctrine has also sparked tensions with some neighboring countries, notably Greece, Cyprus et Italy. The maritime disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean have led to diplomatic confrontations and geopolitical tensions with other coastal states. These disputes underscore the challenges the doctrine faces, particularly in terms of reconciling competing interests and seeking peaceful solutions to territorial disputes.

Mavi Vatan: The Actors and Ideologies behind the Strategic Doctrine

The Mavi Vatan doctrine is, therefore, a strategic concept aimed at strengthening Turkey’s presence and protecting its interests in the seas surrounding the country. It emphasizes the need to defend Turkey’s sovereign rights, maintain a strong naval presence, and promote regional cooperation.

However, maritime disputes with other states highlight the challenges this doctrine faces in achieving lasting regional stability. In his article for the Contemporary Turkey Observatory, Alican Tayla[5] revisits the genesis of this strategic and military doctrine and, most importantly, how it illustrates the advancement of the Turkish politico-military complex.

Thus, it explains, “One cannot study the Mavi Vatan doctrine, the ideology it represents, and the evolution of its political-strategic significance in Turkey without dissociating them from the fate of the actors who have been defending it for a long time. This involves a group of anti-Atlanticist, secular, and nationalist Turkish military officers.” [6], and, in particular, Cem Gürdeniz, a retired Turkish Navy rear admiral “.

As a summary Ilhan Üzgel[7], a professor and researcher in international relations, in an article dedicated to Mavi Vatan, suggests that this doctrine incorporates various nationalist discourses that have been circulating since the 1990s, without providing a comprehensive analytical framework.

Among its ideological foundations, three interconnected traditional elements can be found:

  1. Anti-imperialism (although it often fails to define what imperialism is and seldom criticizes Eurasian powers, it largely reduces itself to a purely anti-Western posture).
  2. The sense of being constantly under threat (the belief that Turkey is perpetually at risk from the greed of foreign powers, a premise that dates back to the very foundation of the Turkish Republic).
  3. Geography as destiny (according to an old formula, traditionally attributed to Ibn Khaldun in Turkey and Napoleon Bonaparte in France, used in Turkey to refer to the country’s extremely strategic geographical position, coveted by the same imperialist powers).
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