Turkey will be the death of NATO – its recent clash with fellow member France off the coast of Libya is an early symptom

19/7/20 | 0 | 0 | 264 εμφανίσεις

Scott Ritter
Scott Ritter

is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer. He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991-1998 as a UN weapons inspector. Follow him on Twitter @RealScottRitter

Turkey will be the death of NATO – its recent clash with fellow member France off the coast of Libya is an early symptom
When two countries who are supposed to be military allies fall out and almost get themselves into a shooting match, you know there’s going to be trouble ahead. The problem for NATO is, this time, it may prove terminal.

For a story that involves high seas skullduggery, clandestine gun-running, a punch up between people who are supposed to be friends, and an incident that could be fatal for the world’s biggest military alliance, this one started mundanely enough.

Back on June 7, 2020, a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship, the Cirkin, quietly departed a Turkish port and set sail toward the Libyan port of Misurata.

No one is absolutely certain what its 5,800 tons of cargo was, but it’s safe to say it probably wasn’t carpets.

No, that wouldn’t require the three Turkish warships who escorted the Cirkin on its four-day, 1,000 nautical mile journey. It was almost certainly carrying military equipment for the Libyan army under the command of the Government of National Accord (GNA), in contravention of the UN-imposed arms embargo.

Things started to go wrong three days later, when a Greek helicopter, operating from a Greek frigate, the Spetsai, approached the ship and requested permission to land a boarding party for the purpose of inspecting it. The Spetsai and its helicopter were operating as part of Operation Irini, an effort in the Mediterranean undertaken by the European Council to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. Cirkin’s Turkish escorts rejected the request.

The Spetsai withdrew and monitored the Cirkin from a distance. Shortly afterwards, the cargo ship turned off its transponder.

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 possibly carrying arms in violation of the UN embargo.

After the Cirkin failed to identify itself to the Courbet, and refused to divulge its final destination, the Courbet sought to board the vessel. At this point, one of the Turkish frigates illuminated the Courbet three separate times with its fire control radar, an indication it was intending to engage its weapons systems.

The Courbet withdrew, and the next day the Cirkin arrived in Misrata, where it discharged its cargo.


France has condemned the Turkish actions and filed an official complaint with NATO; a subsequent investigation by NATO was deemed to be “inconclusive,” although the details remain classified. For its part, Turkey has demanded an apology from France. In response, France has withdrawn its forces from Operation Sea Guardian, and demanded that NATO take seriously the task of enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya, an act that would put it at conflict with Turkey, a NATO member.

This is where the incident becomes murky – it appears that Operation Sea Guardian lacked any NATO mandate to operate in support of Operation Irini, and that the decision to interdict the Cirkin was taken unilaterally by France, void of any NATO authority.

In the days following the June 10 incident, the European Union appealed to NATO to authorize ships assigned to Operation Sea Guardian to operate in direct support of Operation Irini’s Libyan embargo enforcement mission. However, such authorization would require the unanimous consent of all of NATO’s members, making any such authorization impossible given Turkey’s inevitable veto.


Category: International

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