U.S. diplomatic presence in EastMed would counterbalance Turkey and Russia’s influence

A U.S. diplomatic presence in the Eastern Mediterranean would shift the balance of geopolitics in the region away from Russia and Turkey, particularly with regard to Libya, two foreign policy analysts wrote in an op-ed for the National Interest on Monday.

Ankara and Moscow’s interventions on opposing sides of the Libyan conflict have been worsened by “America’s often confusing and consistently hands-off approach” which can no longer be afforded, wrote Thomas Trask and Jonathan Ruhe of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

Turkey gives military support to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), whose allied forces have in recent weeks reversed the gains made in a 14-month offensive by General Khalfia Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

The United States has distanced itself from the conflict over the years, leaving the European Union and the United Nations to lead initiatives to stem the violence.

Washington is formally committed to the Tripoli government “despite it being an Islamist-dominated regime with little hope of uniting the country”, Trask and Ruhe said. However, the United States has not articulated clear policy toward the LNA, they said.

“Reflecting this equivocation, American diplomats have led no charge to address the fighting. Instead they mostly echo European initiatives for a ceasefire or, most recently, have begun coordinating policy with Turkey,” they said.

The foreign intervention in Libya would destabilise the country by enabling the resurgence of the militant Islamic State (ISIS) and worsen the spread of COVID-19 nationwide, “either or both of which could drive renewed refugee flows toward Europe,” Trask and Ruhe said.

The other outcome, they said, would have Ankara and Moscow divide Libya between themselves.

“Such an agreement would logically appeal to both Ankara and Moscow, in no small part because it would create so many problems for the United States and allies.”

Ankara and the GNA secured a maritime borders agreement in November, inflaming an ongoing territorial dispute between Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, a conglomerate of countries including Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus who are collaborating on drilling and transportation in the area.

Trask and Ruhe recommended Washington appoint a special envoy for the region and initiate diplomatic, energy and security cooperation among its Eastern Mediterranean partners to act “as a counterweight to both Russia and Turkey”.