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Analyzing Turkey's Military Strategy in 2021

Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar and Chief of General Staff, Yaşar Güler
Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar and Chief of General Staff, Yaşar Güler

On November 12th, Turkish Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar, presented the military budget proposal for the year 2021, to the Plan and Budget Committee of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM). In the presentation, Hulusi Akar explained the future military strategy of the Armed Forces, which is built on Turkey’s expansionist ambitions outside its borders; mainly in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and North Africa regions. The following analysis summarizes Akar’s presentation in five main points that define Turkey’s military strategy in the year 2021 and then provides related notes and observations on each.

1. Turkey plans to continue with military involvement in Azerbaijan and Libya under the umbrella of providing military support and consultations.

Note: Over a year of active communications, especially on the military-to-military level, with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Turkey successfully managed to turn Libya into a devout ally. Turkish Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar’s first move in Libya, in 2019, was to sign a strategic partnership agreement with GNA’s army, similar to the one Turkey signed with Azerbaijan in 2010. According to this agreement, the two countries could provide “military support” to each other “upon demanding the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.” In that capacity, the Turkish military won the right to guide Libya’s military decision-making, train Libyan soldiers and cadets at Turkish military facilities, deploy Turkish military equipment to Libya, and establish a Turkish military base in Libya. This is seen by Egypt as a threat to its national security. Egypt and the UAE support General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) against the now Turkey-backed GNA army. On November 13th, Libya’s GNA’s Minister of Defense signed a protocol of cooperation with Qatar. Turkish regime and military are heavily dependent on Qatar’s funding for Turkey’s military operations in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.

2. Turkey plans to continue military operations in Syria and Iraq, under the guise of fighting terrorism. Yet, Hulusi Akar hinted that Turkey is keen to rebuild positive relations with the Iraqi government.

Note: Iran and Russia, who act as Turkey’s top frenemies in the region, are heavily involved in the messy scenes of Syria and Iraq. Russia is the de facto ruler of Syria, while Iran dictates and controls every single decision in the Iraqi government. Iraq and Turkey relations have always been quivering, until they were severed in the summer of 2020, when the Turkish border military forces accidentally shot a meeting point of Iraqi officers in Northern Iraq, leaving Iraqi generals killed. At the same time, Turkey’s position in northern eastern Syria is weakening due to rising Russian influence, in border cities and the expected absence of American troops, there, under the newly elected Biden administration.

3. Turkey is determined to continue the fight for Mavi Vatan (the blue homeland) in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. In this regard, Hulusi Akar said that Turkey "no more can ignore the relationship between Greece and Egypt.”

Note: There has been a widening political rift between Turkey and Egypt, since 2013, over the background of removing the Muslim Brotherhood regime from power, in Egypt. At the same time, Turkey has been systematically harassing Greece to force the international community to cancel the Lausanne agreement of 1922 and set new demarcation points in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean that allow Turkey to have a fair share in seabed mining dividends. As a result, Greece and Egypt joined forces to counter Turkey’s threats to their national and economic security. In January, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel established the EastMed Gas Forum, and purposefully excluded Turkey from it. In return, Turkey signed a customary maritime agreement with Libya, in the hope that it would give Turkey rights for gas drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, in August, Egypt and Greece signed an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreement, in compliance with international law, that successfully nulled the so-called maritime agreement between Turkey and Libya. On the first week of November, Egypt's president El-Sisi visited Athens, and made a press statement that "Egypt stands by Greece against any provocations (by Turkey) in the Mediterranean." Before that, France stood up against Turkey in NATO on the background of harassing Greece. That being said, Turkey is the country with the longest border (1870 km) in the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, Turkey has a right lost in the Mediterranean, since the signing of the Lausanne Agreement in 1922. The international community must listen to Turkey and stop confining it to its borders, based on an agreement that was signed a century ago, under the fog of war.

4. Turkey shall continue testing the Russian S-400 defense system while seeking to rejoin the America-led F-35 fighter jet program. Hulusi Akar said that Turkey is ready to address U.S. concerns on the use of the S-400 system with F-16 planes, including any technical compatibility issues. He also said that other members of NATO have already purchased and used the Russian S-300 system and were not punished by the US or NATO for doing so.

Note: The purchase and testing of the Russian S-400 defense system, and secret testing of the system on American F-16 fighters, led to Turkey's expel from the American-led F-35 fighter jet program, in July. Turkey has been a partner in the F-35 program, since its very beginning, in 1999. In October, the Trump administration accepted the UAE's request to purchase fifty F-35 fighters, after the UAE signed the Abraham Accord with Israel, and despite Israel's pressures to prevent the United States from selling the F-35 jet fighters to any other country in the region. Emirates is seen as a regional rival by Turkey, due to UAE's relentless efforts to counter Turkey's expansionist military operations in the Middle East and North Africa. That is in addition to the diplomatic boycott between UAE and Qatar, Turkey's closest ally and main financer. In August, Hulusi Akar, in a televised interview with Qatar's Al-Jazeera TV threatened to "hold Abu Dhabi accountable, on the right time and location.” In response, the Emirati F-16 fighters joined forces with the Hellenic Navy in Crete, in September, and managed to give Turkey nightmarish three days as they were flying above Turkey’s western borders in the Aegean Sea.

5. Turkey's role in NATO shall continue to grow.

Note: Turkey is the second largest military force in NATO, and has been a member of NATO, since 1952. Recently, France attempted to turn NATO against Turkey, on the background of its military presence in the Mediterranean and other political conflicts between Ankara and Paris. The debate is still going on, among NATO members, on whether to keep or disown Turkey.

For more details on Turkey's future military strategy, watch the full presentation by Turkey's Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, here (the video is in Turkish language):

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