Eastern Mediterranean in the British Security Vision

10.01.2021

The Eastern Mediterranean has become a growing conflict area, starting with energy exploration activities, and then with the inclusion of country administrations that do not seem directly related to almost all regional states and even the region, but who set rhetoric and action on political presence. Broadly speaking, the Eastern Mediterranean today created a suitable area to show a flag in the global power struggle, as it covers different problematic regions.

Despite the international noise, it seems that the United Kingdom, which has sovereign military bases in Cyprus and is on the table as a guarantor country, is not a party to all these conflicts. Referring generally to the topic and British Considering that uncertainties in the foreign policy of London not only in Greece-Turkey-Cyprus issue but also Libya, Lebanon, on topics such as Egypt reasons for this silence and intervene when there maybe are beginning to show itself.

Brexit, NATO and New Instruments

The fact that Britain’s exit from the European Union took longer and more painful than expected as reflected in its foreign policy. Britain, which left many issues to be resolved within the framework of EU institutions and policies, did not be too quick to implement national policies in this process. Because the Brexit process took most of its foreign policy energy, and developments unique to this period made it difficult to develop policies. We are seeing the transformation of some of the roles that the UK has implemented so far in order to comply with EU policies. The USA plays a major role in the alliance strategy of Britain, one of the important members of NATO, outside the EU. Brexit further emphasizes Britain’s “special relationship” with the USA. Britain, which undertakes the role of the “Atlantic Bridge” between Europe and the USA and tries to protect the delicate balances, will redefine its priorities with its departure from the EU. It seems that this process, which will revitalize its relations with the USA, will be beneficial for Britain in different ways. This stronger rapprochement with the world’s leading military and economic power, which can be seen as a deterrent for negative policies against Britain, to prevent the rupture of postBrexit European allies from becoming a trend, may also be a pre-emptive tactic for the possibility of a loss of influence globally. In addition, the presence of the USA in many parts of the world, which implements a more offensive international security and foreign policy than the EU, is more important in Britain’s new global security claim. Again, in the Eastern Mediterranean, the reflections of this alliance can be seen, which can be considered to be a more calm and rational strategy, contrary to the noises made by European powers, which are de facto and politically active in the region like France. NATO, which will allow Britain to act more closely with the United States, is also influential in its relations with Turkey. Britain, which has taken an important path with Turkey in new post-Brexit relations, is going to priority cooperation both in trade and in security and defence. The lifting of the EU framework in its relations with many global players, as with Turkey, shows that London may experience alternative rapprochement in the implementation of its policies in the region. The UK’s interests in the region are a complex claim of power that requires contact and good relations with all parties to current tensions.

Cyprus: Focus of Problems

The coastal length of Aghrotur and Dikelya Sovereign Base Regions, covering a total area of 254 km2, is 79 km. The bases, which are home to British forces of around 3,500 troops, are also an important element of Britain’s worldwide connections, with an important deployment support point and communication facilities for military aircraft. Even the existence of these bases in itself seems sufficient for London to intervene in developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, while the presence of Britain in a multi-actor power scene can cause perceptual vulnerability. Britain, which signed agreements with Greece and Turkey in 1960 and took the responsibility of guarantor as well as the sovereign territory on the island of Cyprus, has not been very effective in isolation, especially on the EU membership of Southern Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriots, in the political instability that began with the division of the island. As a result of the Greek side became a member of the EU, Britain, which showed no policy cohesion but no incompatibility, could not take steps regarding economic integration and social justice and the representation of Turkish Cypriots, taking into account the current conditions of the island. Although it is not fixed in producing a two-state solution for the future of Cyprus, which has been frequently voiced by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots recently, a new vision to alleviate the isolation of the north will come across in the medium-long term as a step to support bilateral and multilateral approaches of the Britain in its new strategy. 

South of the Mediterranean and External Factors

The UK Government tried to maintain relations cautiously for a while after Abdel Fettah al-Sisi took over Egypt. The initial responses to the damage of democracy, which is a common European value, in the region, later gave way to moderate negotiations and eventually to a “cornerstone” discourse in foreign policy, due to economic cooperation and unity in trade routes. With cooperation that seems to have been progressed considering the economic impacts of Brexit, Egypt also gained a place in the UK’s view of the conflict in Libya. Britain; along with France and the United States, was one of the leading members of the coalition that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, as well as one of the countries that supported the establishment of the internationally recognized Government of National Consensus in 2015. It reiterated Haftar’s support during his attacks on the capital Tripoli since April 2019. Although it seems that there is a mutual intention to cooperate with Libya in the economic and security fields, Britain did not react to countries like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which supported Haftar, about the conflict. In general, it is seen that London does not pursue an active policy to end the conflict in Libya. This indifferent attitude of Britain, especially for Libya, helped not only the Middle Eastern states but also Russia to expand its presence in the region. In particular, the actions of France outside the NATO perspective inevitably expanded Russia’s influence in the region. Britain opposed this influence, with the idea that it would also support the Turkish-Russian rapprochement, which it sees as a possible secondary effect, as the spirit of alliance brings. 

New Cooperation with Turkey is possible?

The UK is having perhaps its warmest period in its relations with Turkey in many years. Britain, one of the countries within the EU that supports Turkey’s accession talks, has stried to assess the two countries’ relations with the EU in order to increase the common interest after Brexit. As a matter of fact, the Free Trade Agreement signed on 29 December 2020 is an indication of this It can be said that Britain will interpret Turkey-Cyprus-Greece-Eastern Mediterranean issues within the framework of EU policies in line with the independent and common interests of Brussels. In addition, it can be assumed that a period has begun in which he will experience the comfort or pressure of being able to set subjective policy. However, Britain’s transition, which is likely to take its security and foreign policy in line with the United States, has narrowed the field of movement, with many overlapping issues and finally the S400 missile defence system crisis and Turkish-American relations seeing one of its historic lows. Nevertheless, Turkey’s political, geographical and operational capability advantages will make a difference for Britain in the Eastern Mediterranean as in many regions with relations to be deepened under the umbrella of the alliance as NATO’s two important European forces. The environment of competition and criticism brought about by the transformation of Turkey’s defence and security capacity can be normalized by new steps with Britain, which is not involved in the issue due to the Brexit process. As a result, the UK is coming to the end of the static policy development process brought on by the Brexit process and supported by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is clear that Europe’s new threat perceptions and common policies will diminish the impact on British security and foreign policy, but will also need new collaborations to share the responsibilities of political loneliness. In this process, where it will start to evaluate problems and new opportunities from the Eastern Mediterranean, Britain, which has not yet been involved in any camp but has developed common interests in different formats with almost all actors in the region, will show its capacity to shape its post-Brexit security vision. This capacity will also affect British foreign and domestic politics in the new era.

This “Analysis” article was published in the January 2021 issue of C4Defence magazine.

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