The latest incident between a French frigate and the Turkish navy in the eastern Mediterranean was a very strong alarm signal for both countries. To protest against the alleged harassment of its frigate by Turkish ships, France has chosen to withdraw from a NATO operation in the Mediterranean, constituting a major political crisis within NATO.
France has always had a special situation within NATO. The late French, former President Charles de Gaulle, never wanted to see Europe fully protected by a military alliance largely dominated by a transatlantic power, the United States. It did not have the power (or really the political will) to establish a purely European deterrent against the Soviet threat. Its supporters, as well as the French Communist Party, played a decisive role in the sabotage of the European Defense Community (EDC) in 1952. The EDC was the most consistent step ever taken to establish a structured European army, with a political union which would necessarily go hand in hand with it. .
France withdrew from NATO operational forces in 1966, while remaining in an intrinsic network of cooperation. It was reinstated as a regular member state within the consolidated command under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009.
Turkey’s relations with NATO have also been problematic. Especially in the 1970s, when turmoil in the poppy cultivation in Turkey prompted the administration of US President Richard Nixon to establish an arms embargo against Turkey, which was finally consolidated after the 1974 military operation in Cyprus. Greece, in protest at NATO’s alleged lack of neutrality, left the military wing of NATO to be reinstated after the 1980 coup in Turkey.
Very recently, the United States’ refusal to sell Turkey Patriot missile batteries forced the Turkish authorities to buy the S-400 air defense system from Russia. This created the most significant existential crisis within NATO, and Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet project (a must for the Turkish Air Force) has been suspended indefinitely. .
In summary, military cooperation between France and Turkey within NATO has been deeply challenged by recent developments. It would not be wrong to say that our never military cooperation has never been so terrible and problematic. Comparing the situation with what was happening in 2012, when the French and Turkish air forces were ready to organize a punitive operation, with the US Air Force, against Bashar Assad for his crimes in Syria, the current situation is deep, total and sorry reversal of the situation.
Regarding our economic ties with France, in the framework of the EU harmonization process and the framework of the customs union, the least that can be said is that the situation is not better than military cooperation .
So what’s left? The democratic functioning of the two countries. In an interesting article written in 2018 by Benjamin Campbell, Skyler Cranmer and Bruce Desmarais, available on arxiv.org, it is clearly stated that “democratic peace may not be as strong as previously thought.”
France has neither the power nor the vision to design the political and military structure of the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey, on the other hand, can exert a much deeper influence in the region than previously envisaged, as it has shown in Libya. In the long term, the two countries have a mutual interest in cooperating and finding a viable and sustainable modus vivendi. Otherwise, I can predict two big losers in this conflict – one is France, the other Turkey.
Important notice: My colleague and friend, the Franco-Iranian academician Fariba Adelkhah, was sentenced to five years in prison on suspicion of espionage and above all fantasy in Iran. This clearly shows how important it is for democratic regimes to support one another and how ignominious criminal administrations can become ignominious.