Local and regional actors have expressed their anger at the memorandum of understanding for the delimitation of maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea which Turkey and the Government of National Accord in Libya, under the leadership of Faiz al-Siraj, signed on 28 November 2019 in Istanbul. This paper will examine the main features of the deal, its position with regard to international law, and the legal, regional and international consequences.
Legal analysis of the agreement reached between Turkey and the Government of National Accord in Libya
The Turkey–Libya agreement therefore clearly violates several principles of international public and maritime law:
Despite the fact that the agreement between Turkey and the Government of National Accord clearly violates international law, including the principles and goals of the UN Charter, Turkey nonetheless requested that the memorandum be registered with the UN Secretariat in accordance with article 102 of its Charter. The UN responded that the registration of international agreements is a formality which does not prevent the other States concerned (Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece in this case) from making political and legal objections to the agreement in question before the UN in order to defend their sovereign economic rights over their exclusive economic zones, in this case in the Mediterranean Sea.
The deal was an important milestone in Middle East relations, in particular as it included an agreement on the delimitation of shared maritime boundaries. It has various political and non-political implications for the entire region:
Regional and international consequences
There are a number of possible positive and negative consequences for the two parties to the agreement:
The main consequences of the agreement from an international perspective may be as follows:
The main consequences of the agreement from a regional perspective may be as follows:
In view of this political and military analysis of the maritime agreement and of the military cooperation agreement concluded at the same time, three possible scenarios may be proposed:
Scenario 1: Agreement revoked following legal protests
In this scenario, Greece and Cyprus — and particularly Greece, which is most heavily affected by the agreement— are asked by the UN General Assembly to refer the maritime agreement concluded between Turkey and the Government of National Accord to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion in light of international law and jurisprudence. This scenario is brought about by regional and international efforts, mobilized through the United Nations, to render the agreement void, thereby reducing Turkey’s role in Libya. There are many obstacles to this scenario, however, most importantly that it would take time for the International Court of Justice to produce its advisory opinion and that some major countries are trying to block this outcome.
Scenario 2: Collapse of the Government of National Accord in Libya
In this scenario, the Libyan National Army succeeds in mobilizing international and regional support in order to bring down the Government of National Accord, following which it withdraws Libya from the agreement on the grounds that Siraj’s government did not have the authority to conclude such an agreement and that the Libyan parliament refused to approve it. Turkey may still claim compensation from Libya in this case, in accordance with the principles of international responsibility, given that the Siraj government was internationally recognized. This scenario will have implications for the conflict between the Libyan National Army and the forces of the Government of National Accord.
Scenario 3: Agreement remains in place in current state (most likely scenario)
In this scenario, Turkey continues to maintain the current status of the agreement and to make use of it both in its relations with the eastern Mediterranean countries (Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel) and as a bargaining tool in negotiations with the EU on various issues. The agreement with Siraj’s government is part of Turkey’s policy of de facto force. Erdoğan is attempting to use the agreement as a means of placing pressure on other eastern Mediterranean countries by disrupting the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, through which these countries have concluded cooperation agreements on the exploitation of oil and gas resources and on the construction of the gas pipeline that will cut through Crete to Europe. He is also using the issue as leverage regarding migration towards the EU, and as a means of threatening Egypt’s national security across its western border.
Many indicators point to this scenario coming to fruition, given the conflicting positions held by the major countries involved in Libya, and the lack of international consensus on how to resolve the military situation in the country in light of those conflicting interests.
 This principle was reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice in its case concerning the continental shelf between Tunisia and the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. For more information, see: ICJ, Reports 1982, p.18, Paragraph 87.
Zeinab F. Shuker | 21 Jan 2021
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