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Turkey-Libya Agreement and the UN: What You Need to Know

In late November 2019, Turkey and Libya`s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on maritime boundaries and security cooperation, which drew criticism from other countries and raised questions about its compatibility with international law. The MoU also highlighted the complex and dynamic geopolitical landscape in the Mediterranean region, where rival actors compete for influence and resources amid conflicts and instability. Moreover, the MoU had implications for the UN`s peace and security efforts in Libya and beyond, as well as for the prospects of regional cooperation and diplomacy.

This article will provide a brief background on the Turkey-Libya agreement, explain its key provisions and controversies, assess its legal and political implications, and analyze its relevance to the UN`s role in promoting peace and stability in Libya and the Mediterranean.


Turkey and Libya have historical and cultural ties, as well as economic interests in the Mediterranean. However, since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been torn apart by civil war, with rival factions vying for power and control over the country`s resources. The GNA, based in Tripoli and supported by the UN, the EU, and some countries, including Turkey and Qatar, has been fighting against the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, who has the backing of Egypt, the UAE, Russia, and France, among others. The conflict has escalated in recent months, with Haftar launching an offensive on Tripoli in April and the GNA pushing back with Turkish military aid.

Against this backdrop, the Turkey-Libya MoU was seen as a move to consolidate the GNA`s legitimacy and assert Turkey`s influence in the region, while challenging the claims of other countries, such as Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel, over the maritime zones and energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. The MoU was also seen as a response to a similar agreement between Greece and Egypt in August 2019, which excluded Turkey and the GNA from the talks and drew a diagonal line that intersected with the Turkish-Libyan zone.

Provisions and Controversies

The Turkey-Libya MoU consists of two main parts: a maritime demarcation line and a security cooperation framework. The maritime zone extends from the southwestern coast of Turkey to the northeastern coast of Libya, covering about 18,000 square kilometers of sea, where Turkey and Libya can conduct joint exploration and production activities of hydrocarbons, as well as fisheries and other economic activities. The zone overlaps with the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) claimed by Greece and Cyprus, which reject the validity of the MoU and consider it a violation of their sovereign rights and obligations under international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Moreover, the MoU has been criticized for not taking into account the rights of other coastal states, such as Egypt and Israel, which also have overlapping claims in the area. The MoU has also sparked concerns about the potential for escalation and conflict, as it challenges the status quo and the existing legal framework for resolving maritime disputes, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

The security cooperation framework aims to enhance the capacity of the GNA and the Libyan Navy to combat terrorism, illegal migration, and organized crime, as well as to prevent foreign interference and aggression. However, this aspect of the MoU has also been criticized for violating the UN arms embargo on Libya and exacerbating the conflict, as Turkey has been accused of supplying weapons and mercenaries to the GNA, while other states have supplied arms to the LNA.

Legal and Political Implications

The legal validity and enforceability of the Turkey-Libya MoU depend on several factors, such as the consent of the other states concerned, the compatibility with international law, and the interpretation and application of the UNCLOS. Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt have rejected the MoU and called on the UN and the EU to intervene and support their claims, while Turkey and Libya have defended it as a legitimate and necessary step to protect their interests and sovereignty.

The UN has also expressed concern about the impact of the MoU on the peace and security in Libya and the region, as it may undermine the efforts to achieve a political solution and create more divisions and tensions. The UN has called for an end to the foreign interference and arms flows in Libya, as well as for the respect of the arms embargo and the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in 2015, which established the GNA and the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

The relevance of the Turkey-Libya MoU to the UN`s role in Libya and the Mediterranean is twofold: on the one hand, it highlights the challenges and opportunities of regional cooperation and diplomacy, especially in the context of the energy transition and the climate crisis; on the other hand, it underscores the need for more dialogue, transparency, and accountability among all actors involved in the conflict, as well as the respect for international law and humanitarian principles.


The Turkey-Libya agreement on maritime boundaries and security cooperation is a controversial and complex issue that reflects the competing interests and perspectives of various actors in the Mediterranean region. While the MoU has some legal and political implications, it also presents some opportunities for constructive engagement and cooperation, especially if it is seen as part of a broader and inclusive approach to regional governance and development. The UN can play a crucial role in facilitating such an approach by promoting dialogue, mediation, and conflict resolution, as well as by addressing the root causes and consequences of the conflicts in Libya and the Mediterranean.