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Exit the Commanders

Exit the Commanders

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This policy brief explains that the Turkish constitution-making process will provide an opportunity to see if the government party will lead an effort to establish a system characterized by extensive civil liberties for the citizens and a system of government characterized by checks and balances.
This policy brief explains that the Turkish constitution-making process will provide an opportunity to see if the government party will lead an effort to establish a system characterized by extensive civil liberties for the citizens and a system of government characterized by checks and balances.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Aug 29, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Exit the Commanders
by İlter Turan
August 10, 2011
, DC
: The recent resignationof the top Turkish commandersshould be seen as something 
of a self-inicted coup de grace.
Most observers now agree that the multiple roles of themilitary in Turkish politics are
gone, not to return. Neither
 the prevailing mood in theinternational system nor Turkey’s
international afliations allow
for renewed political activismon the part of its military exceptat an unacceptably high cost
 to Turkey. A debate has now
commenced among politicalparties as regards changing thelegal-institutional basis on which the military has based its political
interventions. Although there
is general consensus that thepolitical role of the military shouldbe reduced, and it has becomeincreasingly politically incorrect to defend an interventionist role, there are concerns that the lastinstitution guaranteeing a secular
modern republic has fallen. The
constitution-making process willprovide an opportunity to see if  the government party will leadan effort to establish a systemcharacterized by extensivecivil liberties for the citizensand a system of governmentcharacterized by checks and
Gone with the Wind
Te recent resignation o the topurkish commanders should be seenas something o a sel-inicted
coup de grace
. Tey marked the end o an erain which the urkish armed orces hadexercised signicant i declining polit-ical power. Te international response,particularly that coming rom theEuropean Union, has been avorable.For many years, the EU had beenadvising urkey that one o demo-cratic conditionalities or member-ship was that the armed orces beunder civilian control. urkish ArmedForces appeared to possess too muchautonomy 
elected govern-ments and this had to be changed.Needless to say, the transormation o the relationship such that the electedgovernment would command themilitary —i.e. have the nal say in allpolicy questions including promotionsto top command posts — had to awaita shi in the existing balance o power.Tat shi came rom two directions.On one hand, the governing party scored three electoral victories in amatter o nine years, each time gettinga greater percentage o the vote thanbeore, leaving no doubt that they hada strong popular mandate. Te mili-tary, on the other hand, in trying topreserve its political role and inu-ence under adverse domestic andinternational circumstances, made aseries o mistakes, revealing that thecommanders had clearly exceededtheir military responsibilities in waysthat the law did not permit, despite therather accommodating way politicalactivities o the military are treatedlegally. It has been exposed recently,or example, that a number o websiteswere set up by the military underphony names to dispense inormationintended to discredit the governmentand to stimulate anti-governmentpublic opinion.
Deinstitutionalizing the PoliticalRole of the Military
Most observers now agree that themultiple roles o the military inurkish politics are gone, not to return.Te military had not only been actingas a veto group, circumscribing whatelected governments could and couldnot do, but it had also dened what thegovernment ought to do on a sucientnumber o occasions. It is unlikely thatuture military leaders will work torestore such an extensive political roleor themselves. It is slowly becomingevident that there had been a deep-ening cleavage among the military’stop brass, with some deending acomprehensive political role or thearmed orces, and others preerringcivilian supremacy. Te upper hand
has now gone rom the ormer to the latter. Furthermore,neither the prevailing mood in the international system norurkey’s international aliations allow or renewed politicalactivism on the part o its military except at an unaccept-ably high cost to urkey, a act o which the military is alsoaware.A debate has now commenced among political parties asregards changing the legal-institutional basis on which themilitary has based its political interventions. Over the years,a considerable body o law, regulation, and administrativetradition has emerged that need to be undone. At the top o the list is changing the notorious Article 35 o the InternalServices Law, which gives the military the right and the duty to protect the republic against both external and internaldangers. Tis article, in the way it has been written, hasmade it possible or the military leaders to identiy internaland external dangers by themselves, dene what needsto be done, and proceed, usually without consulting theelected government, sometimes even treating the govern-ment as a “problem” in itsel. A change indicating that thearmed orces “are responsible or assisting the governmentin ways the government sees t in deending the country against external dangers” will solve this issue. Te opposi-tion Republican People’s Party has already announced thatit is willing to help the government make this and otherchanges. Although the Justice and Development Party government has expressed skepticism about the sincerity o the opposition’s ofer (or reasons this author is unableto identiy), it is clear that soon aer the parliament beginsits session in October, the Internal Services Law will bechanged.Another necessary change is reordering the governmentprotocol to rank the chie o staf behind members o theCouncil o Ministers. Te current rule is that this positionis ranked aer the prime minister but beore ministers,causing an embarrassing problem in NAO ministerialmeetings. While other NAO deense ministers, wheneverappropriate, come with their chie o staf to meetings,either the urkish minister or the chie o staf comes tobe spared rom embarrassment because i they attend ameeting together, the minister has to sit behind the chie o staf.Te powers and duties o the National Security Council willalso have to come under review. Te council had served asthe major orum where the military leadership had commu-nicated and sometimes dictated their policy preerences tothe government. Te prime minister signaled the change ina symbolic ashion by sitting at the head o the table in themeeting room by himsel, thereby changing the establishedpractice that he and the chie o staf share that position. A vice prime minister later publicly explained, “You cannothave two chies in one organization.”Te process o de-institutionalizing the political role o themilitary has commenced. It is likely to gain momentumwhen the Grand National Assembly starts considering anew constitution. Inevitably there will be an item in a lawhere and there that will have to be modied in the uture.Te act is, however, that the major change has now takenplace. Te rest is implementation.
The Need for “Countervailing Powers”
Although there is general consensus that the political role o the military should be reduced, and it has become increas-ingly politically incorrect to deend an interventionistrole, there are concerns among the modern, urban middleclasses that the last institution that they saw as the guar-antee o a secular modern republic has allen. A prominentbusinessman explained, “In democracies, there must bea countervailing orce to government; I am araid that wehave lost that countervailing orce.” While such a viewpointis not in harmony with the operations o democracies, itdoes represent a widely shared concern o people whom thegovernment party has dubbed “White urks.” Tese urks,who had not proven themselves particularly adept at elec-toral politics, had come to view the military as the ultimateguarantee o a secular, modern urkey. Te prime ministerhas all along tried to allay such ears, saying that his govern-ment will not interere with the personal liestyle o citizens.His actions, however, as well as those o his ministers andmayors rom his party, have not always been supportiveo such declarations. Te authoritarian proclivities thatthe prime minister has come to display more requently in recent times has exacerbated ears that urkey’s seculardemocracy will not be expanding but contracting in theuture.Te constitution-making process will provide an oppor-tunity to see i the government party will lead an efort toestablish a system characterized by extensive civil libertiesor the citizens and a system o government characterized

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