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June 10th, 2008
Turkey's Tigers
Report Card: Turkey and EU Membership?: The Military

Steven Cook
Council on Foreign Relations

The Turkish military has long represented the locus of power in the Turkish political system. Over the course of 37 years beginning in 1960, the officer corps toppled four governments it deemed anathema to Turkey’s national interest. Moreover, Turkey’s 1980 constitution, written at the behest of the military command, is notable for the way in which it provides various means for the military to influence the political system. However, beginning in 2003, the Turkish government passed a series of reforms that reined in many of the powers of Turkey’s senior commanders.

By far the most significant alterations intended to diminish the military’s strength and influence relate to the powerful military-dominated National Security Council. Officially established after a 1960 coup d’etat, Turkey’s 1982 constitution directed the government to “give priority consideration to the decisions of the National Security Council” under all circumstances. The reforms of 2003-04 stripped the Council of its executive powers and downgraded the Council to an advisory body with a single military representative (instead of the previous five) under civilian leadership.

To be sure, some issues remain. The Turkish Chief-of-Staff is not subordinate to the civilian minister of defense, and the internal service codes of the armed forces endow the officers with the power to intervene in the Turkish political system. Given the circumstances, however, observers need to recognize that the Turkish national security state has deep roots and change will not come immediately, and that the reforms of recent years are steps in the right direction.

     

Dr. John Brademas
President Emeritus of New York University

One obstacle to Turkish membership in the European Union is the issue of the powerful role of the military in Turkish politics. Only a few years ago, a former French Ambassador to Turkey, Eric Rouleau, in an article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, asserted that the Copenhagen criteria for joining the European Union, “represent more than simply reform; they mean the virtual dismantling of Turkey’s entire state system… which places the armed forces at the very heart of political life… Even E.U. membership, the ultimate incentive, may not be enough to convince the Turkish military to relinquish its hold on the jugular of the modern Turkish state.”

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