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    Guidelines for beginners to understand civil-military relations in Turkey: II

    Nihat Ali Özcan, PhD18 August 2011 - Okunma Sayısı: 1069


    In 1999, the generals fully supported the government in making Turkey's ambition for EU membership a "state policy". They demonstrated their will by including that decision in the "National Security Policy Document". In other words, with that decision, Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) would have the same status and role as the armies of the EU member countries, and civil-military relations would be formed in accordance with those norms, once full membership is realized.

    The most unpredictable development for the generals in the past decade was undoubtedly AKP's (Justice and Development Party) rise to power. When charismatic leader Erdoğan and his friends rose to power in 2002, by successfully establishing a broad alliance and popular support in the wake of an economic crisis which had deeply shaken the community, some generals began to worry that the EU process would run a course beyond their control. As for General Hilmi Özkök, then chief of General Staff, he self-assuredly adjusted his position by believing that the EU process would determine the limits of the roles and responsibilities of both the military and the political establishment according to its own norms, and the process would proceed without any problem. According to Özkök, at the end of the day, a civil-military relationship, which had been proceeding in a particular course, would arrive at the standards of the EU member states.

    While the split in opinion deepened among the top brass, another significant development, which moved the change in the civil-military relations into a different realm, emerged following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. TAF did not want to or could not display the allied attitude that its old friend U.S. military "needed or deserved". This attitude triggered developments which resulted in dramatic outcomes for the TAF after the war. The government, with an elegant and smart move, succeeded in making the TAF pay the bill of the failed resolution, which intended to give way to the U.S. military the right to pass through Turkey. As for the top brass of the TAF, they spent their energy in the turbulence created by the disagreement and discord "among the commanders". As a result, AKP government consolidated its position further, while TAF lost one of its significant supporters - the Pentagon.

    One of the significant developments regarding civil-military relationships within the TAF was created by the Chief of General Staff's own hand in August 2004. Hilmi Özkök, then Chief of the General Staff, made radical decisions that would end the rat race at the summit of the military. He undersigned significant changes and appointments within the TAF, by taking advantage of the retirement of some of the opponent service commanders. With those changes, General Özkök demonstrated his loyalty to the EU strategy which Turkey had declared in 1999. Therefore, he refined the structures and staff that might cause trouble within the TAF.

    While the government was initially just observing Özkök's efforts to liquidate an engagement, in time, together with some supportive religious groups, it started laying the foundations for a more comprehensive plan which would "keep the TAF under control". While some legal arrangements to limit the playground of potential opponent generals were made, the implementation of a specific central strategy was also initiated. Next week, I will dwell on these issues one by one.

    This commentary was published on 18.08.2011 in Hürriyet Daily News.