The Evolution of the National Security Culture and the Military in Turkey

By Karaosmanoglu, Ali L. | Journal of International Affairs, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The Evolution of the National Security Culture and the Military in Turkey


Karaosmanoglu, Ali L., Journal of International Affairs


"Turkey's cultural environment has influenced its quest for security through alliances, its circumspect foreign policy and the persistent efforts of successive governments to embrace the West."

Like any social behavior, modern Turkey's foreign and security policy is manifested in a historical and cultural context. The legacy of history is discernible in its relations with neighboring countries as well as its Western allies. Turkey's cultural environment has influenced its quest for security through alliances, its circumspect foreign policy and the persistent efforts of successive governments to embrace the West. The most elusive clues to understanding Turkish foreign and security policy are themselves best viewed in this cultural context. The evolution of Turkey's security culture and the role of its military are of special interest. The former has often been overlooked, and the latter has often been overemphasized. Therefore, these two interrelated factors deserve renewed attention and clarification while the limits of military interference in the policymaking process require further elucidation.

As Adda B. Bozeman argues, "each society is moved by the circumstances of its existence to develop its own approach to foreign relations. This means that diplomacy, and for that matter every other social institution, is bound to incorporate the traditions and values peculiar to the civilization in which it is practiced."(1) Similarly, in the words of Colin S. Gray, "cultures comprise the persisting socially transmitted ideas, attitudes, traditions, habits of mind and preferred methods of operation that are more or less specific to a particular geographically based security community that has had a unique historical experience."(2) National security culture is not static; indeed, it "can change over time, as new experience is absorbed, coded and culturally translated."(3) In other words, it changes gradually as society responds to challenges from within and without. Some aspects of Turkey's security culture have persisted across historical periods and across different internal and external contexts. In some respects, however, this security culture has evolved across consecutive periods into the post-Cold War era. The purpose of this essay is to seek answers to the following questions: What has changed and what has persisted in Turkey's national security culture? What has the role of the military been in that evolutionary process?

Essentially, I suggest three arguments. First, Turkey has historically displayed a relatively consistent security culture of realpolitik which has evolved across the centuries from a dominant offensive character into a dominant defensive one. Second, since the 18th century, the process of Westernization has left its imprint on the national security culture. It has greatly motivated Turkey's Western-oriented policies and introduced liberal and internationalist elements into foreign policy. At the same time, it has given rise to an identity problem that has, in turn, complicated the understanding of Turkey's foreign and security policy behavior. Third, although the military continues to play a significant part in foreign and security policymaking, its role has limits and has diminished gradually. Contrary to the general view, Turkey's security culture is not completely influenced by the military. The civilian elites have also played an important part in its formation. Civilian participation tends to be increasingly significant in the post-Cold War era. That said, this article will mainly focus on the role of the military in foreign and security policy It will deal with the domestic political and institutional aspects of the problem to the extent that they concern foreign and security policymaking.

THE REALPOLITIK CULTURE

During the Ottoman Empire, its security culture evolved from an offensive realpolitik to a defensive one. The latter continues to affect foreign policymaking in modern Turkey Long before the Peace of Westphalia, the Ottoman state had played an important role in Europe's international affairs.

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