Turkey's Road to Europe: The "Praetorian" Puzzle and the Search for Direction: Demetrios A. Theophylactou Is a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He Has Served as a Diplomat for Cyprus as Well as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Boston University and at the Facultes Universitaires Saint Louis in Belgium

Article excerpt

Despite all odds Turkey continues to prepare itself for eventual accession to the European Union. After a noticeable slowdown since 2005, both the pace and scale of constitutional reforms recently gathered new steam, reflecting the resolve of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party to attain deeper democratization. Yet the journey of the Turkish locomotive to Brussels is bound to be long--the road by no means smooth--and indeed, even painful. The country is in effect transforming itself to a liberal democracy from an essentially "praetorian" state, or one where the military keeps a watchful eye on the civilian administration. Notwithstanding, the reforms are guided primarily by the European Acquis Communautaire, the body of legislation that essentially regulates the accession course.

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In this context, Ankara's direction in the near future will depend on its own internal ambiguities and its ability to maintain the fragile equilibrium between secularism, on one hand, and Islamism on the other, with variations of progressive and conservative voices at play even within the ruling AK party. Three considerations are pertinent in this analysis; one is the relative decline of praetorianism; a second is the Turkish society's gradual disinterest in the EU; and a third is the groping attempt of the state to redefine itself and its role in both regional politics and global affairs. Combined, these dynamics affect the state's image and shape its ties with a host of countries in the wider region, namely the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Praetorianism usually emerges in reaction to endemic political instability that results from the civilian political system's relatively low level of institutionalization. But potential EU members have quite a precedent of emerging from praetorianism and landing in liberal democracy. France was essentially a praetorian state until the stabilization of the civilian political system with the inauguration of the Fifth Republic, which led to the de-politicization of the military. Spain and Portugal similarly only discarded praetorianism in recent memory and yet are now members of the EU.

The Quest for Sustainable Political Stability

In spite of its wide popular support, the ruling AK party came close to political obliteration in 2008, following an abortive attempt to change the law banning headscarves. It barely survived then, but the Supreme Court, echoing hard-liners' concerns over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's perceived anti-secular policies, issued a strong warning to both the party and its leader to respect and ensure the country's secular orientation. Notwithstanding, the AK party has been successful in addressing the general welfare, particularly of the middle and lower classes. The Muslim-rooted ruling class is slowly assuming a status of a bourgeois, clearly becoming more prosperous than a few years ago. At the same time, there is a distinct rise in socioeconomic discontents and continuing economic inequalities. Large parts of the lower classes, mainly in Anatolia, are still unable to reap the benefits of the country's sizeable economic growth. Moreover, the secularist bureaucratic elites--including the military--seriously challenge the policies and orientations of the AK party. The litmus test for Turkish democracy, the ongoing "Ergenekon" trial, is a case in point. There is thus a powerful incentive for praetorians to assert themselves yet again. But the stakes are bigger today than they were ever before, not least because of Turkey's path toward the EU.

On another level, certain external developments have energized praetorianism in Turkey, most notably the reemergence of ethnic conflicts--particularly in areas surrounding the country--which conceivably also impinge upon its own Kurdish issue. Moreover, ongoing tensions in the Middle East and increasing concerns with Iran's nuclear program further heighten the level of uncertainty in the country's immediate neighborhood. …