Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Military in Politics: Turkey's Military Is a Catalyst for Reform

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

The Military in Politics: Turkey's Military Is a Catalyst for Reform

Article excerpt

Analysts generally consider military influence in politics and society to be a critical impediment to the development of democratic political and civil rights and freedoms. According to Freedom House, for example, greater military involvement in government politics decreases civil liberties and political rights in any given country; this infringes on a government's ability to develop democracy.1

Turkey may be an exception. The military has deep roots in society, and its influence predates the founding of the republic. But rather than hinder democratization, Turkey's military remains an important component in the checks and balances that protect Turkish democracy. Herein lies an irony: European officials have made diminishment of military influence a key reform in Turkey's European Union accession process. This may be a noble goal, but by insisting on dismantling the military role in Turkish society without advancing a new mechanism to guarantee the constitution, well-meaning reformers may actually undercut the stability of Turkey as a democracy.

From Turkey's founding, the military assumed responsibility for guaranteeing the republic's constitution. Article 35 of the Turkish Armed Service Internal Service Code of 1961 declared that the "duty of the armed forces is to protect and safeguard Turkish territory and the Turkish Republic as stipulated by the constitution."2 Indeed, such an interpretation had its roots in the constitution. Turkey's first constitution was written in 1921, and since the formal proclamation of the republic, the country has had three additional constitutions - in 1924, 1961, and 1982. Until the constitutional amendments of 2001, each placed responsibility in the military's hands for the protection of the Turkish state from both external and internal challenges. The constitution of 1982, for example, prohibited contestation or constitutional review of the laws or decrees passed by the military when the republic was under its rule from 1980 until 1983. This effectively provided the military with a legal exit guarantee following thencoup in 1980.3 Specifically, article 15 stated, "No allegation of unconstitutionality can be made in respect of laws, law-amending ordinances and acts and decisions taken in accordance with the law numbered 2324 on the law on the constitutional order."4

The Turkish military has used this sense of constitutional authorization to justify interference in the political realm, on some occasions. It seized power in 1960 and 1980 when polarization and economic instability paralyzed the country's political system, and it also forced the resignation of governments in 1971 and 1997. While the Turkish constitution certainly does not endorse coups, Turkish popular distrust of politicians has generally led the public to support military action.

This constitutional role began to unravel, however, in September 2001, when the Turkish parliament amended the constitution to ensure that the Constitutional Court (Anayasa Mahkemesi) review any decisions involving maintenance of freedoms and allegations of unconstitutionality.5 Therefore, the military may not act upon allegations of unconstitutional acts until there has been prior court review. Other structural factors augment the Turkish military's role. On July 23, 2003, the Grand National Assembly passed a reform package which called for a civilian to lead the powerful and historically military-led National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu, MGK), a body which advises - but, more realistically, directs - the president in the formation of his security policies, policies which in Turkey traditionally span internal and external threats. On August 17, 2004, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer appointed former ambassador to the U.K., Mehmet Yigit Alpogan, to head the MGK.6 Nevertheless, the military remains a force wielding more political power than it does in Western democracies. The commander of the Turkish General Staff, for example, answers directly to the prime minister and is not subordinate to the minister of defense, nor are the appointments to senior military posts subject to the affirmation of politicians. …

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