In recent years, as a part of a determined effort to gain entry into the European Union, Turkey has undertaken a series of governmental reforms. The most significant of these has been a change in the historic role of the Turkish military in governmental affairs. As reported in the Financial Times on August 6, 2004 (via BIA Net):
|Turkey is poised to appoint the first civilian head of its National Security Council, the country’s highest policy-setting body, which for years has been dominated by the armed forces.|
|The appointment, expected to be announced later this month, is an important step in Turkey’s push to join the European Union.|
|Two senior diplomats have been named as candidates for the post of secretary-general of the NSC after the general who has held it for the past year was appointed Second Army commander on Thursday.|
|EU governments have in effect demanded that Turkey put a civilian in charge of the council to reduce military interference in political affairs.|
Steven A. Cook, writing in Slate on October 28th of this year, was enthusiastic about the ongoing process of Turkish reform and its eventual accession to the EU:
|At long last, the Turkish republic is beginning talks to enter the European Union. More than three centuries after Ottoman armies were stopped at the Gates of Vienna, and 42 years after signing an association agreement with what was then the European Economic Community, Europe may finally be opening for Turks, even though it will likely take a decade or more before Turkey finally joins. It is an astonishing irony of the Turkish political system, which is officially secular, that this triumphant moment belongs to the Islamist-leaning Adelet ve Kalkinma (Justice and Development Party) and its two leaders, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.|
|Since capturing an outright majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly in late 2002, AK has undertaken an impressive array of reforms that have gone a long way toward razing the authoritarian institutions of the Turkish state. Indeed, after ramming seven reform packages through parliament over the course of two years, the European Commission determined in October 2004 that Turkey had met all the legal requirements to begin accession talks.|
Reining in the military has become the top priority of the Turkish government in its effort to become fully Europeanized. Yet there has to be a certain ambivalence among the mandarins of the West about this project — after all, the military is the only Turkish institution that can reliably maintain order and rein in the extremists, thus guaranteeing “stability” in Turkey’s dealings with the West.
Kemal Attaturk established the modern Turkish state out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after the Great War. Though he was a very popular Turkish nationalist, not all his reforms sat well with the public. The adoption of the Latin alphabet, the elimination of the hijab, the relentless secularization of the state — all of these were rammed down the throats of the populace by his authoritarian rule.
Since then, Turkey has retained its status as a modern secular state through occasional military coups, and the military has guided the state with a firm hand during the periods of civilian control. Give that up, and what would we face? An Islamic Republic? The Turkish equivalent of Osama bin Laden?
The reformers hasten to reassure us that we have nothing to fear: the Turkish military is not really bowing out. It will simply be a kinder, gentler military. As noted in Civilitas Research on August 11th,2004,
|Moderates took the upper hand for the next six years in the reshuffle of senior personnel in the Turkish military last Friday, as all four armies got new commanders and hardliners were retired off or pushed out of the limelight.|
|The first was that of General Aytac Yalman, described by Ker-Lindsay as “a hardliner” both on the Cyprus problem and on other matters.|
|Yalman was the Land Forces (armed forces) commander, a position which is essentially one step below the Chief of General Staff.|
|The current Chief of Staff is General Hilmi Ozkok, who is widely regarded as a moderate.|
|As expected, Ozkok took the opportunity to replace a hardliner with a moderate, Yasar Buyukanit, Commander of the First Army of Turkey’s four armies.|
|“This means that Buyukanit is now in line to succeed General Hilmi Ozkok in 2006 when Ozkok retires, so the moderates retain the upper hand,” explained Ker-Lindsay.|
Europe is to be reassured: the moderates will remain in charge, the foolish and volatile populace will be restrained, and stability will be maintained. We can all go back to sleep.
The Left discovers a strange new respect for the military whenever the soldiers stop killing babies and climb on board a progressive cause. In this case the cause is the EU, and for its sake Steven Cook is quite enthusiastic about the Turkish military:
|The emerging conventional wisdom concerning recent developments in Turkey holds that the broad support within Turkey for EU membership constrained the military’s ability to oppose the political reforms Europe requires. This left the officers with no choice but to submit to a significant diminution of their traditional political influence. In fact, however, it is hardly game over for Turkey’s military establishment.|
|While the Islamists are basking in the glow of the European Union’s recent decision to move forward with membership negotiations, the military may actually have triumphed in its decades-long struggle against Islamists. Reforms aside, the national-security state in Turkey remains deeply embedded, affording the Turkish military ample means to influence and, if necessary, to intervene in the political arena. The General Staff, for example, remains outside the control of the civilian minister of defense. And while the Turkish prime minister formally presides over military promotions and retirements, the officers actually maintain exclusive control over personnel matters. This makes it all the more difficult to establish civilian control of the military, which is a hallmark of democratic polities. Additionally, the service codes of the armed forces, which direct the officers to defend the country and the republic from internal and external threats, remain intact. While this seems noncontroversial and is, indeed, a guiding principle of armed forces all over the world, Turkish commanders have a tendency to interpret threats to the political order rather broadly.|
So, when the Turkish army intervenes in civilian affairs to confront a threat, its suppression of democracy will at least be constrained by “the service codes of the armed forces.” That’s a relief.
If only our elite pundits had the same enthusiasm for the service codes of the American military.
As I have noted previously, Turkey’s entry into the EU is not assured, even if it meets the stringent European requirements for reform. European public opinion generally opposes the admission of Turkey; recent polls suggest that the support for it in Austria is less than 10%.
But leaving that aside for a moment — assuming that annoying public opinion can be overcome — what does Europe face if it takes in an overwhelmingly Islamic country, one that has to maintain its secular modernity via military control?
Instead of having to deal with borders and customs and passport controls, Turks will be able simply to take the ferry across the Bosphorus and travel to any place in Europe that strikes their fancy. The militant Islamists in Turkey — and, yes, there are quite a lot of them — will be free to join their brethren in all parts of Europe. They can even grab a torch and help burn France down.
Relying on the military to hold Turkey in check is not a wise strategy for a purportedly democratic institution. But, in the case of Islamic countries, it is democracy that is most to be feared. Algeria and the FLN are the precedent that everyone keeps in mind.
This is the primary conundrum of our time — absent a lengthy American military occupation, can true democracy emerge in an Islamic country? The auguries are not good.
But, eventually, the will of the people needs to be heard, even the will of Muslim people. And what if their will is to raise a Caliph to whom they would give absolute power, one charged with the task of utterly destroying the infidel?
This is something that we really ought to know.
Then we could gird our loins, take up shield and buckler, and prepare for the grim task ahead.
Hat tip: MZ.