Tags: Analysis: Turkey’s Secular Military Losing to PM

Analysis: Turkey’s Secular Military Losing to PM

Wednesday, 03 August 2011 08:32 AM

The muted reaction to the resignations by Turkey’s top military officials demonstrates continued weakening of the Turkish military’s position and power.

On July 29, head of the Turkish armed forces General Isik Kosaner and three other top military officials announced they were “seeking early retirement,” effectively resigning from the armed forces. The three Turkish military officials reportedly were angry over the arrest and treatment of more than 200 military officials, including ten percent of serving generals, who currently are in jail on charges of plotting against the government. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly named General Necdet Ozel as acting head of the military. The Prime Minister reiterated his support for a new constitution that will limit military intervention in civilian politics and downplayed the importance of the exodus of top officers.


The resignations by Turkey’s top military officers was a last ditch effort by the military to protest Erdogan’s arrest of Turkish military officers, an action that is viewed by many Turkey watchers as a sham. The Turkish military now appears firmly under civilian control with little political influence. Also last week, a prosecutor sought the arrest of another 22 military officials for plotting against the government.

Turkey’s military has long been the vanguard of Kemal Ataturk’s secular society, a legacy that is in conflict with Prime Minister Erdogan and his religiously rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) that Turkey expert Claire Berlinski once described as “either the hopeful face of a new moderate Islam or the moderate face of radical Islam's new hope.” Since he took power in 2002, Erdogan has challenged secular elites and slowly undermined the strict secularism that the Turkish military has enforced for over half a century. The arrests of military officers conveniently weakened the only defender of Ataturk’s secular vision.

While the arrests of the Turkish military officers could conceivably be reversed by political pressure, a new Turkish government or a coup attempt by frustrated military officers, this is very unlikely. Erdogan is the most popular Turkish prime minister of the last half century and received a strong vote of confidence in June 2011 parliamentary elections. He has avoided radical policies and can point to demands by the EU to place the Turkish military under civilian control as a condition for Turkey joining the EU.

While the rift between Erdogan and the military could result in slower military responsiveness to civilian instructions or refusal to carry out orders, this could prompt the government to replace the entire military leadership. The real meaning of the resignations may be whether it means that Erdogan, now that he has finished off the military as a political force, will be emboldened to expand what many Turkey watchers view as a creeping authoritarian streak and an effort to push through constitutional changes that could fundamentally change Turkey.

Lisa M. Ruth is a former CIA analyst and officer. She is currently Managing Partner of C2 Research, a boutique research and analysis firm in West Palm Beach, Florida and is Vice President at CTC International Group, Inc., a private intelligence firm. Fred Fleitz is a former CIA analyst and Chief of Staff to Ambassador John Bolton.

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Analysis: Turkey’s Secular Military Losing to PM
Wednesday, 03 August 2011 08:32 AM
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