Will Turkey's Democratic Reforms Falter After August 2006?

Posted in Europe | 20-Feb-06 | Author: Mehmet Kalyoncu

On August 30, 2006, Turkish Land Forces Commander General Yasar Buyukanit is scheduled to succeed General Hilmi Ozkok as chief of general staff. With this change of leadership, will Turkey's march toward Europe, which has to a great extent been possible by the Turkish military's complaisance with the civilian administration and the military's support for further democratic reforms, slow in pace?

It has been speculated that the unusual complaisance of the Turkish army with the civilian administration in the recent democratic reform process is merely due to Ozkok's own modern views on civilian-military relations and not due to a mentality change in the minds of the generals. Some also speculate that the current harmonious civilian-military relations will be something of the past under the leadership of Buyukanit. Under the new military leadership, whether it is that of Buyukanit or another individual, the Islamist threat in Turkey is likely to become the most controversial issue that will determine the fate of civilian-military relations in Turkey and, therefore, that of Turkey's reform process toward E.U. membership.

Cooperation between the Turkish military and the civilian administration signifies a mentality change in the Turkish military. The transformation that has been initiated under the leadership of the consecutive chiefs of the general staff -- General Huseyin Kivrikoglu and General Ozkok -- is likely to continue under the leadership of prospective chief of general staff General Buyukanit. Conditions at both the international and individual levels require this. For instance, at the apex of his military career, why would Buyukanit want to risk being demonized domestically and marginalized internationally as the chief of the general staff who collapsed Turkey's unprecedented democratization process? Buyukanit's firm resistance against speculations about his recent visit to Washington being a quest for U.S. support for his prospective leadership signals that he would be no less democratic and compliant with the civilian administration than his predecessors Kivrikoglu and Ozkok.

Ozkok as Chief of General Staff

Following the footsteps of his reformist predecessor Kivrikoglu, Ozkok raised the bar in terms of reforming civilian-military relations. A recent article in Foreign Affairs, "The Turkish Military's March Toward Europe," correctly explains how after the December 1999 Helsinki summit where the E.U. granted Turkey "full eligibility" for membership, then Chief of General Staff Kivrikoglu's announcement of the Turkish military's full support for Turkey's E.U. membership marked a breakthrough and gave momentum to Turkey's democratic reform process in order to achieve the vision of full E.U. membership: "We view the E.U. decision for Turkey to be for the full benefit of the Turkish nation. We support it wholeheartedly." This explicit endorsement from the highest authority in the Turkish military provided new energy for the civilian authorities to prepare the country politically and economically for full membership in the E.U.

The reformist and democratic legacy of Ozkok marked even further harmonization in civilian-military relations and hence paved the way to the civilian administration's democratic reforms. As the Foreign Affairs article argues, the most notable reforms of the Ozkok legacy have included shifting the balance of power on the National Security Council (N.S.C.) in favor of civilian members, allowing civilians to lead the drafting of N.S.C. papers that define the threats facing the country, giving civilian authorities supervisory power over military expenses, promotions, and dismissals, removing military representatives from non-military councils, and subjecting military judicial institutions to civilian oversight. Such reforms would probably be unimaginable in the absence of a cause such as E.U. membership, but it also takes a bold and democratic-minded leadership like that of Ozkok to realize those reforms.

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