Thursday, August 4, 2011

Turkey's Military Resignations: A Hidden Asset for the Future

Last friday, top officers of the Turkish military "resigned" en mass (they technically didn't resign, because then they would lose their benefits). Many were shocked, and forecasting the instability of the Turkish military. However I think many who don't know what's really going on in Turkey, are vastly misjudging the turn of events. By no means I am saying I am a Turkish expert but after intensive research and a 30 pg paper, I'd like to think I know more about the internal dynamics and foreign policy of the country than the average joe.

Since 2002, when the AKP came to power, Turkey has undergone a period of change. Being historically an Islamic party, the AK made prudent economic decisions as well has a moderate approach to governance. Turkey, from the modern state's founding with Mustafa Kemal, has rested on the principles of secularism and loyalty to the state. The military became, essentially, the enforcer and 'protectors' of these ideals and would kick out any government they suspected of trying to undermine those ideas.

Now I am not saying Kemalism is bad, but the rise of the vastly popular AKP changed that dynamic. The AKP has brought more pious Turks into government and have been continuously elected to power since 2002; something that hasn't happen ever in Turkish history. Many in America, and the West, see the recent foreign policy changes of Turkey as turning its back on its former allies; this cannot be farther from the truth. The AKP has used its soft power, and pragmatics relationships, in order to bolster its influence in the region. and on the international stage.

The generals resigning is the beginning of a new era, in my opinion. Civilian subordination of the military is one of the four common factors political scientists use to determine the degree of democratic governance in a state. These resignations show that disagreements between the AKP and the military have came to a head, and instead of trying to overthrow the largely popular ruling party, they resigned. Though they may have disagreed on policy, Turkey as a state and democracy has never been stronger. These resignations are a testament to how far Turkey's democracy has come; only 12 years ago there was a coup d'etat.

These resignations are also a testament to righting the wrongs of the military. Part of the reasons the officers have resigned is because they disliked the investigations into the 1997 coup. I also did a detailed research paper on the status of democratization in Uruguay. A country with a former dictatorship, the military was unwilling to let the government put former officers on trial. However, with the success of Tabare Vazquez, Jose Mujica and their leftist coalition, the military has been more subordinate in putting former officers on trial for crimes. The case is almost identical to Turkey. A successful party in government, which are sometimes at odds with the military in terms of policy, have become subordinate to the cilivan government through successful policies. Its all in the process of further democratization.

The cool headed-ness in this crisis also bolstered Turkey's soft power. By showing that the government can function, and ultimately has the upper hand, in a military crisis is important to Arab democracies. These resignations have vividly shown the stability in the Turkish system.

Though it is a problem when top military leaders resign en mass, it is by no means a devastating blow to NATO's #2 largest army. Turkey's officers are capable, and by no means should the resignation of the armed forces leaders be translated into the strength of the forces.

Those who have not studied Turkey are prone to look at this event in the wrong lens. The first article above is a fantastic piece which hits the proverbial nail on its head. My blog has other posts on the rise of Turkey, so if you're looking for more info on its current state and history, I suggest looking through.

Keeps your eyes on Turkey. The country that was once the crossroads of the world, is about to claim that title again in a whole new way.

PM Erdogan and Turkish military chiefs

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