Turkey’s new military policy

Turkey’s new military policy

Turkish President Abdullah Gül presented a detailed outline of a new Turkish military policy in a speech at the War Academies in Istanbul on April 5.

Starting with an analysis which states that the world’s center of gravity is shifting to the Asia-Pasific region from the North Atlantic, Gül underlines the need to focus on three main areas in defining a new strategy. He names those as:

- Asymmetric threats such as terrorism, organized crime, and ethnic tensions across borders

- Global capital flow, competition over energy resources, and increasing injustice in the distribution of income at the global level

- Climate change, poverty, food security and epidemic diseases.

This is a wide spectrum, which pushed the president to tell his audience of young officers, about to become staff officers, that military power is not strictly military anymore, and neither are political economic, social and cultural factors entirely independent from military policy. “The Turkish military has become an important factor in Turkish foreign policy” Gül said. “Therefore, diplomatic activism and military preparedness are not optional, but a must.”

Within that framework, Gül detailed the outlines of a new Turkish military policy in seven points, as follows:

1. Increase the joint operational capabilities of all three forces (land, air and naval), in harmony with the new threats and needs

2. Integrate command structures and share resources

3. Avoid the duplication of offices at all levels

4. Increase the percentage of combat troops by reducing the number of support units

5. Save by cutting expenses not contributing to the efficiency of the armed forces

6. Shift the arms and equipment focus from quantity to quality, using the expanding capabilities of the Turkish economy and defense industry

7. Restructuring of the armed forces for long term needs by making use of a procurement policy that gives priority to national resources as much as possible

What Gül said is actually in line with the new strategy to be adopted by the Western military alliance NATO in its summit in Chicago next month, but there is a difference, and it comes with a suggestion. Instead of the “smart power” concept promoted by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Gül suggested the idea of “virtuous power” for the Turkish military. He thinks instead of the pragmatic way of thinking of the “Anglo-Saxon tradition,” a humanitarian approach could be taken as a basis.

“But,” he advised the Turkish officers, “In order for Turkey to be a virtuous power, first we have to have a tidy house; our country should become a first-class democracy in every sense.”

That is actually a hidden criticism of the military, coming when the first court case against the leaders of the 1980 military coup was opened on April 4, only two days ago. One should not forget that it was this same military that issued a statement only five years ago speaking against the possibility of Gül’s being elected as president. It is no coincidence that Gül’s hidden criticism targeted the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government. “An advanced democracy is not only free elections,” he said, underlining the need for timely justice and freedom of the press and of association.

Yes, we can talk about the will to have a radical transformation in the Turkish establishment, but it is a matter of waiting to see how will that work.

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