Turkey’s evolution from soft to hard power

Turkey’s evolution from soft to hard power

Turkey is revisiting a long-standing discussion on whether it should adopt a presidential system through a constitutional amendment after Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli opened a new page on the issue. Underlining that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had consistently been violating the constitution by exceeding his boundaries, Bahçeli said it should be up to the Turkish people as to whether the de facto presidential system should be legalized even though his party was against a shift to the presidential system. 

This is not first time Bahçeli has taken such unexpected steps that could, as a result, work to the advantage of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). However, this column will not try to analyze the MHP’s motives but the AKP’s strategy in accomplishing this process. 

Some prominent AKP officials have already announced that they will submit a draft to parliament in the coming weeks so that it can be voted upon at the General Assembly in January, paving the way for a referendum in April. However, what we are talking about is not a new constitution but around 20 articles that would usher in the presidential system. The reason is that each article needs to be voted on twice in parliament before being approved and the AKP does not want to waste time with the remaining articles of the new charter. 

What is important for them is to legislate the presidential system as soon as possible without touching necessary parts of the constitution that need to be fixed to make the country a better, first-class democracy. Neither the AKP nor MHP talk about the democratic deficiencies of the current constitution that was written by the military junta in the early 1980s. It is so discouraging to observe that the only motivation behind the constitutional change is to cure systemic problems through the imposition of a system that could easily turn into one-man rule. 

This highlights the devolution of a country that was aspiring to join the European Union by increasing its democratic standards and strengthening human rights and rule of law into one that is motivated to undermine the role of fundamental democratic institutions and to weaken checks and balances by introducing a model whose parameters are unknown to almost everybody. This can be described as the first phase of Turkey’s evolution from soft power to hard power. 

The second phase of it – which is fully in concert with the first one – is the changing nature of security policies. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan explained in detail last week that Turkey is in a process of revising its security policies which will bring about a pre-emptive approach, meaning threats will be eliminated even before becoming concrete, inside and outside the country. 

Turkey’s ground operation into northern Syria in order to back the Free Syrian Army (FSA), attack on Syrian Kurdish groups’ advance toward al-Bab and the establishment of a military base in Bashiqa in northern Iraq could be counted as steps in this direction. 

This evolution will likely bring about military action from Turkey in the region but it’s hard to make a sound forecast as to whether this strategy will bring more peace, stability and comfort. 

Turkey has all the right to self-defense but this should be done within the boundaries of international law and respect for the sovereign rights of neighboring countries if it does not want to plant the seeds of new hostilities. 

The problem is not choosing between being soft or hard power; it’s about maintaining a balance by strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and by respecting international norms.