Schizophrenia of civil-military relations
The news that the Turkish Armed Forces is restructuring itself under the coordination of the Chief of the General Staff came a day after the crash of a Turkish military helicopter carrying 17 soldiers last week. The crash rekindled the long-standing debate on the transition to a professional army in Turkey.
Let me begin with the “good” part of the news. The military is engaged in a series of changes to address the threats of the 21st century and modernize itself. The new military concept will focus on “foreign threats” rather than “domestic threats,” a notion traditionally used by the military to legitimize its intervention in domestic politics. The chain of command will become more dynamic and functional and there will be a gradual decrease in the number of military staff. All these moves reflect an effort to comply with the armies of other NATO members which have completed their transformation into smaller and more mobile forces in response to new threats.
The bad news is that Turkey still falls short of “post-modernizing” its military paradigm. The court case known as Ergenekon, despite its shortcomings, has radically altered the civil-military equilibrium in Turkey, reducing the likelihood of military intervention in politics and readjusting the balance in favor of civilians. Yet Turkey needs to institutionalize reforms in its civil-military relations. First and foremost, it still has not abandoned the conception of national security that was produced by the coup in 1960 and abused to seize political authority. The Turkish Court of Accounts is now finally in charge of overseeing the military’s finances. However, its authority is still strictly limited, undermining civilian authority over military spending. Likewise, today military officers may be tried before civil courts and civilians cannot be tried before military courts. Yet this still doesn’t resolve the issue of the two-headed (civilian and military) judicial system. The subordination of the General Staff to the Defense Ministry is another urgent must. Last but not least, conscription is obviously not an effective method of fighting insurgents and increasingly unacceptable in a modern society. Specially trained, professional and mobile forces urgently need to replace the existing compulsory system.
Despite significant progress toward democratization in civil-military relations since the beginning of the reform process in the 2000s, the transformation in Turkey’s security system has not been fundamental enough. There has been a change in its security structure, but not a change of it. Hence, Turkey is still in the process of transforming itself from a “national security state” to a “post-modern state.” As a matter of fact, these two types of states coexist within the same body and create an ambiguity. Regarding the pattern of the evolution so far, the post-modern state is likely to be the end result. Yet it looks like we will have to live a little longer with this schizophrenia.