Post-coup attempt restructuring means Turkish army may no longer be functional: Özcan

Post-coup attempt restructuring means Turkish army may no longer be functional: Özcan

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Post-coup attempt restructuring means Turkish army may no longer be functional: Özcan The restructuring of the Turkish military in the wake of the July 15 failed coup attempt could create more problems than it solves, according to Nihat Ali Özcan, an academic an a retired major.

“Efforts to restructure the army should be done taking into account the army’s functions,” Özcan told the Hürriyet Daily News.

“If they are done taking into account domestic political concerns then you will only end up with an army that is no longer functional.”

What do you think about the government’s steps to restructure the army?

The government reacted very quickly to the July 15 coup attempt. But the reaction has goes far beyond solving the problem. It has now reached a point where the army cannot do its mission.
First, it has changed the organizational structure. Force commanders are cut off from the chief of general staff, who initially was almost lowered to an advisory position. 

Second, the gendarmerie and coast guard have been separated from the army and brought under the Interior Ministry, although the gendarmerie and coast guard assume a very important function in terms of the hybrid conflicts that Turkey faces. These two institutions look set to lose their semi-military characteristic. The gendarmerie, for example will become a kind of police institution. We will see the consequences of this lost capacity and of the cultural transformation they face in the long term. 

Third, appointments and promotions in the military are now under the control of a civilian. In the long term this will bring about the politicization of the army. Appointments and promotions will likely take place outside the openly known rules and procedures, and will rather be done according to political motivations.

What makes you say that?

This is about political intentions. The motivation is more about securing party control over the armed forces and less about how the army achieves its missions in a professional way. It goes beyond securing civilian control over the army, it is rather about securing the party’s control over the army.

How will it achieve this?

For one thing, it has changed the recruitment system. The human pool from which the army recruits has been diversified. The army is now open to graduates of religious imam hatip schools, and most probably the ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] will try to fill the military with its sympathizers. Whatever it has learned from the [Gülen] movement will now be applied [by the government].

Is opening the army to graduates of religious schools enough to conclude that the army will be filled by AKP sympathizers?

It is not only about recruitment policy, there is the promotion dimension to consider too. Being close to the government will become an important reference.

But won’t there be some tests both at the recruitment and promotion phase?

We know how tests were conducted in the past, they were not objective.

That’s not enough to conclude that the system to be put in force by the AKP will do the same.

More than one test is required for officers. There are criteria regarding their physical health conditions, communication skills and leadership capacity. In the midst of such political turmoil, it would be naive to suggest that evaluations will be done according to objective criteria.

In order to avoid facing similar problems that led to the coup attempt, the government will base the steps it takes on the concept of “trust” and it will define itself according to this concept. I don’t think new candidates for the army will be subjected to a fair race, as in a democratic country. 

The same is valid for promotions. The number of soldiers in the Supreme Military Council [YAŞ], which decides on military promotions, has fallen to 10 percent. The dominant side is now the political decision-maker. To expect that the political decision-maker will give importance to objective criteria is not in line with the general political landscape in Turkey. To assume that the army will remain professionally objective at a time when politics overrides everything everywhere contradicts the reality in Turkey.

Yet there are developments in terms of global security and in terms of Turkey’s security. Turkey needs a good and functional professional army. Efforts to restructure the army should be done taking into account the army’s functions. If they are done taking into account domestic political concerns then you will only end up with an army that is no longer functional.

The Turkish military has received a serious blow over the course of the past 15 years. There were serious changes in the human resources of the military, and it was subjected to several plots. The July 15 coup attempt has also been tremendously harmful, and now comes the government’s post-coup attempt measures. So many soldiers have been arrested or dismissed throughout this process. 

Moral and motivation most affects an army’s capacity, and these are currently at their lowest levels.

So what’s the current situation in the army?

In terms of political, strategic levels, the military has lost 75 percent of its capacity. The headquarters in Ankara have lost 75 percent of its functional capabilities. I am talking about decision-making and the ability to solve big strategic problems. The chain of written rules is no longer functional, and the unwritten traditions are no longer there. The loss in the field, meanwhile, is around 30 percent. 

We will see the consequences [of this restructuring] in the period ahead. We will see this in terms of how many planes take off, the number of accidents, the level of indiscipline, the language skills of the officers, and the level to which new recruits are dedicated to their job.

The military has been dealt a serious blow to its professional capacity and is currently spending from its former accumulated experience. 

What are your concerns about the consequences in the future?

I fear that the Turkish military will not have the capacity to answer the security concerns of 21st century. It has lost the chance to recruit the best and the brightest. It is no longer a prestigious profession in the eyes of the new generations, although prestige is a vital element for any military. There are also now many other professions and the young generations don’t like military discipline.

We also have the issue of ideological polarization and fear factor. The government will have a stronger filter system, and instead of being open to all citizens, it will fill the army with those whose loyalty it trusts. Only those who have the trust of the government will be promoted. In the long run this will change the nature and character of the army.

Let’s also not forget that security and the economic situation do not play in favor of the army. Being a police officer is preferable to being a soldier. When you get the same wage in both, would you prefer to fight in the mountains or work in the police station next door?

We can expect the number of those in the military who know foreign languages to drop. Military schools have been closed down and it will be difficult for outsiders who lack the military educational culture to integrate into the system, which will lead to cultural fractures within the army.

In sum, the military’s 150-year-old DNA and cultural codes will change.

That is a very pessimistic outlook.

The question is whether such a structure can fulfill Turkey’s responsibilities within NATO, face Turkey’s security challenges and carry forward Turkey’s ambitions in the international sphere. All that looks quite difficult in the long run.

But some decisions have been reversed. The government has decided to keep open the military academies, reversing their initial decision.

They need to keep them open. The tradition of the military academy was abused by the Gülenists, but it is a tradition you need to protect. You can’t solve the problem by just saying, “I’ve closed them down.” The government is now becoming aware of that. The steps it has taken do not match the realities on the ground and that is why they keep making changes. The more they face the realities of the profession, the more they start amending the amendments.

Who is Nihat Ali Özcan?


Post-coup attempt restructuring means Turkish army may no longer be functional: Özcan


Nihat Ali Özcan is an associate professor at the TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara and a security policy analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).

He is a retired major from the Turkish Armed Forces and received his bachelor’s degree from the Military Academy of Ankara. After graduating from the Army Transportation School, he served in a number of different units of the land forces between 1979 and 1998. He also graduated from Istanbul University’s Faculty of Law. 

Dr. Özcan’s master’s degree and PhD were completed at 9 Eylül University in Izmir. He was an Academic Visitor at the Changing Character of War (CCW) program of Oxford University’s History Faculty from October 2010 to May 2011.

He has extensive publications on Turkish military, terrorism and counterinsurgency issues, and writes regularly for daily Milliyet.