Professor Karaosmanoğlu: Time for military to respect democracy

Professor Karaosmanoğlu: Time for military to respect democracy

Professor Ali Karaosmanoğlu

November 02, 2009, Monday/ 12:49:00/ YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN
Ali Karaosmanoğlu, an academic with expertise in civilian-military relations, has said the military’s “hands-off” position on politics has become more visible since the second half of 2007 but that it should do more.

“The military should accept that the last word is with the civilian authority, and the military should believe in democracy,” he told Today’s Zaman for Monday Talk as the discovery of a military plan, the “Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism” to discredit the government has revealed once again the deep divisions that exist within the state, mainly between the military-led bureaucrats and the political authorities.

There are signs of much improvement in civilian-military relations, on the other hand, Karaosmanoğlu said; for example, despite the military’s April 27, 2007, “electronic ultimatum” to the government, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was re-elected in the July elections of that same year, increasing its vote to about 46 percent from 34.29 percent in the November 2002 elections. And since then, civilian-military relations have begun to take a new turn as the military’s role in politics has become less visible.

‘The action plan displayed once more that the military’s capacity for effective interference in politics has been considerably restricted not only by the international context, but also by the growing dislike of the public vis-à-vis the military’s inclination to intervene in public affairs. Such interventionist attempts no longer determine the outcome of political processes’

However, the Turkish Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) recently confirmed the authenticity of an action plan signed by a colonel which allegedly intended to unseat the ruling party. The plan is currently the subject of judicial process.

Karaosmanoğlu, whose article “Turkish Security Culture: Evolutionary or Carved in Stone” appeared in a book published last week by the Netherlands-based Centre for European Security Studies (CESS), holds the view that the ups and downs in the process of consolidating democracy in Turkey should not prevent us from seeing the “whole picture.”

You hold the view that the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] does not involve itself in politics as much as it used to do. How have you reached this conclusion?

First of all, this is a requirement for consolidating democracy in Turkey. One sign in that regard can be seen in the reforms in 2002-2005 [in order to fulfill the European Union’s Copenhagen criteria]. Those reforms considerably decreased the military’s influence in politics. The military did not oppose these developments; indeed, it was willing for these reforms to be implemented.


ALİ KARAOSMANOĞLU, an academic with expertise in civilian-military relations

Professor Ali Karaosmanoğlu earned his Ph.D. from the faculty of law at the University of Lausanne. He taught at the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) and Boğaziçi University. Since 1988, he has taught at Bilkent University’s department of international relations. He was a visiting scholar at Stanford and Princeton universities. He is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the European Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has published widely on foreign policy and strategic studies, including civil-military relations.

Because the military saw that democratization would be good for the country, and they concluded that the state would be empowered if it adapted itself to changing conditions.

What kind of conditions?

Take the Annan plan. Most of the members of the military were opposed to the Annan plan, but despite of their opposition, they cooperated with the civilian government. This example shows that the military is trying to ease the state’s adaptation to the changing international environment. And there have been ups and downs in the process.

Would you elaborate on this?

For example, the military issued an “electronic memorandum” [or e-ultimatum on April 27, 2007] to express its reservations during the presidential election. This showed that the military did not favor a takeover of the government by a military coup d’état. The ruling AK Party government reacted harshly to the “memorandum.” Plus, the military’s interference proved ineffective, as demonstrated by the landslide electoral victory of the AK Party. Then the Dolmabahçe meeting between the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt took place. Following that meeting, we started to see increasing cooperation between the military and government. And the cooperation continued in various areas.

Civilian-military relations take a new turn

Could you talk more about these areas? In what areas have you noticed cooperation between the government and the military?

We can see that in the improvement of relations with Armenia, and more importantly we can see that in the Kurdish issue and the fight against the PKK [the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. One reason for this cooperation between the military and government has been that the fight against terrorism has become an international issue. And the Kurdish issue has taken on international importance as well.


‘Cultural change in civilian-military relations will require a much longer time than we expect’

In the face of the alleged Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism and the silence of the political leadership regarding the issue, do you still maintain your optimistic view that there are not power relations that involve constant confrontation and tension between the military and the civilian government?

We cannot understand the evolution of civilian-military relations in Turkey solely from the perspective of power relations. What we are witnessing is a cultural transformation. Turkey’s political-military culture is being transformed from an authoritarian and militaristic one to a democratic one in which the military is subordinated to the civilian authority. This is not a linear process without ups and downs. Daily events, however, do not overshadow the general trend toward further democratization. Similar to the “e-ultimatum,” the alleged “action plan” displayed once more that the military’s capacity for effective interference in politics has been considerably restricted not only by the international context, but also by the growing dislike of the public vis-a-vis the military’s inclination to intervene in public affairs. Such interventionist attempts no longer determine the outcome of political processes. On the contrary, they tarnish the professionalism, prestige and legitimacy of the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] on the international as well as domestic level. Moreover, they have divisive effects on military organizations. I believe it is time for the military to reach the conclusion that subordination to the democratically elected parliaments and governments is a virtue.

Why do you think political leaders are not able to take a firm stance against the General Staff, which has not taken the necessary action against the people who allegedly designed such a plan, but had declared that the document was just “a piece of paper”?

The government is managing civilian-military relations quite well. In the haste to accelerate the process of democratization, we forget about the real nature of the change, which is cultural and, as such, it requires much longer time than we expect.

Following the occupation of Iraq, an autonomous Kurdish region gained strength there. In addition, the PKK has been involved in the drug trade. Moreover, it has been revealed that the PKK’s financial resources came partly from international sources. Plus, conducting cross-border operations in 2007-2008 required diplomatic preparations and initiatives. Therefore, the national aspects of the issues started to interact with the international aspects, and interestingly the international aspects have come to the fore. When international aspects become prominent, the political aspects of the issues become prominent as well, increasing the need for the civilian government’s prominence. It has been obligatory to give priority to the civilian government in that regard. This has been an important development in civilian-military relations. And Turkey has taken a step forward in that regard, independent of the reform process required for membership in the European Union.

If international aspects had not required such a development, would you say that improvements in civilian-military relations could not have happened?

They still could have occurred; that was one factor. There were other international factors, too. With globalization, democratization, respect for human rights and the supremacy of law have gained more importance. Parallel to these developments, the norms of legitimacy have changed, both internationally and domestically. Changing norms of legitimacy required the state to adapt to this change. This was seen both by the government and military. Then arose the need for the renewal of the state, be it by adapting to new norms, establishing new relations or forming new institutions.

‘Kurdish opening likely to continue’

Where do you think the Kurdish opening is going?

There are ups and downs. The arrival of the members of the PKK led to anger in the society in general. In addition to this, the government has perceived the manner in which the DTP [Democratic Society Party] received the PKK members, holding joyous celebrations, as a political move. The government has halted the process of receiving more members of the PKK, but this halt is most probably only temporary and the process is likely to continue.

How long do you think it will take until society sees another group of PKK members coming back to Turkey?

It might take a long time until that happens again. But the important thing is that the process will continue.

Why do you see this process in a way that there will be no turning back?

It is because there is a process of cultural change occurring in Turkey. This change is about political culture, which has already gone a long way in the process of change. It is no longer stoppable. A change in political culture has become obligatory. The renewal of the state as necessary has been seen in the history of state tradition in Turkey. In the Ottoman Empire the state renewed itself and adapted to changes, and the elites cooperated in the process. [Scholars] Şerif Mardin and Kemal Karpat explain this issue in detail. We are going through the same thing today in the republic: The state has to adapt itself to the changing conditions in order to sustain itself. This is a part of our political culture. That’s why it is an unstoppable process. And it will go on until democracy is consolidated.

‘EU can accelerate change in Turkey’

Is it realistic to think about a time period for that?

The process can only be expedited. The European Union is important in that regard because the EU can have a role in facilitating the reform process in Turkey, as we have seen before. This was the case in 2002-2005. This process is also useful because it creates interaction between Turkey and the EU; Turkey learns more about Europe and Europe learns more about Turkey and some prejudices are eliminated in the process as some channels for dialogue are opened. Those channels of dialogue make it easier to offer new ideas. [In a meeting with experts from Europe on the issue of civilian-military relations in Europe and Turkey] we saw that there are differing practices and rules in each country of Europe. So what is the goal of the European Union criteria?

What is it?

Its goal is to establish a framework which is democratic, but the inside of this framework is blank and it presents many opportunities. If a country, for example Turkey, uses this opportunity, it can produce a civilian-military relations model which can be quite democratic. The important thing is to make good use of this opportunity.

What is the essence of the matter in reconsidering civilian-military relations?

It is important to understand that the military is an important institution. Its duty is to protect the nation, and that’s why it has weapons. But the military should not try to create political influence by depending on the power that comes from having weapons. Moreover, the military should be subordinate to the civilian authority. In addition, the civilian authority should be involved in dialogue with the military and should take military expertise seriously. The civilian government should consult with the military in matters of security and defense, but at the same time it should have the power to control all military spending. In addition to this, the military should accept that the last word rests with the civilian authority, and the military should believe in democracy. This is the essence of the matter. These are the European criteria. This is the framework which can involve different models. Although the military commanders continue to make declarations on public and political matters, Turkey is moving toward a regime with more political initiative and less direct military influence over politics.

What do you think the role of the opposition is in the process?

A consensus among the political parties on establishing a more democratic balance between secularism and Islam and between the Kurdish question and the unitary state would certainly increase the possibility of more democratic control over the military and its complete subordination to civilian authority.

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