Saturday, July 30, 2011

Holy Crisis in Civil-Military Relations

Over the past few months, I have pondered about crises in civil-military relations in Canada and the UK, but events yesterday in Turkey put all of that into perspective:
In the surprising series of events, Turkey’s top commander, Gen. Isik Kosaner, together with the leaders of the navy, army and air force, simultaneously resigned in protest over the sweeping arrests of dozens of generals as suspects in conspiracy investigations that many people in Turkey have come to see as a witch hunt.
The resignations were accepted and the head of the military police was made head of the entire military.  This is very striking as the Turkish military used to be but is clearly no longer a major force in the political system.
But the Turkish political system has gone through profound changes in recent years, and many analysts argued that resigning was the only weapon left in the military’s arsenal. Few people interviewed on Friday thought that a coup was likely, both because Turkey’s democracy now has deep roots and because the military appeared diminished. “Besides this one act, the military doesn’t really have that much left in the tank,” said Steven Cook, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Mr. Cook argued that the resignations also said a great deal about Turkey as a democracy, because its citizens — even those who dislike Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly powerful Justice and Development Party — were no longer willing to accept military rule.
 In a pretty short time, the military has moved from being a legitimate player in the political system, with its willingness to take over seen as normal, to a situation where they accept, even reluctantly, a very intensive investigation and where resignations are the only, ahem, bullet, they have.  The resignations were essentially an attempt to push Erdogan into a corner but he pushed back, demonstrating civilian supremacy.

People may ponder whether an Islamist based party should have this much power, but civilian supremacy over the military is a basic yet often overlooked element of democracy. 
“This was their last resort,” Ms. Aydintasbas said of the resignations. “It is happening precisely because there is no likelihood of a coup. There is nothing else for them to do.
While these events create heaps  of headlines and some uncertainty, I am pretty sure, despite my general ignorance about Turkish politics, that the inability to threaten a coup is a good thing.  It has been an interesting time in Turkey's extended neighborhood, with the Turkish model being seen as a possible future alternative for Egypt.  Tis model has evolved into a more stable democratic endpoint, which might be a very good thing for the region.

No comments: