In a report published last month by Professor Fuat Keyman and Metin Gurcan from the Istanbul Policy Centre at Sabanci University,
effects of the failed coupe attempt of 15th of July last year are analyzed and recommendations presented to the Turkish Armed Forces. Here is the Executive Summary:
The July 15, 2016 coup attempt was without any question an outrageous, shocking, and unacceptable event. It will be remembered in Turkish political history as one of the darkest, bloodiest, and most vicious attacks on not only the Turkish state and government but also Turkish society at large.
The way in which it was organized and implemented implies that the event simultaneously involved:
- a coup attempt aiming to bring down the government and take over the state and the government of Turkey;
- the occupation-invasion of key state institutions in order to create a “parallel state” to control the mode of governance of Turkey; and
- a terror attack targeting and killing civilians with disproportionate military power and seeking extrajudicial execution of the elected civilian elites.
In this sense, the July 15 coup attempt differs from the previous military coups and ultimatums in the history of parliamentary Democracy in Turkey. It was organized as a coup-invasion-terror attacking the Turkish state, the elected government, and Turkish society as a whole.
The July 15 coup attempt was initiated within a risky and challenging environment in terms of the ongoing and unprecedented security challenges to the Turkish state and society.
- The July 15 coup attempt occurred at a time when Turkey was fighting an urban/ditch war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at home; actively involved in the war against the Islamic State (DAESH) on its borders; and experiencing the fall- out from the failed state problems in syria and Iraq, leading to the rise of mass refugee mobility within its borders as Turkey now hosts approximately 3.2 million syrian refugees.
- In contrast to previous military interventions, the July 15 coup attempt differs from the previous coups in so far as it was initiated at a time when the Turkish state and society had been going through existential threats to its security and territorial integrity.
The July 15 coup failed mainly because of the reaction and resistance from Turkish society at large.
- Turkish society in its cultural, political, economic, and identity-based diversity united against the coup attempt.
- The Turkish people, political parties, media, and civil society stood strongly against the coup, and the Turkish people in their resistance gave the message that they protect Democracy.
It is in this sense that the July 15 coup was also different from the previous ones.
There are crucial lessons that need to be taken from the July 15 coup attempt.
- Despite its failure because of strong societal resistance and citizens’ proven preference for Democracy, the coup attempt indicated that the Turkish state has been weak and fragile in its bureaucratic and administrative structure—so weak and fragile that an organization outside the state can create a parallel state and bureaucratic structures within the existing state. That is why FETÖ (the Gülenist Terror Organization) is considered an organization that has established a parallel state. This has happened mainly in the critical areas of state bureaucracy, the military, judiciary, and education. In this sense, what was experienced on July 15 was that the Turkish state—despite ongoing calls to continue the strong state tradition in Turkey—was in fact weak, both in terms of protecting itself vis-à-vis outside invasions and also in producing effective and efficient responses to social and political problems. This means that in order to ward off future coups, it is necessary to make the strong state a reality rather than just rhetoric.
- The main lesson to be taken from the night of July 15 is that it is imperative to build an effective, efficient, and democratic state through its institution- al structure. Thus, the transformation and reinstitutionalization of the Turkish state and its main bureaucratic institutions is absolutely necessary. Such reforms are designed to make the state strong not only in rhetoric but also in reality. As will be elaborated in the report, the effective, efficient, and strong state bureaucracy and administration in reality can be achieved through three principles that need to be implemented simultaneously:
- The state should be secular in its organization and operation.
- The secular state needs to be based on the principle of merit in terms of internal appointments and promotions. Meritocracy should be strengthened through good governance and the establishment of communication, collaboration, and efficiency in and between state bureaucratic organizations.
- The loyalty of the state bureaucracy should be to the public good of Turkey and Turkish citizens, effective governance, inclusive institutions, and equal citizenship.
One of the areas in state bureaucracy that’s secular, effective, and efficient reorganization is of the upmost importance is the Turkish military. The transformation of the state should go hand-in-hand with that of the Turkish military. This is essential not only because the Turkish military and civil-military relations need to be restructured in order to resist further coup attempts but also because it is necessary to strengthen Turkey in a time when there are fundamental security risks and challenges confronting Turkey’s territorial integrity and national unity.
FETÖ’s incremental yet decisive hijacking of the military judicial system, appointment/promotion system, staff officer system, military intelligence and health system, and the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) transformation efforts—which are traditionally kept as “autonomous/privileged areas” outside of civilian and democratic monitoring and oversight—are among the major factors leading to the July 15 coup attempt. For this reason, it is necessary to continue with the military reforms and soul searching for a model fitting for the post-July 15 requirements of Turkish Civil-Military Relations (CMR) and the TSK’s institutional transformation. Such a model seeks to achieve an all-too-important golden balance between democratic and civilian control, operational effectiveness (the capacity to implement the policies formulated by the civilian elites), and efficiency (the achievement of the maximum output with the minimum inputs). At the end of the day, a half-baked reform process would deepen the power struggles within the military and erode the military’s three founding pillars, which are as follows:
- professional ethos, a framework of values, norms, and rituals;
- discipline, a sense of unity, devotion, responsibility, and common interest;
- cohesion and esprit de corps, shared values among the officer corps constituting the military elites.
For this reason, it is important that the TSK does not return to the pre-July 15 status quo and that the “reformist spirit” is renewed in the TSK. There are still reform opportunities in CMR after July 15. However, the biggest risk in this initiative is that conversion will not take place. Being stuck in limbo between the old status quo and the new will be the biggest challenge to the organizational culture and operational effectiveness of the TSK.
It seems that the basic transformation model that has defined CMR since July 15 is “monopolistic civilianization” aimed at creating an army-society harmony by anchoring the army to civil society under the absolute control of the presidency. This extreme civilianization is designed to fill all existing civil-military gaps.
On the other hand, the collective formations and reforms continuing after July 15 have increased uncertainty within the TSK and created a discourse of a return to the “old status quo.” The main power struggles within the TSK in the post-15 July period are in terms of the military elites’ stances regarding military change. This is driven by the following actors, each viewing military reform through a specific lens:
- symbionts, the military elites who have a parasitic and mutualistic relationship with the TSK;
- pragmatists, the military elites who only think of their careers and have a pragmatic relationship with the military;
- reformists, the military elites who are not pleased with the current situation and who want to see the TSK turn into “something” else.
Furthermore, reformists can also be split into a number of sub- groups. The politically oriented “originalist reformists” are those looking for a return to the traditional structure of the TSK before July 15 with a retrospective outlook; in contrast, the technically oriented “progressive reformists” think that the TSK must move forward with a progressive outlook.
The rapid strengthening of the institutional agency of the popularly elected president within the Turkish security architecture and the direct and full attachment of the Land Force (Army), the Air Force, and the Navy (service commands) to the Ministry of Defense has led to the weakening of the institutional agency of the Turkish General Staff. This weakening has also resulted in the transformation of the Turkish military’s organizational identity from a monolithic identity to a polylithic identity that must then also contend with the competing micro identities of the military elites in the following domains: the service commands’ positions on military transformation, political orientation, and differences between senior and junior military elites. The power distributional effect of this transition from a monolithic institutional identity to a polylithic one raises questions concerning the operational effectiveness of the post-July 15 TSK.
Fifteen months after July 15, the new structure of the Ministry of Defense, which should act as the “locomotive” of the TSK’s institutional transformation, was not sufficiently strengthened. In addition, the ongoing difficulties in negotiating personnel management policies, military intelligence, operational tasks, logistics, the draft system, professional military education system, and budgeting/ procurement between the Ministry of Defense and the Turkish General Staff since July 15, as well as the question of how to most effectively and efficiently foster “joint- ness,” or Army-Air Force-Navy integration, between the service commands, are among the most important areas of institutional friction in the TSK. Attempts to preserve the existing privileges of the Land Force Command in the TSK and counter attempts by the Naval and Air Force Commands to destroy these privileges have resulted in a fierce competition over which command will become the dominant force within the TSK.
This study identifies the inadequacies in civil-military integration. The TSK’s current transformation efforts, which have been projected since the end of the 1990s, are about 20 years old and therefore cannot be unilaterally realized by any two parties.
The following areas are the greatest challenges for the TSK’s post-July 15 institutional transformation:
- “Jointness” and civil-military integration in the TSK,
- Professional Military Education System,
- Religion/Secularism in the military. On the other hand, how the Ministry of Defense will build civilian capacity for effective management of the service commands is yet to be seen. Determining the status of the Turkish General Staff (TGS) in the post- July 15 setting and its institutional relationship with the presidential office, the Ministry of Defense, and the service commands will help define its new role/mission as new security architects emerge. In particular, this
report examines potential roles for the office of the TGS in the post-July 15 Turkish security sector. Three potential roles for the office of the General Staff are imagined as follows:
- Direct attachment of the TGS to the office of the presidency while preserving its current capacity/ organizational structure enabling it to maintain its full control of the service commands’ operational capabilities,
- Creation of a “hybrid model” merging the Ministry of Defense and the TGS for the management of service commands’ operational capabilities,
- Direct attachment of the TGS to the office of the presidency while transferring its current capacity/organizational structure to the Ministry of Defense; the TGS will transform into a mere “coordinator-agent” with a symbolic status in the new security architecture.
One should also note that the lack of a clear division of labor between the Ministry of Defense and the TGS has led to a number of institutional overlaps, which have hindered the effectiveness and efficiency of the TSK. This duplication of duties can be remedied through the following means:
- Personnel management, military operations, military intelligence, logistics management, and Combat Electronic/Information Systems (MEBS) should be shared between the Ministry of Defense and the Chief of General Staff.
- The ongoing institutional uncertainty between the Ministry and the TGS concerning strategic issues, such as the management/coordination of “jointness” and civil-military integration, should be solved, and it should be decided whether the Ministry or the TGS should control the strategic vision of military reforms.
It should be decided whether the Ministry of Defense or the TGS will coordinate/control the curriculum of the professional military education system and which actor will be responsible for the future design and strategic planning of officership as a profession. Last but not least, this report suggests that it would be beneficial to establish a “fusion center” that can provide more coordination and informed support between the Ministry of Defense and the TGS. This could be the very first step for the merging of the Ministry of Defense and the TGS in the coming years.