How Turkey is reforming its military

Empowered to issue decrees with the “power of law” authorized by the state of emergency declared after the July 15 coup attempt, the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) government is frantically busy with changes that will radically affect the structure of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the civilian-military relations of the country. Judging from the pace and scope of the changes, this can well be characterized as “revolutionary civilian transformation.” The profound changes that have been introduced to the TSK with the decree issued July 31 include that from now on deputy prime ministers and the ministers of justice, interior and foreign affairs will participate in the Supreme Military Council (SMC), which decides on promotions of generals and other important issues in regard to the TSK. The role of civilians in the SMC used to be restricted to the prime minister and minister of defense.

Air, land and naval force commands that were attached to the Chief of General Staff will henceforth report to the minister of defense. The president and prime minister now have the authority to giving orders directly to commanders without going through the once all-powerful Chief of General Staff. Powers of the minister of defense have been expanded, and he can now select his ministry staff himself instead of having to make do with the staff appointed by the military.

All military high schools that had long histories and cherished traditions under the TSK command and control have been closed, and the military academies that used to train officers will be closed in two years to carry out the necessary reforms. A national defense university will be established within the Ministry of Defense to meet the officer requirements of the TSK.

All factories, industrial facilities and shipyards that used to be under TSK control will now be part of the Ministry of Defense. All military hospitals and the Gulhane Military Medical Academy in Ankara that educates military doctors have been turned over to the Ministry of Health.

The gendarmerie command and coast guard command that used to be controlled by the TSK for their personnel, training and procurements are now fully part of the Ministry of Interior.

According to officials close to the AKP, the Turkish military has lost its privileges and superiority over civilians since July 15. The coup attempt has revealed the weakness of the military and its inability to prevent infiltration by those connected to FETO.

Following the coup attempt, the elected officials enjoy unprecedented popular public support to put everything in order as they see fit.

There are three major risk areas that have to be kept in mind when promoting these reforms. First, there is currently no mechanism that could play the role of a mediator if problems arise between the presidency/government and the military. Parliamentary commissions to be set up could assume this function but at the moment the government is not willing to go in that direction nor does a capacity exist in the parliament that could provide advice in defense-security affairs.

In a nutshell, on the night of July 15, the belief that in Turkey “the military is superior, more rational and more patriotic to those elected” has been severely crippled. Previously, the deeply rooted paradigm that counted on professionalism of the military in their relations with civilians offered ample autonomy and privileges to soldiers, without allowing civilians to intervene. Not anymore. With the new paradigm, elected officials and the public are trying to develop a mechanism of tight supervision of the military to erase the distinctions between the military and civilians.

Full article: How Turkey is reforming its military (Al-Monitor)

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