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Turkey: 'Unique' Army Complicates EU Membership Bid

(RFE/RL) The continued influence enjoyed by the army in Turkish society and politics will soon become an issue that could hamper the country's movement toward EU membership. This is the main implication of a report discussed at an academic seminar in Brussels today.

BRUSSELS, March 31, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The conventional view in Turkey is that the country's army has been a bulwark of Westernization and democracy. The army has intervened in politics, but never questioned democracy -- only politicians.

For the EU, however, there is only one way a country that aspires for membership can organize the relationship between its government and the army. The country's civilian government must be in full, undisputed control of its military, with the army at the receiving end of a strictly one-way chain of command.

That the Turkish government and military do not appear to fully appreciate the seriousness of the EU's views on the matter is the main conclusion of a report drawn up by the Dutch-based Center for European Security Studies.

Presenting the report in Brussels, its author, David Greenwood, said that in December 2004, when an EU summit approved entry talks with Turkey, it had also found the military's powers unacceptable.

"The EU said that while Turkey was clearly en route to alignment with European policy and practice, the Turkish high command continues to enjoy greater authority and greater autonomy in security matters than is normal in EU member states; and the extent of legislative oversight and wider democratic oversight of the military in Turkey remains inadequate," he said.

Greenwood said he has observed a tendency toward complacency among the Turkish military in the wake of that decision, which was reaffirmed by the opening of talks in October last year.

Guarding the State From The Politicians

The army in Turkey enjoys the status of the guardian of a unitary and secular state. It has thwarted attempts by Islamic radicals to assume power. Many in Turkey argue that the revival of the Kurdish insurgency in the southeast and neighboring Iraq's slide towards civil war mean the army must not be weakened.

Greenwood noted that Turkish and EU interpretations of recent reforms differ, too. When Turkey made the army's chief of staff answerable to the prime minister, Ankara argued this gave the head of government direct political control over the army. The EU sees privileged access for the chief of staff to the highest level of civilian government, bypassing the defense minister.

Turkey made its National Security Council, which provided the interface for the military to influence government policy, an advisory body. The EU feels the military's unofficial influence over security policy and spending remains strong.

Greenwood said his contacts with the Turkish military leader suggest the army's future intervention in politics "appears highly unlikely." However, he noted, the EU is not convinced.

"In the European Union [...] the history is, we felt, read rather differently," he said. "And many across the [EU] believe that the Turkish high command remains able and might in certain circumstances be willing to contemplate intervention again in that sense is out of line with what is considered the norm across the EU.”

In the end, it is the EU's views that matter. However, Greenwood said, the EU has no formal blueprint for how civil-military relations should be shaped.

'Reform Fatigue'

Turkish officials have attempted to argue that the situation is unique to the country. That view appears to be shared by some of the country's academics.

Metin Heper, the dean of the economics faculty at the University of Bilkent in Ankara, argued that the Turkish army is unique in its dedication to modernization and democracy. He said the army has never questioned democracy and has always set its interventions a self-imposed deadline.

Ali Karaosmanoglu, chairman of the university's international relations department, noted that there is "reform fatigue" in the army and it must be given time before further changes.

"This is particularly important for several reasons," Karaosmanoglu said. "First, previous reforms in civil-military relations have been successful thanks to a continuous and effective dialogue between the government and the DGS, this dialogue should be maintained without interruption. This is important for the success of the coming reforms."

This is an issue that exposed deep and visceral divisions between Turkish and European attitudes.

Greenwood sharply criticized what he described as widespread "deference" among Turkish lawmakers and society at large to the army.

"One of the important messages, I think, is that in the European Union when a voice says, 'But the military have accepted this,' the answer comes, 'And so they damn well should!' The military have acquiesced in this? Well of course they have -- because they are servants of the state, they are subject to overall civilian executive direction," he said.

Greenwood went on to say that the very use of such deferential language, often used by what he called "distinguished Turkish voices," signifies that crucial EU values have yet to be fully understood in Turkey.

EU Expands Eastward

EU Expands Eastward

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