60. The Turkish military's role in domestic politics
is very different from the position of the armed forces in member
states of the EU. The Turkish military is under civilian control
in name only. The chief of general staff reports not to the Minister
of Defence, as in other European countries, but to the Prime Minister.
The military, through the National Security Council (NSC), advises
the Government on matters not merely relating to national defence,
but also to large areas of domestic and foreign policy. Although
the NSC is technically speaking an advisory body, in practice
civilian politicians bear in mind the military's tendency to intervene
in domestic politics when its advice is not followed. Recent changes
to the composition and to the description of the role of the NSC,
in order to bring it in line with EU requirements that it have
a majority of civilian members and that it should have only an
advisory role, have not so far changed how it operates in practice.
61. In Istanbul we held a fascinating discussion
with Dr Gareth Jenkins, an expert on the role of the Turkish military
in domestic politics. He argued that the military did not actually
make policy, but rather set the parameters within which politicians
could act. In his view, the military is both committed to Atatürk's
policy of Europeanisation and uncertain that the changes demanded
of Turkish society by the Copenhagen political criteria are consistent
with protecting the Kemalist nature of the state. The paradox
for the military is that if it commits itself to Turkey's EU candidacy,
it must also commit itself to passing under civilian control.
62. There is little or no accountability as far as
the Turkish military is concerned. It is happy to advise the Government
on most areas of domestic and foreign policy, and it is happy
to make its views known to the press. What the military will not
do is discuss its role in domestic politics or its views on particular
policies at an official level. When we asked to meet a representative
of the armed forces during our visit to Turkey, we were told that
the armed forces would only meet their military counterparts from
abroadcounterparts, however, who in the case of European
countries have no equivalent role in domestic politics.
Human Rights Watch has recommended that "the EU should ask
that the [Turkish] government include the military in a discussion
of how the Copenhagen Criteria can be met without risking the
instability the military and nationalist politicians fear".
But to date, the military has been unwilling to hold such discussions.
63. The European Commission also seems unwilling
to countenance such contacts. Michael Leigh has told us:
"where we have nothing against, in principle,
informal contacts with, for example, civilian administrative staff
working on the National Security Council ..., given the decision-making
structure of the country and its own constitutional structures,
I think it is most appropriate for the Commission to have contacts
with the government, with the parliament, with the judiciary while
being aware of the context in which this democratic system is
We conclude that the military is a factor in domestic
politics which the Government and the EU cannot afford to ignore.
As the Turkish military is clearly not yet prepared to withdraw
from domestic politics, we recommend that the Government use what
contacts it has to encourage the military to engage in open debate
on the political reforms required of Turkey by the EU.