The post-2016 coup measures taken by Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could lead to another coup, according to a recently published RAND report.
The report—entitled “Turkey’s National Course: Implications for the US-Turkish Strategic Partnership and the US Army”— by the US think tank argues that the Turkish military’s “discontent could even lead to another coup attempt at some point, and Erdogan appears to take the threat seriously.”
“Public trust in the military, previously seen as the guardian of order and the secular state, eroded but has been restored somewhat following the success of the TSK’s [Turkish army] operations in 2018 against Kurdish forces in Syria’s Afrin province,” the report said.
The reasons, according to RAND, are many. Firstly, Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) “have systematically strengthened civilian authority” over the army since 2008 by interfering in the promotion and selection process, “overseeing purges” of army personnel and increasing legal authorities for command and control.
“Reforms implemented since the 2016 coup attempt and constitutional changes approved in 2017 further reinforced presidential and civilian control over the Turkish Armed Forces, muddied the chain of command, increased interservice rivalry, and led to a politicization of the officer corps. Parliamentary oversight of the military budget and posture has diminished under the constitutional changes.”
The aim for Erdogan is pushing the military to focus on the Syria campaign, fighting terrorism and “rooting out Gülenists,” argues the report.
Secondly, since December 2018, 46 percent of Turkey’s general and flag officers in the army, navy and air force “have either been cashiered or involuntarily retired.”
“As of December 2018, 15,154 members of the TSK, including 7,595 officers (about 23 percent of early 2016 totals), had been dismissed, and another 1,386 personnel were purged by April 2019. The government has plans to recruit about 43,000 new personnel to fill its depleted ranks and reform all levels of professional military education, with the goals of breaking down the TSK’s insular culture as guardians of secularism and ensuring that more-diverse recruits are being enlisted,” reads the report.
The think tank notes that these reforms have had an impact on the army strategic and tactical capacity, readiness and morale, which might slow its transformation efforts.
“Middle level officers are reported to be extremely frustrated with the military leadership and concerned about being removed in the continuing post-coup purges,” the report warns.