This article deals with two topics: civil-military relations theoretically and Turkish case in terms of militarism. This article weas originally published in 2011 on GW Post.

Photo Credit Daniel-Cheung (Source: E- International Relations)

Militarism assumes and promotes the idea that difference involves incompatibility, brings competition and eventually produces mutual destruction. People do not have an inherent need to compete. But military culture encourages them to. Militarism is considered to be a habituated worldview that legitimizes and venerates organized violence as the means of obtaining political goals. Militarism is an ideology as well as a set of institutional arrangements and everyday practices that focuses on the continual mobilization of society to prepare for, support, and fight wars. Militarism blurs the boundaries between what can be defined as military and what can be viewed as part of civilian life.

Some Definitions of Militarism

A universal definition of militarism is difficult to be formulated due to the diversity of phenomena that emerge as a result of the military and its influence on state and society. In addition, context and historical experience have a fundamental impact on militarism, thereby complicating the defining process even more. For instance, militarism in industrialized countries is different from that in agrarian societies.

Militarism is a doctrine or system that values war and accords primacy in state and society to the armed forces. It exalts a function – the application of violence – and an institutional structure – the military establishment. It implies both a policy orientation and a power relationship. Thus, it could be said that violence and emphasis on military considerations are the main defining principles of militarism in liberal thinking.

Theoretical Framework of Civil-Military Relations

One of the control models wherein the military is subject to the civilians is the ‘traditional-aristocratic model’. In this model, military and civilian authorities are shared by the same aristocratic class and because of the high professionalism of the military the politicization of the military officers is not a point at issue.

In the ‘totalitarian model’, the military is in harmony with the political authority. The officers are rewarded because of their harmony with the political order. In Communist China and Soviet Union, this model was existent. Another model wherein the military keeps away from politics is the ‘liberal-democratic model’. In that model, the Army is totally distinct from the political authority, quite professionalized, subject to civilian rule and de-politicized.

In contrast to these models, in countries which lack powerful political institutions and adequate mechanisms for coping with social and financial problems, different typologies are witnessed. In these countries, the Army gets involved in economic, political and social situations as well as exercising political rule for a variety of length of time depending on the typology it belongs to.

The length of time of the military rule and the degrees and scopes of military restructuring in the existent order, determine the types of typologies.

The ‘Veto Regimes’ do not directly take over the political rule, but exercise some kind of veto authority upon decision-making processes. This type generally favors the status-quo wherein the civilian political institutions keep functioning under the shadow of the military.

Apart from that, the military can directly take over the political rule but with an intention of provisional ruling. In that type, called the ‘Guardian Regime’, the military officers argue that they have to clean the mess of the civilian politicians. The restriction of civil liberties is largely experienced in this type.

Lastly the ‘Dominating Regimes’ exercise much more influence than the previous types. The military chooses to exercise political rule for a long period of time. The officers see themselves as the radical modernizers and they control the media very strictly. In that type, most of the time, political parties, civil associations and trade unions etc are closed down.

The Politicization of Military Elites: Why and How |Do They Get Politicized?

  • Low degree of social cohesion indicates the lack of meaningful universal symbols that can bind the society together. The military may introduce some coherence by force.
  • Social polarization and non-consolidated middle class may cause the politicization of the Army.
  • Low level of political institutionalization and lack of sustained support for political structures paves the way for the politicization of the Army.
  • Weak and ineffective political parties also may lead to military interventions into the political scene.
  • Certain historical as well as socio-cultural indicators play a role in the emergence of military interventions (In Turkey: Nation in Arms or “Peygamber Ocağı”). This leads the civilians not to resist any military interventions. In a sense sometimes the legitimacy of the military interventions is not questioned.

Civil-Military Relations in Turkey: A Brief Overview[1]

With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Army started to place itself in every-day politics with administrative motives. Generally, there is a consensus on the political and institutional autonomy that the Army had, and on the fact that autonomy paves the way for democracy to become rather fragile. However, this autonomy has not been opposed a great deal. As a result, the democratic consolidation of Turkey cannot be fully realized. On the one hand, the military elites’ role in the modernization process, in the late Ottoman and early Republican era, is generally perceived as the principal cause of the military interventions, because the Turkish Army – as the sole actor in safeguarding the state from external and “internal” enemies – most of the time acts according to its historical role in building the nation-state. On the other hand, the Army is also seen as the only legitimate guarantor of Kemalist ideology.

Turkey had witnessed five military interventions so far. The latest two (The February 28 Process, 1997 and the e-memorandum in 2007) are still debated by some circles about whether they were a real “intervention”. The 1960 military coup was initiated against the Democrat Party rule which was accused of attacking the Kemalist principles and undermining democratic norms. The memorandum given to Demirel’s government in 1971 had once again seen the civilian elites as the only responsible actor for the chaos and social uprisings of the time. The 1980 military coup was a very well organized coup and three years had passed until the Army gave the political authority back to the politicians.

Unlike its predecessors, the military intervention in 1997 made Turkey witness some kind of cooperation between the TAF and the non-governmental organizations (“civil” society organizations).These organizations played a crucial role in justifying the military’s intervention into politics. The protest march of the “Kemalist” academics of Istanbul University against anti-secular forces, and the visit of some of the women’s associations to Anıtkabir helped the military look like it had a right to intervene in the political sphere.

The claim that the secular character of the regime had been under a serious threat in that process, made Turkey experience many unfair operations towards religious people. At this juncture, the role of the mainstream Turkish media was undisputedly dominant in making the Islamic identities of the religious people seem as a source of internal security issue. In that period, important steps were taken in order to eliminate the religion-oriented elements from the public sphere. In combating the so-called “Islamic threat” within the Army, a body named the Western Working Group was established. That body was targeting “İrtica”, because it was claimed that, political Islam was as dangerous as terrorism.

Other than the historical-cultural context from which the military’s political power arises, legal/constitutional and institutional reasons as well as mechanisms help the military retain its privileged position in the political system too. One of the legal mechanisms is the Internal Service Code of the TAF. This code[2] which was enacted firstly in 1935 stated under the title of ‘General Duties’ that “The duty of the Turkish Armed Forces is to defend the Turkish Homeland and the Turkish Republic as defined by the Constitution, against any ‘internal’ and external enemies.” Moreover, according to the 1982 Constitution, the Turkish Republic is, among other things, a secular republic. Article 85 of the Internal Service Code of the TAF stipulates that the “Turkish Armed Forces shall defend the country if necessary by force.”

The Concept of “Internal Enemy” or an Attempt to Justify the Role of the Military in Politics?

From the very beginning of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish Army has been following the rhetoric of “internal enemy” in order to enhance its position in the political life. To give an example, in the nation-building process and in the late Ottoman period, the reactionary forces which opposed the modernization movement and Kemalist revolutions were labeled as “internal enemies” against the solidarity of the nation-state and continuity of the Kemalist reforms. In addition to that, external enemies can be seen as functional because they keep the nation’s solidarity intact against a common threat.

In retrospect, the main rhetoric of the military’s “internal enemy” concept has been evident in two fields: One is in the political realm namely the political Islam or the threat of “İrtica”, the other is found in ethnic issues while it also has some political traits like the Kurdish nationalism, namely the case of PKK.

Another important point that needs to be considered is that, the military holds the monopoly of defining the concept of “enemy” and determining the initiatives needed to cope with that “enemy”. Certain ethnic groups, certain religious groups, certain political currents that have never been associated with violence or institutions such as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, and so on, were labeled as “internal sources of threat” and were kept under constant surveillance and pressure.

Civil-Military Relations in 2000s: Challenges and Prospects

Over the past decade, Turkey has witnessed a relatively good deal of democratization within its political system in general and within the context of civil-military relations in particular. From the mid-1990s up to early 2000s, on the one hand, the Turkish Army placed far greater emphasis on its role as guardian of the basic principles of the Turkish state. On the other hand, the European Union (EU) has been prescribing a package of political preconditions that must be fulfilled if Turkey is to gain full membership to the EU. As a part of the accession process, the European Commission has been assessing Turkey’s progress based on the fulfillment of the political criteria set out in the Copenhagen European Council meeting of 1993.

A significant step about the democratization of civil-military relations was taken in the late 1990s when military judges were removed from the state security courts. In October 2001, the number of the civilian members in the NSC was increased. At the same time the requirement that the Council of Ministers give “priority consideration” to the recommendations of the NSC was removed and replaced by an obligation that the Council be merely “notified” by them. More extensive reforms came in 2003. The requirement that the secretary general of the NSC be a serving member of the military was abolished.

The military’s prominent role in Turkey’s political affairs has been under scrutiny by the EU, and the integration to EU needs a strict separation between civil and military authorities. Hence, further democratization of the Turkish political system is needed. However, still the Army acts as if the political elites are subjected to it. The Army uses indirect and/or informal mechanisms to exercise superiority over civilians. One example of this is the e-memorandum that occurred in 2007. However, in the last decade an important degree of civilianization of the regime has been experienced.


Cizre, Ümit. 2004. “Problems of Democratic Governance of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey and the European union Enlargement Zone” European Journal of Political Research 43, pp. 107-125.

Ergil, Doğu, “Defining the Enemy Within: Limits of Peace and Democracy” Today’s Zaman, November 24, 2010.

Ergil, Doğu, Today’s Zaman, March 7, 2010.

Janowitz, Morris, 1960. The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait. Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press

Jenkins, Gareth. 2001. Context and Circumstance: The Turkish Military and Politics (Adelphi Paper 337) London: International Institute For Strategic Studies

[1] This part is prepared depending on my paper called “The Role of the Military in Turkish Politics: To Guard Whom and from What?”, EJEPS, Summer 2011.

[2] Article 35 of this code embodies the notion of “internal enemy” and legitimizes the basis for military interventions into politics.

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