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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Democracy or Force: The Case of Turkey

The Turkish army removed four governments of Turkey in the period between 1960 and 1997. In the midst of political protests in June 2013, the government sought to insulate democracy from the force of a coup by amending army regulation #35 to restrict the army to “defending the Turkish nation against external threats and dangers.”[1] At least on paper, no longer would safeguarding the republic be the legal basis for enacting a coup. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan had already inserted civilian authority in the National Council, which had been dominated by the army. Actively marginalizing the military top officials, rather than relying on mere parchment may be necessary to stave off another coup in the future, given how easy it was for the Egyptian military to toppled an elected president in a few days in July 2013.

Democracy, it may be said, is feckless if it is to rely on parchment as a barrier to military force. Civilian control should go so far as to enter the military at the top. In Turkey, hundreds of high-ranking military officers had been put on trial for plotting a coup. For democracy to be protected, the civilian political officials should have the power to fire even the top generals; troops must see that the orders they are given ultimately come from civilians heading the military who have a political interest in the government in power.

In the case of Turkey, an additional safeguard for the democracy would be to become a state in the E.U. The Union would not permit the military in one of the states to take over that state government. More abstractly, the checks and balances in federalism itself could act as a deterrent to any army at the state level desiring to take over the state. Of course, that Turkey’s government feels the need to protect itself against a coup may be an indication that Turkey’s democracy is not yet sufficiently rooted for Turkey to meet the E.U.’s accession criteria.

In short, military coups rely on force, as in “might makes right.” To protect itself, democracy needs not only parchment power, but also the force of civilian officials even at the top of the military. To be sure, those officials do not themselves have the guns, so democracy is still tenuous without a solid rooting in the people. Even so, a coup need not be a case of force over parchment, since democracy can avail itself of force as well—what we may call legitimate force with democratic accountability.

See the video made to accompany this essay: http://youtu.be/_1yuvnOq5YE

See a related video on Syria: From Protest to War  http://youtu.be/NJm3ZaamhgA 

1.Sernem Arsu, “Turkish Lawmakers Move to Curb Army’s Political Power,” The New York Times, July 13, 2013.