Courtesy Reuters

The Turkish Military's March Toward Europe


Turkey's accession to the European Union has long been an issue of great debate. Some have questioned the EU's willingness to welcome such a large, poor, and culturally distant country as a member; others have wondered whether Turkey can transform itself enough to meet the EU's demands. Yet much of this talk has overlooked the Turkish army, even though it is a key player in the process thanks to its critical role in founding modern Turkey, its continued popularity within Turkish society, and its uniquely powerful voice in politics. None of the reforms the EU still requires of the Turkish government can be achieved without the military's backing.

Recent changes have already dramatically curbed the power of the Turkish military in several of its traditional areas of influence and reduced its long-standing authority in some civilian institutions. Not all of these adjustments have been greeted with open arms, but the Turkish General Staff (TGS) has largely complied with the EU's demands even though doing so has forced it to let go of power it had felt necessary to build up and carefully guard for decades. The explanation for this sacrifice is twofold. Turkey's generals have adapted because they see EU membership as the final stage of a modernization process they have supported for nearly a century. They also believe that the process leading to EU membership is the best means to confront key domestic challenges with which they have long struggled, such as Islamism and Kurdish separatism. So far, the deal has been worth their while. But with the EU's decision in October to begin membership negotiations with Ankara, the need for reform, especially regarding the military's policies on Kurdish secessionism and the status of Cyprus, will only intensify. And it remains to be seen how much further the Turkish military leadership will be willing to retreat.


The Turkish armed forces have an unusual relationship with both the country's civilian leadership and Turkish

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