International Journal of Constitutional Law & Center for Constitutional Transitions

The Turkish “model” of civil–military relations

By Ozan Varol

As Egypt underwent a tumultuous military-led transition from autocracy to democracy beginning in 2011, a chorus of commentators advocated a “Turkish model” for civil–military relations in Egypt’s nascent democracy. That term is frequently invoked in both popular and academic discourse, but rarely defined. This article takes up the task of giving content to that elusive phrase. It begins by analyzing the composition, structure, and ob jectives of the Turkish military beginning with the Ottoman Empire. It then turns to May 1960, when the Turkish military staged its first direct intervention in republican politics by toppling an authoritarian government and installing democratically elected leaders after seventeen months of interim military rule.The article shows that the military played a crucial role in Turkish modernization and democratization during the coup and in its immediate aftermath—a role that has been largely obscured by the current portrayal of the Turkish military as a hegemonic and repressive institution. The article then explores why, following its initial democratization role after the 1960 coup, the military failed to retreat to the barracks and began to present impediments to democracy. It argues that the plethora of counter-majoritarian institutions established in the 1961 Constitution, drafted under military supervision following the 1960 coup, sparked frequent power vacuums in Turkey, prompting the military to stage political interventions to ensure stability. It further argues that the military’s focus on domestic policy matters with its institutionalization in the National Security Council in the 1961 Constitution ensnared the military in domestic disputes, providing an impetus for the military to stage further interventions. The article then explains the recent exodus of the Turkish military from politics with the ascension to power of stable civilian governments and Turkey’s accession process to the European Union. It concludes by offering observations and lessons for other nations seeking to normalize their civil–military relations.

This paper is available for download here with a subscription or paid access.

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About the Special Issue

Symposium – Constitutional Transitions in the Middle East

In March 2012, Constitutional Transitions held a symposium on the constitutional reformation of the Middle East and North Africa region in the wake of the Arab Spring. The papers presented at the symposium are collected in this special edition of the International Journal of Constitutional Law (I•CON), with an introduction by Constitutional Transitions Faculty Director Sujit Choudhry. For more information and videos from the 2012 symposium, click here.

Constitutional Transitions generates and mobilizes knowledge in support of constitution building. Constitutional Transitions generates knowledge by identifying issues of critical importance to the success of constitutional transitions, where a lack of adequate, up-to-date research impedes the effectiveness of technical assistance for constitution building, and assembles and leads international networks of experts to complete thematic research projects that offer evidence-based policy options to practitioners. Constitutional Transitions mobilizes knowledge through an innovative clinical program that provides “back office” research support to constitutional advisors in the field, and deploys faculty experts and field researchers for support on the ground. We meet existing field missions’ needs for comprehensive research, dramatically enhancing their effectiveness and efficiency in their role as policy advisors and actors.

The International Journal of Constitutional Law (I•CON) is published in association with the New York University School of Law, and is dedicated to international and comparative constitutional law. I•CON has international editorial and advisory boards and an international focus. It examines an array of theoretical and practical issues and offers critical analysis of current issues and debates. In addition, I•CON looks at global trends that carry constitutional implications. It features scholarly articles by international legal scholars, judges, and people from related fields, such as economics, philosophy, and political science.