Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Closing the Channels of the Military’s Economic Influence in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
April 24, 2014

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here as part of the Middle East Institute’s Middle East-Asia Project on civilianizing the state. 

Since the patterns of civil-military relations in Turkey began to change a decade ago, analysts have focused on the modalities and the durability of civilian control of the armed forces, the consequences of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases on the cohesion of the armed forces, and how the transformation of the officer corps’ historic relationship with the political system has affected the capabilities of the armed forces. Observers have given significantly less attention to the military’s role in the economy. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the military has deployed its power in this area through indirect means. First, during relatively brief periods of military rule, the officers influenced economic policy without dictating the details of policymaking. Second, the military’s pension fund invests its members’ funds in the economy. Finally, until the mid-1980s, the senior command exercised control over the military procurement process through various military foundations. Over time, however, the military’s ability to shape economic policies has changed and the officers’ role in the economy has become normalized.

The economic interests of Turkish officers have always been different in degree and kind from their counterparts in, for example, Egypt and Algeria, where the configuration of power has favored autonomous military establishments. The instances in which Turkish commanders have engaged in corruption or used their status to extract rent from state-owned or private enterprises are few. Unlike the Egyptian military, in particular, the Turkish military has not become a major player in the economy through either direct control of firms or, as is increasingly the case, the blurring of the military and private sectors.

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