The Magazine

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Don't hold your breath for Turkey to enter the European Union.

Nov 20, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 10 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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As if all these barriers to Turkish-European harmonization were not enough, there remains the enormous problem of the Turkish army. Turkey's armed forces are the sole survivor from an earlier era: They still act as guardian of the official national ideology, rooted in the militant secularism of Kemal Atatürk. Like the People's Liberation Army created by Mao Zedong, which attempted to gain power in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, and the former Yugoslav army, for which military professionalism was no bar to involvement in genocidal adventures, the Turkish army has repeatedly asserted the right to intervene in politics and to dismiss Turkey's elected leaders by coup. But while the Chinese army would not attempt such a thing today, and the Serbian remnant of the Yugoslav army no longer has the power to do so, the Turkish army still believes it can flex its muscles when it wishes.

The last ideological military establishment in Western Europe, that of ex-Francoist Spain, was definitively removed from any influence over political life a quarter century ago. But the Turkish army erupted into the civil realm as recently as 1997, when it forced the resignation of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. Erbakan was an Islamist precursor of Erdogan; but military pressure to remove him did not match the European pattern of democratic accountability. Unless Turkey follows Spain's example and completely separates its army from any direct use of political power, it cannot be considered for E.U. accession. In today's Turkey, separation of the army from the state is even more urgent than maintaining the wall between religion and the state. But how can this be accomplished peacefully? There is little indication the Turkish army will not lash back, once again, to keep its privileges.

Americans may have other objections to Turkish policies today, especially in the aftermath of Ankara's refusal to assist in the liberation of Iraq, and the subsequent explosion of anti-American propaganda in the country. But by contemporary European standards, neither the state Atatürk created, with its militaristic secularism, nor the state that threatens to succeed it, with narrow, militant Sunnism as its foundation, would be welcome. Turkey has profound choices to make, and soon--for the good of its citizens no less than for the satisfaction of Brussels bureaucrats, European politicians, and even its past, present, and future American friends.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.