As the July 15-16 coup attempt in Turkey sputters to a halt, the triumphant forces of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan begin to ‘cleanse’ the Turkish military and any suspected sympathizers from the government. Already reports are coming in that around 1500 members of the Turkish military have been rounded up by pro-government forces and are expected to stand trial for treason.
This has been a dark day for Turkey. But the crisis was an inevitable consequence of President Erdogan’s Islamist ideology; his government playing fast and loose with dangerous, subterranean forces in Syria and Iraq; his hard line against Turkey’s Kurdish population and his willful alienation of the Turkish opposition and the secular urban elites, not to mention his periodic purging of the Turkish military.
And while Erdogan and his inner circle drawn from the AKP (Justice and Development Party) can breathe a collective sigh of relief, the underlying problems that precipitated this crisis will not be addressed. Vote rigging will continue to consolidate the AKP’s grip on power. The internal war against the Kurds will continue until Erdogan delivers his coup de grâce against them, which will force the Kurds to negotiate with Ankara from a position of political and social weakness. Strange and dangerous allies from Syria and Iraq will continue to be courted, heightening Turkey’s internal security vulnerability.
Strategically, this is a very bad situation for a country so critically important to European security. A NATO member should not be facing as many internal and external security crises.
Turkey, along with Greece, are the bulwarks of NATO’s eastern Mediterranean flank. Greece is broke and kept afloat by EU financial lifelines; Erdogan’s Turkey is surfing multiple social and political crises. Neither country is looking strong or secure enough to value add to NATO, leaving the southeast corner of Europe vulnerable. And we are not even talking about the European migration crisis. Both Turkey and Greece are major routes through which unregulated migrants find their way into the heart of the EU.
What we can say with certainty in the aftermath of the coup attempt is, that the Turkish military, long considered the guardians of Kemalist secularism, may never be fully under Erdogan’s control. This should be a major concern. With Turkish eyes firmly fixed on internal security, it is unlikely that the military could be called upon to defend the sanctity of Turkey’s borders against an external threat – something the power brokers in Moscow & Tehran are now keenly aware of.