Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Democratic Governance and Reform of the Security Sector: the Experience of Turkey by Umit Cizre


Professor Ümit Cizre

Department of Political Science

Bilkent University

Ankara Turkey


Fax: + 90 312 290 27 42

Phone: + 90 312 266 48 71

Paper originally presented at “Security Sector Reform in the Arab World” between 7- 8 July 2006 in Beirut organized by The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS) and Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS)

This paper is organized in three sections: following a conceptual overview of the “democratic governance” of the Security Sector, the study moves onto the next section where it explains why the civil-military balance and national security policy making are the dominant foci of democratic governance in Turkey in general, and as the primary orientation of Security Sector Reform (SSR) in particular. In the last part, the paper will analyze briefly the challenges and problems in the sector and the approaches used to address them by democratic reforms. The study aims to contribute to building up theoretically informed empirical case studies of democratic governance and reform of the Security Sector (henceforth SS) at international and regional level.


In identifying the characteristics of “democratic governance” of the SS, this study accepts five foundational principles which are endorsed in the Concept Paper adopted by the European Council on 24 May 2006 in its Brussels meeting. This paper lays down the principles, norms and the relevant policy frameworks of the SSR which the European Commission supports. The EU is engaged in SS related governance problems in over 70 countries which are situated in quite diverse regions and political systems ranging from relative stable environments to those undergoing transition and democratization, from immediate post-conflict to longer-term post-conflict societies, and from peace-building to reconstruction processes.

The first key concern in the democratic governance of security sector is to achieve a new sensibility within the security institutions towards the protection of the lives, property, and political, economic and social rights of citizenry while maintaining effective policy responses to new security threats. In the Concept paper, human security is defined as “freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to take action on one’s behalf.” The EC’s Concept Paper provides perhaps one of the most succinct expressions of the rationale of the democratic accountability of security organizations regarding human security: “The State has to be able to protect citizens from the threats of insecurity, including violent conflict and terrorism, while protecting rights and institutions from being undermined by these threats.” The former is the classic function of the state, whereas the latter makes sense in a political environment which operates in accordance with democratic norms and sound principles of democratic governance.

Secondly, there is another dimension of democratic governance as set up in the Concept Paper: it is defined not just privileging effectiveness in the sector by building military statecraft and police forces to fight against crime, prevent violence and protect citizens but promoting functional efficiency via building “good governance, democratic norms, the rule of law and the respect and promotion of human rights, in line with internationally agreed norms.” Security sector reform is defined as a nationally/regionally owned process designed to strengthen good governance, democratic norms, the rule of law and respect for a rights-based regime encompassing “all state institutions and other entities with a role in ensuring the security of the state and its people.” The Concept Paper reflects the growing consensus that democratic accountability of the sector and its effectiveness actually reinforce one another.

The third key concern is about the integrated nature of the reform in the sector: both the “security providing “ as well as “overseeing” organs themselves must be improved in fulfilling their respective functions of providing and governing security. This element is candidly expressed in the Concept Paper: “SSR concerns reform of both the bodies which provide security to citizens and state institutions responsible for management and oversight of these bodies. Thus SSR goes beyond the notion of effectiveness of individual services (including the military, the police and justice institutions, etc.) and instead focuses on the overall functioning of the security system as part of a governance reform policy and strategy of the public sector. In other words, SSR should be seen as a holistic process, strengthening security for all citizens as well as addressing the governance deficits of the parliaments and governments. This is to ensure that the security sector is not placed or treated outside the overall public sector, but seen as an integral but balanced part of public resource allocations and the institutional framework of the state. The prevailing understanding of the security sector reform is therefore based on the premise that SSR “may not be achievable and are certainly unsustainable unless effectively integrated within a governance reform program that at the very least addresses weaknesses in the democratic process.” The EU’s democratic reform criteria in the sector for the candidate countries reflects this.

Fourthly, security sector’s governance is not just about establishing oversight by “elected” bodies over security agencies; it is also about addressing weaknesses in the whole overseeing process by bringing in extra-parliamentary civilian centers, media, civil society and other non-state structures of governance to monitor the system. Contemporary concept of “democratic accountability” transcends the bureaucratic mechanisms of formal parliamentary and executive oversight of the security organs. As a result, managers of security agencies are now required to adopt a more inclusive approach that promotes the participation of wider sectors of civil society in defence and security issues and policies so as to achieve a fuller transparency and accountability. The cardinal principle to remember is that civilian governance of the sector is not always democratic: non-democratic regimes achieve excellent governance over their security institutions too. But every democratic governance is civilian.

Finally, once it is accepted that the civilian democratic governance transcends the formal overseeing mechanisms of the national parliaments and governments, it follows that free access to relevant information on defence and security issues on the part of parliaments, civilian bureaucracy, media and civil society is essential in building up civilian capacity and expertise to be able to offer civilian strategic guidance in handling internal and external security; in clarifying roles and responsibilities of various agencies and in establishing mechanisms that can direct and supervise day-to-day operations. The European Commission’s 2005 Progress Report of 9 November 2005 on Turkey embodies this SSR perspective beyond doubt: “in addition to the reforms in the sector, it is important that the civilian authorities fully exercise their supervisory functions in practice. Further efforts are needed to raise awareness among elected members of parliament and to continue to build up the relevant expertise among civilians. The question of strengthening parliamentary oversight of defence expenditure has increasingly become a subject of interest for the media and civil society.”

With regard to the empowerment of civilians, there is a growing body of literature around the notion of “shared responsibility in civil-military relations” which creates a model of relationship in which civilian and military sides speak in the same vernacular and in the same political and technical terms. The theory of a shared relationship, however, raises the question of how civilian oversight of the armed forces can be achieved when they usually lack the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise to understand defence and security issues. Even in advanced western democracies, “asymmetry of knowledge” is a big problem in establishing national policy and budgetary frameworks of control by elected civilian authorities.

Finally, the democratic governance perspective includes “seperating tasks between different services and institutions” to establish unambigious principles for the division of functions within the sector, especially between civilian and military spheres. In this sense we need to emphasize that democratic governance of the SSR promotes partnership, cooperation and mutual benefit.


Ever since 1999 Helsinki Summit extended candidate status to Turkey, the possibility of EU accession has become the main catalyst for democratic reforms in the SS. The ‘political criteria’ inscribed in the Accession Partnership Document (drawn up by the EU in 2000 and most recently revised and adopted in January 2006) and the Annual Reports on Turkey’s progress towards integration with the EU have suggested the need for structural changes in the organization of civil-military relations so as to enhance democratic governance in line with the EU's standards. This meant that the emphasis of the SSR agenda in Turkey has been on the “political” role of the military rather than the broader changes in the entirety of the security sector. Despite the progress made to align Turkey’s laws with the EU and despite the fact that accession negotiations were opened on 3 October 3 2005, 2005 Progress Report published by the EU Commission on 9 November 2005 notes that “since 2002, Turkey has made good progress in reforming CMRS… but the armed forces continue to exercise significant political influence… and Turkey should work towards greater accountability and transparency in the conduct of security affairs in line with member states’ “best practices”.’ The latest Annual Report of 8 November 2006 notes that “overall, limited progress has been made in aligning civil-military relations with EU practices… the civilian authorities should fully exercise their supervisory functions in particular as regards the formulation of the national security strategy and its implementation, including with regard to relations with neighbouring countries.”

The key specificity of the Turkish system is indeed the “guardian role” of the Armed Forces which can be defined as the long-term capacity of the military to define and redefine the canons of the regime -secularism being the most important one; identify its corporate existence with it; and support a long-term political order of the kind it cherishes even from behind the curtains. National Security Council (NSC) is the body which sustains the guardian functions in the public policy arena. Before being removed or revised gradually by legislative reforms, the “State of Emergency”, “State Security Courts”, and “Article 312” of the Penal Code were, in the last decade, critical agents in consolidating the primacy of national security concerns over democracy.

The Turkish example can help show that in some specific contexts where the ultimate justification for the political predominance of an army rests on its “guardianship” role, this role can shape the overall distribution of power within the security sector. Moreover, regime’s threat perceptions and its institutional and policy environment may be constructed to reproduce insecurity, security and defence in such a way as to serve the guardian role of the military. Under these conditions, a democratic reform agenda may not achieve substantive changes in the sector unless it gives primacy to changing the underlying sources of power imbalance in the sector. Unless there is a fundamental alteration in the civil-military balance first, nothing much can be achieved within the realm of individual security system services. This suggests that democratization as a check-list of institutional reform is not by itself a guarentee of effective democratic alterations in the SS if it does not address power disequilibrium in the sector. Rather than the hypothesis that that the SSR can take place as a subset of wider political reform and democracy-deepening, in some contexts where the guardian function of the military is a fundamental basis for its legitimacy, wider democratization should be regarded as a byproduct of SSR.

Distribution of power between civilian and military agencies since the last decade shows that Turkey’s definition of security has been more in military than non-military terms. The preponderance of the military in the sector is also related to the absence of clear demarcations of duty in the sector. Increasing preoccupation with internal threats coming from radical Islam and separatism –as perceived by the establishment- combined with the expansion of a military-dominated national security to encompass all aspects of life in the 1990s has led to overlapping authority structures, lack of cooperation and interagency competition in the sector between the police and the military forces. This situation provided an environment conducive to a strong rivalry between the two forces. While, there is an ongoing effort to reform the structural and functional deficiencies of the police force in Turkey, the burning question has been the absence of separation of internal/domestic from external/national security. Contemporary democratic principles dictate that domestic security is the responsibility of police and the defense of the country that of the military, the Turkish military has nonetheless historically been deployed for internal security roles.

Since the last decade, the General Command of the Gendarmarie (GCG) has expanded its scope of duties and increased its operational efficiency through the inclusion of a traffic and aviation unit, a criminology system, and an internal security agency within itself. Although it is authorized to perform duties in rural areas, in reality it has expanded its operations to the cities where the actual jurisdiction lies with the police. In addition, the gendarmerie has a dual-authority structure: while it is responsible to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and its provincial representatives for its functions of keeping peace and order; it is integrated with the General Staff Headquarters for promotions, training and performance of its military duties in times of State of Emergency, Martial Law and War. In peaceful times too, however, it seems to operate under the authority of its own command structure rather than the civilian authorities.


Two approaches have been employed in a combined manner to frame Turkey’s efforts to introduce principles of more accountability and democratic oversight in the SS: indirect and direct approaches. The indirect approach considers the problems in the management of SS as products of the absence of conditions for a broader democratic context and strives to democratize the entirety of the political system via legal and constitutional reforms. On the other hand, from 1998 onwards, specific annual reports published on Ankara’s accession progress, and the “political criteria” of the Accession Partnership Document of 2000, have suggested the need for a direct approach so as to produce a deeper, paradigmatic shift, an alteration in the fundamental rules of the game in organizing civil-military relations to enhance democratic civilian governance.

Indirect Approach

The indirect approach can be said to have targeted the empowerment of the civil society while the direct approach the political society/class. As part of the indirect approach, Turkish governments have enacted legislation, including comprehensive constitutional amendments in October 2001, February 2002, August 2002 and June 2003 to expand fundamental rights and freedoms and bring Turkey into line with EU requirements. Changes addressed a number of categories: freedom of expression and other basic rights; broadcasting in the Kurdish language; abolition of capital punishment; narrowing crimes against the state; termination of the state of emergency; and establishing retrial rights for citizens whose court decisions are overturned by the European Court of Human Rights. The indirect approach embodies the concept that by correcting, for example, Turkey’s torture and human rights record and by narrowing crimes against the state, civil society’s engagement with and participation in shaping security policies and their implementations would be enhanced; security sector’s political accountability would be improved and the military institution’s political role would be curtailed.

Real experience shows a variation in the outcome of the indirect approach: increasing political influence of civil society and broader democratization have reduced the autonomy of the security agencies and led to the removal of military from the centers of power in Philippines and Thailand. But in Indonesia, although democratic transformation has challenged the military’s political role, it has not brought profound changes in the SS’s behavior.

Direct Approach

The “direct” approach to reform in Turkey’s security system have targeted two areas: the first interest has been in affecting changes in the conception, preparation and formulation of national security policy in terms of incorporating more civilian input in it. Thus the focus is on the demystification of national security and the National Security Council. The second goal, however, is to end the “knowledge asymmetry” between civilian and military sectors on security, defense and strategy matters.

A threshold legislation regarding the first target is the August 2003 Democracy Package passed on 7 August 2003 and called the 7th Harmonization Legislation –bringing laws in harmony with the EU requirements--. It converted the NSC into an advisory body that would have little effective influence over national policy, repealed its executive powers which had overlapped or even superseded the executive branch and increased civilian members to a majority voting position. Therefore, this package can be said to have attempted to make a clean break with the past and change the civil-military power equation in civilian favour. Furthermore, new regulations governing the operations of the NSC announced by the 8th Harmonization Package of May 2004 introduced the principle of transparency into the workings of the NSC. With this legislation, the government further increased civilian oversight over the defense budget and removed military representatives from the Council on Higher Education and the Supreme Board of Radio and Television. It also abolished State Security Courts which were a legacy of the period after the 1980 military coup and which try crimes against the state.

The second focus of the direct approach has been on lessening the knowledge gap between the civilians and security community. This objective refers to the need for democratizing the “secrecy” surrounding defence and security issues and creating the conditions for the diffusion of specialized knowledge about the key institutions and policy issues of the security sector. A leading NGO, The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (Turkish acronym TESEV) has single-handedly been playing a pioneering role since 2003 in sensitizing the public; creating a security-conscious community; and in establishing the norms and principles on the issues of the democratic governance and oversight of the security sector. Its line of activities cover publication of studies, reports, Almanacs; organizing conferences, workshops, book-launching meetings; and holding training seminars for target groups

Another attempt towards civilianization of the national security policy was made in the preparation of Turkey’s key national security document, the National Security Policy Document (NSPD) which is deemed to be “the secret constitution” of the country. Before it was accepted in October 2005, the current Islam-sensitive Justice and Development Government (JDP) tried to change the content and the formulation of the NSPD to align it with its EU-driven reforms and to end political Islamists being branded as internal security threats. All in all, its strategy towards this document has indicated an intention to civilianize and politicize security issues in a way rarely seen in the past. The Document came out in October 2005 retaining moreless the same same format and content as the previous one.


The global reshaping of the world after the Cold War has had two contradictory policy implications for most security systems in the world including Turkey’s: the implosion of internal security threats have encouraged the tendency for more security, less democracy and more vigilance on the part of the security institutions. Likewise, there has been an increase in laws pertaining to internal security, anti-terrorism, and the maintenance of public order. These laws criminalize certain political activities, constrain public debate, and expand military jurisdiction over civilians. However, at the same time, as a country trying to fulfill the conditions of integration with the EU, European political norms and values have stimulated reforms emphasizing principles of democratic governance in general and in the security sector.

There is a growing recognition regarding security sector reform in Turkey that the “guardian” role of the military is extremely difficult to reconcile with the conditions of integration with the EU. While the model requires that the army should retain the primary responsibility for defining threats and formulating security policy responses, the latter conditions stipulate that the definition and development of threats and defence and security policy should be under “the control of democratic authorities, and that the military should confine itself to implementing decisions made by those authorities.”

The conceptual overview and the practical experience of Turkey serve as reminders that essential values of transparency, accountability and democratic oversight of security institutions must be respected even in the face of effective security requirements against internal and external threats. This represents the democratic governance/ reform aspect which necessarily includes scaling down of the “political”influence of the security apparatus of a country, most notably that of the military institution’s.

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