A military coup against an elected government typically unleashes a flood of analysis about the country’s future direction following the break in democratic rule.
But failed coups can be just as consequential. The botched attempt by elements of the Turkish military to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will have far-ranging implications for Turkey’s foreign relations and regional role. Turkey’s relationship with the United States, in particular, is headed for considerable turbulence.
The coup attempt heralds a new and uneasy phase in the Turkey-US relationship, because Turkish authorities have linked it to Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher based near Philadelphia since 1999 but with a core group of followers in Turkey.
Gulen was previously charged with establishing a “parallel state structure” primarily within the police, the judiciary, and the military.
More recently, the Turkish authorities classified the Gulen movement as a terrorist organisation – a label given new meaning by the failed coup.
But, despite the growing evidence concerning Gulen and his followers, the impression in Ankara is that the US has so far refused to constrain the activities of his network, which includes a range of schools and many civil society organisations.
This network allows the Gulen movement to engage in substantial fundraising, which the authorities claim sustains the nefarious operations of its affiliates in Turkey.
As a result, Gulen’s continued residence in Pennsylvania has become not only a contentious issue in the bilateral relationship, but also an important source of rising anti-Americanism in Turkey.
The need for more cooperation
The failed coup is set to compound this trend. In the post-coup era, the US will come under significant pressure to reconsider its laissez-faire attitude towards Gulen. The Turkish side already has signalled that it will initiate a formal request for Gulen’s extradition.
The coup has therefore brought a new urgency to the need for the two NATO allies to settle this important dispute. A failure to find common ground under these changed circumstances would weaken prospects for cooperation at many levels.
The Turkish military will now undergo a painful process of purging its Gulenist elements, and morale and cohesion will inevitably be affected at a time when the armed forces play an instrumental role in Turkey's efforts to combat Kurdish separatists and ISIL terrorism and in strengthening Turkey's border controls, which have helped to impede the flow of foreign jihadists into ISIL-controlled territory in Syria.
The effectiveness of the joint fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), which relies heavily on air strikes originating from the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, would doubtless be jeopardised.
More broadly, a breach in this key bilateral relationship would weaken NATO cohesion in its policy towards Russia, with Turkey seeking to move beyond the confrontational framework set out at the alliance’s recent Warsaw summit.
The consequences of the failed coup are also likely to affect Turkey’s relationship with Europe. In March, Turkey and the European Union agreed on an ambitious package of measures designed to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.
But, while the arrangement has been a clear success, it remains politically vulnerable. For Turkey, the biggest prize was the EU’s commitment to lifting visa restrictions on Turkish citizens travelling to the Schengen Area, a move scheduled for June.
Instead, visa liberalisation was postponed until October, owing to Turkey’s refusal to comply with a few remaining conditions.
A likely diplomatic crisis
At the core of the diplomatic impasse is the EU’s demand that Turkey amend its anti-terror legislation to ensure that it reflects more closely the norms established by the European Court of Human Rights.
The aim is to limit the legislation’s implementation to genuine terror cases and prevent its use as a tool to restrain freedom of expression. But the post-putsch environment will reduce the government’s willingness to amend Turkey’s anti-terror framework.
As a result, a diplomatic crisis by October is likely, with Turkey claiming that the EU has failed to honour its commitments.
The entire refugee package, under which Turkey continues to host more than 2.8 million Syrian refugees, could then come under threat, with consequences for the flow of asylum seekers.
Finally, the botched coup will have repercussions on Turkey’s ability to contribute to regional security.
The Turkish military will now undergo a painful process of purging its Gulenist elements, and morale and cohesion will inevitably be affected at a time when the armed forces play an instrumental role in Turkey’s efforts to combat Kurdish separatists and ISIL terrorism and in strengthening Turkey’s border controls, which have helped to impede the flow of foreign jihadists into ISIL-controlled territory in Syria.
And weakened trust in the wake of the coup attempt will make interagency cooperation between the military, the police, and the intelligence services particularly problematic.
Just like successful coups, failed coups can have a major impact on countries’ foreign and security policies. Turkey’s botched putsch has already heightened the likelihood that critical milestones soon will be reached in the country’s relationship with the US and Europe.
Sinan Ulgen is Chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. He is co-editor of the book Turkey’s Nuclear Future.
Copyright: Project Syndicate 2016 – The Strategic Consequences of Turkey’s Failed Coup