Turkey’s War on Rule of Law: One Year On

The Buzz

On the morning of December 17, 2013, Istanbul police launched a massive anti-corruption operation. They detained 52 people, including the sons of three ministers, several bureaucrats, and some of Turkey’s most prominent businessmen. Within a week, on December 25, a second, even larger, probe was unveiled. This was a scandal of historic proportions, implicating the upper crust of Turkey’s ruling elite dating back to 2012. The crimes included gold smuggling and money laundering that spanned Turkey, Iran, Dubai, and China, totaling some €87 billion (appx. $108 billion) in illicit transactions.

One year later, it is clear that the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) has managed to stifle the probes through mass firings, the near-destruction of the rule of law, manipulation of the parliamentary process, and blocking the free flow of information. The AKP clampdown raises troubling questions about Turkey’s future as a democracy and a NATO ally, as well as its faltering candidacy for the EU.

At the time, Turkey’s then-Prime Minister (now president) Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that a network of individuals had been plotting to overthrow his government. He was referring to the Gulen movement, headed by the AKP’s one-time ally, the U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan denounced what he called the Gulenists’ “parallel structure” to the Turkish state, and promptly deemed all police officers, prosecutors and investigators involved in the case as agents of the exiled cleric.

The AKP-government began to fire and re-assign Turkish policemen that were involved in the graft investigations. Within two months, the number had reached thousands. Key suspects of the probes were released from prison by the first week of March.

The AKP also abused its power to both reshuffle and restructure the Turkish judiciary. Between December 2013 and January 2014, the newly appointed chief prosecutor of Istanbul fired all of the prosecutors who had been involved in the corruption investigation. One prosecutor said that his arrest orders for key corruption suspects were never carried out and his files were confiscated. Meanwhile, nearly 100 prosecutors and judges were removed from their posts. The newly appointed prosecutors were asked to revise the original indictments to reflect the view of the AKP government, and by October, every last case in the probe was officially dropped.

The AKP government in January also introduced a proposal for structural changes to Turkey's top judiciary council, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (known by its Turkish acronym HSYK), which appoints the country’s judges and prosecutors. The bill called for the politically appointed justice minister to replace members of the HSYK, effectively subordinating the judiciary to the executive branch. The bill passed in mid-February but was partially annulled by the Constitutional Court two months later. However, in October the AKP pushed back by promoting a list of its own candidates for the body’s new round of elections. The candidates won 8 out of the 10 seats available.

The AKP also passed several key amendments to the penal code over the last year that makes the wiretapping and tracking of corruption suspects more difficult, with the provisions applicable to only certain crimes. This undermined the original evidence collected during the graft probe, as the main method of evidence- gathering had been wiretapping. Other amendments made it mandatory for judges to seek consent from government officials before moving forward with certain cases, including those tied to the corruption scandal. Earlier this month, the Turkish government pushed through new legislation to restructure Turkey’s two top courts, the Court of Appeals and the Council of State, with judges more to its liking.

The AKP has also successfully inhibited the parliamentary process. At a special meeting in March to address the graft charges, the deputy speaker of parliament rejected proposals by all three opposition parties to formally acknowledge the allegations against the former ministers, and instead only read a summary of the charges. In May, six months after the scandal, the parliament finally set up a commission, but one whose composition was skewed, with 9 out of 15 members hailing from the AKP. The commission was supposed to conclude its inquiry within two months but has yet to do so. Last month, an Ankara court officially banned Turkish media from reporting on the parliamentary inquiry.

While the AKP has done irreparable harm to Turkish institutions, it rightfully charges that there has been an illegal campaign conducted against the ruling elite. Officials’ phones were tapped in violation of the law, and the targets even included Erdogan and his family. But instead of investigating and prosecuting these violations through due process, the AKP government has launched a hasty, messy, and unlawful prosecution of the Gulen movement. The government has also denied itself the opportunity to challenge the charges leveled during the corruption probe through legal means.

The deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey is now undeniable. Several EU officials have raised alarm about the judiciary bills, while the European Commission criticized the AKP’s moves against its police force. According to a Transparency International report released this month, Turkey’s 2014 corruption-perception rating dropped from 50 to 45 -- the largest drop for any country this year.

Nonetheless, AKP appears indifferent to the damage it is causing to Turkey’s international image. Just this weekend, the government launched a new attack on the Gulen movement, detaining at least 24 police officers and journalists without cause and, drawing even more international criticism. While these moves may have helped the Erdogan government further consolidate power, the AKP can only ignore the diplomatic consequences of its actions for so long. More importantly, it is impossible to know how much damage this will cause to the foundations of Turkey’s democracy for years to come.

Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate focusing on Turkey for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Image: Flickr/World Economic Forum/CC by 2.0.

TopicsDemocracy RegionsMiddle East

Diego Garcia: A Potential Casualty of the CIA Torture Report?

The Buzz

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s so-called “torture report” has hardly precipitated the kind of political earthquake that its authors might have hoped for.  Public reaction to the report’s contents has been muted, and it seems unlikely that any prosecutions will result from its publication.  The report’s release has been more of a damp squib than a catalyst for change because—although this truth might be difficult for some to accept—it has only succeeded in revealing details about a practice that most Americans already knew was taking place in general terms.

The domestic political fallout of the committee’s report is thus likely to be fairly well contained.  Yet the blowback might still be significant abroad.  In particular, the report has the potential to empower overseas critics of U.S. foreign policy, its myriad details of CIA wrongdoing constituting a surfeit of “facts on the ground” to bias national conversations against U.S. counterterrorism policy.  In countries where pro- and anti- American forces are pitted against each other, the Senate Intelligence Committee report offers both moral and tactical advantage to those who would like to see the U.S. global footprint curtailed.

The United Kingdom is one such potential battleground, where MPs and members of civil society alike are calling for a rethink of the U.S. military presence on Diego Garcia, a British territory in the central Indian Ocean that plays host to one of the Pentagon’s most strategically important military installations in the world.  As well as being an important staging post in America’s recent wars in the Middle East, Diego Garcia has been named as a CIA “black site” by international organizations such as the United Nations and Council of Europe, as well as human rights groups like Reprieve, who have pointed to the presence of so-called “prison ships” moored offshore as well as detention facilities on the island itself.  Coupled with the mistreatment of the island’s indigenous population as part of the base’s creation in the 1960s and 1970s, these allegations have muddied the name of Diego Garcia in the British public consciousness.  If this is the true face of the Anglo-American special relationship, is it really a love affair worth pursuing?

The CIA’s torture report was ominously silent on the topic of Diego Garcia, however, prompting accusations that the British government lobbied for its removal from the final text.  It is already a matter of public record that Diego Garcia was at least used as a fueling stop for two “rendition” flights in the 2000s.  Why, then, the pretense that Britain’s association with the rendition and/or torture programs is non-existent?  Parliamentarians in London are demanding not only answers but also access to the Senate committee’s documents.

The mounting pushback against the supposed cover-up of Anglo-American collusion could manifest itself in dramatic fashion, particularly with regards to Diego Garcia.  It is at least possible that MPs could move to block the renewal of the agreement governing U.S. access to the base, which is due to be discussed this year for renewal by 2016.  Less exceptionally, MPs could demand enhanced British oversight of what takes place on Diego Garcia or else impose limits on what the island can be used for.

Any such development would be a diplomatic headache and embarrassment for the British government, which prides itself on being a reliable ally of the United States, but losing Diego Garcia would be much more of a bombshell for the United States.  Prized for its seclusion, stability and strategic location, Diego Garcia means a great deal to military planners in the Pentagon.  It would be an upset if this prized asset was placed in jeopardy because of backlash from one of America’s closest allies.

The fact is, however, that a clandestine program of torture is rightly a tough sell—if not always at home, then certainly in some foreign quarters.  As such, the effects of the Senate report cannot be expected to be wholly ephemeral.  Political entrepreneurs abroad—especially those with an ax to grind—will make certain of that.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer

TopicsSecurity RegionsSouthwest Asia

Fixing the Mess in Syria

The Buzz

Everyone except Bashar al-Assad agrees that the only way out of the Syrian conflict lies in a negotiated political solution. Known for refusing to compromise on his objective of total victory, Assad will not bend unless other nations force him to do so. The failure of the Geneva II talks, and the success of the chemical weapons deal (agreed to in the face of U.S .air strikes) underscore how Assad responds to pressure.

Presently, the U.S.-led coalition possesses enough power to draw the Syrian regime to the negotiation table, but the coalition also finds itself in a complicated position. On the one hand, since Assad will attempt to test U.S. readiness, the United States remains unwilling to issue any threats it is not prepared to act upon. On the other hand, any major military intervention against Assad could very likely bring about a sudden regime collapse, which would greatly empower radical Islamists. 

During the last few months, three major factors have developed simultaneously that present the international community with a unique opportunity out of this dilemma. If acted upon, they could signal a potential breakthrough in the long-standing Syrian civil war.

The first factor is the increasingly accepted belief that ISIS is a symptom of the Syrian conflict. That is, it was the ongoing fighting in Syria that allowed ISIS to position itself as a potential regional force. This likely worries Assad given that Washington is currently crafting a new strategy that is expected to devote more resources to the opposition versus the regime part of the conflict, which will deny Assad the time he needs to crush the rebels.

A second factor is Assad’s failure to ally himself with the United States in the war against ISIS, unlike his main opponents (moderate Syrian rebels). If the U.S.-led coalition sends a strong signal of dedication to protecting their Syrian allies on the ground, Assad will be paralyzed for the first time since the beginning of the conflict. Of course, he will test America’s commitment to the moderate fighters by conducting minor attacks, but even a measured response from the U.S. will stymie those attempts. 

Assad will not want to escalate things with the US-led coalition because that would risk losing the support of his Alawite-dominated military. The Alawite community is currently fighting for its survival, and it will therefore desert Assad the minute them puts them on the path towards fighting a war with the U.S. in which they stand no chance at victory. Undoubtedly, in this scenario they would choose to go back home and protect their families from Islamists.

The third and final development is a “conflict freeze” proposal by the new UN mediator Staffan de Mistura. In the plan, Mistura calls for "freeze zones" to halt fighting and improve aid, and many see it as a potential first step towards a larger peace process. Notably, this proposal has already been supported by Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally.

From a military point of view, a non-escalation deadlock on the ground will translate into an unofficial ceasefire zone. From a political point of view, being unable to attack moderate rebels and fearing that he will lose his own fighters will make Assad choose a “second best” – face-saving option. Furthermore, it will motivate him to cooperate with the UN on the “freeze zones” initiative, especially since, in practice it will already exist.

Deadlock on the ground will empower the UN special envoy and this "conflict freeze" proposal could, in the long term, be a first step towards relaunching Geneva peace talks between the opposition and regime (this time in a stabilized and firmly controlled environment, where there is an equal balance of power between the two sides). At the very least, in the short term, the ceasefire zones will deny ISIS the unstable environment in which it has thus far thrived, and consequently bringing much more unity and focus into the war against the Islamic State.  

Rami Nakhla is 2014 Yale World Fellow, and member of the Syrian National Council. 

Vera Mironova is Research Fellow at Harvard Program on Negotiations and a PhD candidate at University of Maryland.

Image: Flickr/Foreign and Commonwealth Office/C.C. by 2.0.

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

Shinzo Abe's Ugly Win: Breaking Down Japan's Election

The Buzz

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have their election victory. As forecast, they crushed the opposition in Sunday's vote and consolidated their hold on the Diet. It was not a pretty sight, however; this was a problematic win, one that bodes ill for Japan if the results are interpreted as a vote for the status quo.

At first glance, the vote went as anticipated. The LDP and its coalition partner New Komei won 326 seats, increasing their representation in the Diet by one seat from the Parliament that was just dissolved. That well exceeds the 317-seat threshold required for a two-thirds "super-majority" that gives the government control of all committee chairs, a majority in every legislative committee, and allows the Lower House to override Upper House vetoes of legislation.

Dig a little deeper, however and the celebrations should quickly be muted.

While the ruling coalition gained a seat, the LDP lost four seats, dropping from 295 to 291. Ouch.

Turnout was a record postwar low of 53.3 percent, 6 percentage points below the 2012 general election. Ugly.

According to one analysis, the LDP won 75 percent of the seats in single-member districts that account for 295 Lower House seats with just 48 percent of the vote. This highlights a crucial point that analyst Michael Cucek has been hammering since the 2012 general election: the LDP claims a growing number of seats with an ever shrinking number of votes. On Sunday, the LDP won 223 district races -nearly twice the number of seats it won in 2009 - with 1.8 million fewer votes than it received in 2009. Ugly. (Proportional representation (PR) votes are another issue, and they are taken up below.)

One of the big winners in the election was the Japan Communist Party, which increased its parliamentary representation from 8 seats to 21. A vote for the communist party in Japan is the ultimate protest vote. Ugly.

Two LDP members forced to resign from the Cabinet because of scandals were re-elected. Kaieda Banri, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), lost his re-election bid, the first time since 1949 that a party head failed to win his seat. Ugly.

Finally, there is the rationale for the election itself.  "Snap" elections are held when a government loses its majority in Parliament and turns to voters to stay in power. This time, however, the government had not lost its majority and there was no risk of doing so. The government's real problem was plummeting popularity ratings, which had fallen from a stratospheric 76 percent in March 2013 to 44 percent when the election was called. In the days before the ballot, NHK reported just 23 percent of respondents were "very interested" in the election and most polls showed "undecided" or "don't know" battling or besting the LDP when voters were asked which party they would back. Ugly.

The prime minister hoped to exploit a disorganized opposition - and succeeded. The DPJ failed to run candidates in 110 of the 295 single-member constituencies. The election was a reminder to voters that they had no alternative to the LDP, which while gratifying to Abe et al, smacks of opportunism. The government's difficulties reflected the failure of its policies - for no reason other than their inability to deal with problems - yet the prime minister called an election to get a mandate to press ahead with more of the same. There is a whiff of contempt in the air.

Abe and his party have a new lease on life. Having called the election less than halfway through the Diet's term, the new Parliament will run until 2018. What will Abe and the LDP do in that time?

Abe has pledged to step up his "Abenomics" program to ensure that its benefits trickle down to the many Japanese who have yet to enjoy them. That will be difficult. He has already suspended the second phase of the consumption tax increase that pushed the economy into recession (two consecutive quarters of economic contraction). A new budget laden with stimulus measures is reportedly already in the works.

It will take more than stimulus to repeat the early success of Abenomics, which was responsible for Abe's early stratospheric approval ratings. The Bank of Japan has already committed to quantitative easing without end to stimulate inflation and it will be difficult (and dangerous) for the yen to devalue further against the dollar.

All that is left is movement on the third arrow, structural reform, and thus far the Abe government's rhetoric outpaces reality. Abe could use his election win to outmaneuver opposition within his own party - the real opposition - to structural reform but it isn't clear whether the prime minister truly believes in the liberalization that is required to unleash Japan's economic potential. In pre-election interviews, he said that he was the leader best positioned to deliver on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, but his actions suggest little enthusiasm for the political consequences of bold steps.

Many worry that Abe will use his new "mandate" to pursue his real interests, the revision of Japan's constitution and the adoption of a higher regional and international security profile. That is possible but gains by the pacifist-minded Komei party - recall it increased seats in the Diet, while the LDP lost four - will give it yet more power within the ruling coalition. If Komei stymied attempts by Abe and like-minded colleagues to promote a more robust national security agenda in the first two years of his term, that resistance will now increase.

And the LDP needs Komei. The party doesn't have a two-thirds majority on its own, and as vote counter Michael Cucek noted, Komei provided over 6.5 million of the 7.8 million vote difference in the LDP's single member district vote and its PR vote, about one-quarter of all votes received by LDP candidates in districts. In addition, Sunday's vote witnessed the evisceration of other parties on the conservative end of the political spectrum. A year ago there was talk of an LDP-led coalition without Komei; no more. And while the DPJ underperformed in the ballot, it still gained 11 seats and with a new leadership (and new ideas) could position itself for a real run in the next election. If the opposition gets its act together, then the LDP cannot afford to disregard Komei's preferences.

Abe and the LDP have their election victory. Ironically, it is also proof that an overwhelming win isn't always a mandate and that a vote for an incumbent government can also be a call for change. The trend lines in Japanese politics are not good, and a complacent or arrogant government, one that would rule instead of governing, would make matters worse.

Brad Glosserman is executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS and co-author with Scott Snyder of The Japan-Korea Identity Clash (Columbia University Press, forthcoming, 2015). This piece was originally posted in PACNET: CSIS newsletter here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsJapan

The U.S. Navy's Littoral Combat Ship: One Big Mistake?

The Buzz

In one of his last major decisions in office, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has decided to continue production of the two Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) designs. The US Navy had been directed to examine alternatives to provide the final 20 hulls of the full 52-ship concept. Secretary Hagel had serious concerns over what was being provided with the LCS and sought a more capable and “tougher” small surface combatant. And he had reason for those concerns. While the two high-speed ship designs represent, within limits, some of the latest thinking on hull forms, the LCS has—to this point—possessed only token military capability. The poorly-armed and sensor-deprived LCS sacrifices a great deal for its high speed, including range and, arguably, damage resistance. Both designs displace as much as many conventional-hull frigates (Freedom displaces 3354 tons and Independence 2841 tons) and they aren’t really “smal;” ships in the eyes of any navy other than the US Navy (USN). The modular ideals for sensor and weapon packages have yet to be realised in any significant way, being largely focused so far on embarked fast boats, UAVs and boarding parties.

Still, at a time when the USN has serious concerns over total hull numbers in the fleet and so much has already been invested in the LCS project, it’s no surprise that continuation of the LCS program has been chosen over any of the 18 alternative designs which the USN considered. Whether that would have been the case had the navy been starting with a blank sheet of paper must remain a moot point.

The modified units are likely to carry—in addition to the 57mm gun already in the design and the weapons such as the short-range RAM anti-air and HELLFIRE anti-ship missiles that are part of the existing plans for weapon packages—an over-the-horizon anti-ship missile, an upgraded three-dimensional radar and electronic-warfare equipment, together with a towed-array sonar and torpedo countermeasures. Internal armour will be installed, and there’ll be renewed efforts at signature reduction. The USN is claiming that the ships will cost US$60 to 75 million more than the original, Flight 0, versions of the LCS but it should be emphasized that this almost certainly relates to the hull, propulsion and hotel systems and not to the mission packages. While the USN is quick to emphasise that the original LCS have come in at under US$500 million per unit, that figure doesn’t include the expensive weapons and sensors that represent a significant proportion of the real cost of any modern combatant.

The USN will also consider what in the new package can be retrofitted to the Flight 0 fleet. Although many of those units are likely to have a primary mine-countermeasure role, they represent too large a proportion of the future fleet to be left in their current state. The LCS will no doubt represent an important element in the USN’s forward presence for many decades. As with other troubled ships and systems in the past, there’s little doubt that it’ll be made to work and probably work well. Whether it was what the Americans really needed at the start, however, is another thing.

James Goldrick is a fellow of the RAN’s Sea Power Centre and an adjunct professor at UNSW Canberra, Australian Defence Force Academy. This piece was originally posted in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

Topicsmilitary RegionsUnited States