The Turkish Coup of July 15, 2016

Image result for erdogan
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of Netherlands (2012)

A few thoughts about the July 15, 2016, attempted coup d’état in the Republic of Turkey. It matters. It matters for the E.U. and the migrant refugee crisis. It matters for the Syrian Civil War. It matters for N.A.T.O. and the treaty obligations that the United States and its allies have with Turkey. It matters in the on-going war against the Islamic State (ISIL, or ISIS). It matters for the future of the West’s relationship with the Muslim world. It matters in terms of free speech and freedom of the press. And it matters in terms of legitimacy and the possible establishment of further international legal precedent. It matters in terms of how the coup may have impacted the genocide of Yazidis and Christians in the region as well as how the history of the Armenian Genocide is taught in Turkey. Finally, the coup may also affect the ongoing conflict between the Turks and Kurds. It matters.

Turkey, straddling two continents on each side of the Bosporus, also straddles the Western world and the Muslim world. The secular Turkish republic has been an example that Islam and the West can co-exist and, after Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s election in 2002, Turkey has also held the promise that democracy and Islam can co-exist as well. Note the past tense in those two previous statements. Previous Turkish governments have been comprised of secular Muslim leadership and intervening military juntas. In contrast, Erdogan’s party espouses Islamic philosophies and his tenure as Prime Minister and later President of Turkey has been scrutinized for more than a decade. That initial promise of an Islamic democracy has been eroded over the years, but perhaps it is not his Islamic inclinations, but his autocratic nature that is to blame.

If the military coup of July 15, 2016, had closed one chapter of Turkish history and begun another, then the world no longer has to wonder if Erdogan would surrender power peacefully. [Verily, democracies are not measured by elections, but by the peaceful transfer of power between political rivals.] So, would the coup have saved Turkish democracy and/or made Erdogan into a tragic hero? We will never know. Erdogan was democratically elected. Isn’t that what the West has supposedly advocated? Democracy? Didn’t US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair promise their actions in the region would promote democracy in the region? But elections have consequences. It is hard to proclaim the sanctity of democratic elections if the results of those elections are not respected by those same voices, à la Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Egypt 2013, and possibly now Turkey 2016.

The coup, to the degree, that its believed to have been a genuine attempt to overthrow the government, may have made a heavy-handed autocrat into a somewhat sympathetic figure. So, are coup d’états to be accepted or not? After all, the American Experiment began as a coup in 1776. No matter what you learned in Civics class, there is no line in the Magna Carta nor Coronation Act of 1688 that legitimizes the overthrow of the government, regardless of how well Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s mesmerizing prose is a logical conceit, not an established legal president. After all, Americans have criticized the Burmese military for years for ignoring the 2010 elections results that had favored Aung San Suu Kyi. It is hard to credibly argue to have it both ways. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk who knew first hand from the court of Henry VIII how fickle the whims of leaders could be, said famously to Thomas Cromwell, “a man cannot have his cake and eat his cake.”

Many have argued Erdogan is no longer qualified to serve as head of state. After all, the detractors insist, he lost his legitimacy when he began attacking journalists and academics, yet that self-justifying logic is a slippery slope. Politicians must be removed by the rule of law, to do otherwise undermines the very rule of law Erdogan’s enemies purports to defend. It is also quite selective to question the legitimacy of Erdogan when Duarte dines at the White House, journalists mysteriously die in Putin’s Russia, Trump calls the media enemies of the state, and Orbán wins another election.

The Turkish military has had a tradition of intervening to “protect the republic,” specifically in 1960, 1971, and 1980. Let us hope the military does so again. Do not let your dislike of Erdogan cloud your judgment. If it is acceptable for the Turkish military to remove democratically elected civilians from power, what other militaries, in what other countries may now think to do the same? The 2016 attempted coup d’état in the Republic of Turkey certainly matters. It matters to the war against Islamic terrorism and the civilian casualties of the Syrian civil war. Perhaps equally important is what the coup says about the future of democracy in the Muslim world. But what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Neoliberalism’s Fill of Realism’s Gaps

Liberal theories of international relations have a more “realistic” understanding of cooperation than realism. The gap in the realist understanding of international relations is best articulated by Karen Mingst when she writes “each state acts in a unitary way in pursuit of its own national interest” (Mingst, 65). This brief statement includes two faults: that states act in a unitary way and that states can rely only on themselves (Ibid, 66). Implicit in the realist argument is the third assumption that, since states only work in their own national interest (which is self-preservation), then military power is the most important component of foreign policy (Keohane. 514). In these three misunderstandings of international relations and undervaluing of cooperation, realists made themselves vulnerable to the rise of neoliberalism.

All neoliberal theories have their roots in the Anglo-liberal theories of John Locke and Adam Smith. Both thinkers believed in the notion of rights, microcosmically for the individual and macrocosmically for the nation-state. Locke believed that all people have natural rights; that governments are created to protect these rights (Mingst, 28). Smith, the father of capitalism, went further and said that among the natural rights is free-enterprise. Thus, Smith believed war was not the first option because war is bad for business (Mingst, 238). While Smith does not discuss cooperation per se his line of thinking suggests that there must be an alternative to war. This flies in the face of the realist argument that “military force is always the central component of national power” (Kaufman, 514).

In these forefathers of neoliberalism, the outline of cooperation is already laid out. One of the cornerstones of liberalism is the “faith in international law and legal instruments” (Mingst, 63). Collective Security Theory is one branch of neoliberalism that took classical liberal theory and retooled it to fix the international system left broken by classical realism. Collective Security is a mix of ideas from Immanuel Kant and Woodrow Wilson. Collective Security theorists believe that cooperation is both practical and probable. Even if states are only interested in security and self-preservation as realists claim, then collective security theory still works. Indeed, Wilsonian idealism even believed that war is preventable (Mingst, 63). While his idealism was tarnished by the failed Kellogg-Brandt Treaty and League of Nations, Collective Security Theory still exists today in the mutual-protection pact of NATO as well as similar bilateral pacts such as the US-Japan agreement.

Moreover, “the principle of collective security requires that states identify their national interest completely with the preservation of total world order that they stand ready to join in collective action to put down any aggressive threat by any state, against any other state anywhere” and for any reason (Kaufman, 373). This basic call for cooperation is the operating guideline for the United Nations. In its sixty years, the United Nations has only sanction military force twice (the Korean Police Action and the Persian Gulf War). In both of those conflicts, the goal was to put down the aggressive threat of the North Koreans and Iraqis toward the South Koreans and Kuwaitis, respectively. In Collective Security, “peace and security are indivisible” (Kaufman, 373).

Democratic Peace Theory (DPT) has also shown how cooperation among nation-states is practical and probable in the international system. Like neoliberal theories before it, DPT also attacks key assumptions of realism. Democratic Peace theorists laugh at the naïve simplicity of realism’s “us against the world” view on international relations. Led by researchers of democratic peace, “scholars are near [to a] consensus that democratically governed states rarely go to war with each other” (Kaufman 378 & Mingst 64). This “Zone of Peace” has created an international system in which there appears to be at least two sets of international relations. One the one hand is the state-to-state system of international relations among liberal democracies and, on the other hand, the relations between non-liberal democracies and all other states (Kaufman, 375). Even without an agreed upon theory of why this is true, the veracity of the paradigm exposes the faults of realism. If there is no war among democracies, then military force must not be the only exhibit of foreign policy strength. How do democracies affect each others policy if not through force? Negotiation, cooperation, policy coordination as well as adaptive and manipulative adjustment.

Thus, cooperation is extremely attractive and likely among at least some states, even if it is only the liberal democracies. These liberal democracies share many common interests, institutions (Ibid, 378), and may even share enemies. Many of the Western liberal democracies are all part of the same NATO security pact. Why would a country choose to wage war against an ally instead of negotiation and compromise? Democratic Peace theorists also point the cost/benefit analysis of any prospective war. As Bruce Russett says in Grasping at the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post-Cold War World, “the value of acquiring as war booty the territory of an advanced industrial [liberal democratic] country would rarely compensate for the costs of wartime destruction and the problems of pacifying newly incorporated peoples” (Kaufman, 381). [In addition to Russett’s point, there is little attractiveness in switching the domestic, peacetime economy, into a war machine.] Even against a non-liberal democracy, acquiring territory might be painful. The United States learned this best in the fallout from the Spanish-American War. While giving a small amount of self-government to the Cubans (except for the Platt Amendment), the U.S. tried futilely to placate the Philippines for forty years. Anther war booty, Puerto Rico, had been seized for forty years before its residents were given American citizenship. More than a hundred years later, there is still no universal understanding of the island’s relationship with the mainland. Russett also points out that liberal democracies are extremely sensitive to long wars and unwelcomed occupations due to the danger of eroding public support (Kaufman, 383). The point is that, knowing all this, “to use or threaten to use force is not usually normatively acceptable behavior in disputes” and thus “disputes are routinely settled without recourse to threat and military deterrence” (Kaufman, 394). Without military force, then cooperation and/or negotiation is probable.

Theorists Graham Allison, Alexander George, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye all weave together a tapestry of neoliberalism that illustrates the importance of cooperation in international relations. First, in his decision-making studies, Graham T. Allison exhibits the short-comings of realism and the practicality of cooperation. Allison outlines the realists’ belief in rationality by using the Realist icon Hans Morgenthau’s own words, imposing a rational outline “provides for rational discipline in action and creates astounding continuity in foreign policy which makes Americans, British, or Russian foreign policy appear as an intelligent, rational continuum…regardless of the different motives, preferences, and intellectual and moral qualities of successive statesmen.” (Kaufman, 656). That is, Allison accuses realists of using ex post facto logic and taking the easy way out. One of the major gaps in the realist argument is the assumption that the nation-state is led by a unified, principled actor. Retroactively, such a belief makes history look inevitable, but Allison highlights the variables of decision-making; there are many uncontrollable and unpredictable factors in decision-making.

Adding to the variables that Allison covered, Alexander L. George says that, “it is a central thesis that a policymaker often experiences decisional conflicts in attempting to deal with the value complexity and uncertainty imbedded in a problem and that the resulting psychological stress, depending on how the decision-maker copes with it, can impair adaptive responses to policy issues.” Simply put, nation-state actors get pulled in so many different directions that they can not be expected to act rationally at all times. Furthermore, George work found that, while small amounts of stress improved performance, as stress increases performance worsens. George’s solution is to deal with the problem by “by utilizing analytical modes of coping” (Kaufman, 677). In other words use psychological mechanisms to optimize one’s performance. When dealing with nation-states that are lead by actors who are not always rational, though, there are times that cooperation becomes more practical. In North Korea, for example, Kim Il Jong’s questionable rationality makes military force untenable. If North Korea responds to conventional military threat with a nuclear attack on South Korea or Japan, then the U.S. has lost. It is more important to understand how nation-states make decisions and manipulate that decision-making, rather than force a direct confrontation.

After taking Allison and George into consideration, Keohane and Nye nail the lid on the coffin with their neoliberal theory of Complex Interdependence (C/I). Traditional Realists hold that state security is the paramount issue and thus the military, which is a state tool, is important component of foreign policy. Thus the principle actor is instrumental because the state security is his/her upmost goal and he/she controls the military. Traditional Realists are wrong. Keohane and Nye’s Complex Interdependence has such a broader and more “realistic” view of state actors. Keohane and Nye argue that there are multiple channels and multiple issues have greater influence (Kaufman, 512 & 518). Instead of just looking at the unitary actor, Complex Interdependence values transgovernmental (other government people besides principle actors) and transnational (non-state actors) actors (Kaufman, 512). Cultural exchanges, such as sports competitions and student exchanges, as well as increased trade and business relationships create these multiple channels that connect societies. With all these multiple channels, there are then multiple issues and a blurring of domestic and foreign issues. Such a system of international relations creates an environment in which military force is not necessarily in the ‘national interest’ (certainly not unanimously) and “political bargaining is greatly increased” (Kaufman, 518).

Keohane further discusses cooperation in his piece on “Cooperation and International Regimes.” His point is that, when countries are not in “pre-existent harmony” they can be “brought into conformity with one another through a process of negotiation, which is often referred to as policy coordination” (Kaufman, 491). This cooperation is the preferred reaction to conflict, not military force. Without a clear hierarchy of issues, countries look for bargains that benefit all parties without resorting to military conflict. Simply put, Keohane shows how “regimes can exert an effect on the behavior… [of] self interested-states and corporations engaging in a process of mutual adjustment (Kaufman, 500). Thus, cooperation is probable. Indeed, if realists are as interested in self-interest as they purport, then cooperation should be as attractive to them as to neoliberalists.

In these three misunderstandings of international relations, realists exposed the gap in their knowledge of cooperation and thus found them selves in a credibility gap. Neoliberalism, in its many branches, have explored, outlined, and applied how cooperation is a key part of international relations. Cooperation is in the self-interest of both realists for whom self-serving behavior is a value as well as for neoliberals who believe that cooperation is an intrinsic value.

Kaufman, Daniael. Parker, Jay. Howell, Patrick & Doty, Grant (2004). Understanding International Relations: The Value of Alternative Lenses. New York: United States Military Academy.
Mingst, Karen A. (2004). Essential of International Relations. New York: W.W. Norton.