Cablegate: The Turkish General Staff: A Fractious and Sullen Political Coalition

Published: Fri 18 Apr 2003 08:08 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 002521
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/14/2013
B. ANKARA 1350
C. ANKARA 2122
D. ANKARA 2330
E. ANKARA 1367
F. 02 ANKARA 2914
(U) Classified by Ambassador W.R. Pearson. Reasons: 1.5 (b, d, X6).
1. (C) Summary: As refs (A-E) note, Turkish General Staff
(TGS) remains deeply involved in day-to-day political life
and policymaking, with attendant strains and divisions among
senior military leaders over domestic and foreign policy
issues. These divisions are more visible today than at any
time in the past, according to our contacts, and will cause
additional friction and delays on cooperation on operational
political and diplomatic issues of concern to the U.S. End
2. (S) Numerous long-time contacts across the political
spectrum have recently shared their concerns at rivalries and
unevenness in TGS decision-making and the detrimental effect
these divisions are having on Turkey's willingness to work
with the U.S. These contacts (strictly protect) include, but
are not limited to: (1) former Turkish NSC staffer and
executive director of the XXXXXXXXXXXX, who in his previous career in military intelligence spent significant time with now-ranking TGS generals; (2) deputy chairman of the XXXXXXXXXXXX; (3) the leadership of XXXXXXXXXXXX (Islam-oriented but connected to the Establishment) XXXXXXXXXXXX group; (4-7) senior journalists, among them XXXXXXXXXXXX correspondent XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX columnist XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX columnist XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX, who has excellent access to top-level GOT officials including P.M. Erdogan and F.M. Gul;
(8) the owner-CEO of a major media conglomerate; (9) XXXXXXXXXXXX, chairman of the XXXXXXXXXXXX, a leading
Establishmentarian NGO; and (10) a former member of
Parliament with excellent access to parliamentary, Kurdish
nationalist, and Islamist circles. They consistently
describe a TGS both riven by factionalism and projecting a
heightened sense of suspicion toward the U.S. to degrees not
previously seen.
Corporat(ist) Culture...
3. (S) Our contacts remind us that there are, of course,
certain institutional instincts which bind the TGS despite
personal rivalries. These include: (1) an unwavering
commitment to Kemalism (the worship of Ataturk and belief in
the military's duty as the pre-eminent, intimidating
guardians of the State, beyond civilian control); (2) a rigid
corporate culture which does not tolerate individual
initiative at lower ranks; (3) stiff adherence to
"secularism" and fear of anything more than a cultural
identification of Turkey as Islamic; (4) an inward-looking
culture keenly protective of its ample subsidies, off-budget
funds, large pensions and cushy sinecures (XXXXXXXXXXXX has given us concrete examples), and other privileges; (5) deep suspicion of Kurds; and (6) resistance to any practical Cyprus settlement. Our contacts also emphasize (7) the cancer of corruption in the military and
the TGS's shared unwillingness to clean up:
-- procurement scandals (many contacts cite insistent stories
of payoffs on the Israeli M-60 tank and F-4 fighter upgrade
contracts; a senior expatriate rep for a major Western
defense contractor also gave us details of a party for
Turkish military officers, attended by numerous Russian
call-girls and hosted by notorious pro-Russian businessman
Ali Sen, the Turkey rep for Bell Helicopter rival Kamov and
other Russian businesses, in August 2002 in the seaside
resort of Bodrum);
-- conflicts of interest involving Turkish military
properties in Northern Cyprus and links to drug smuggling in
Turkey's Southeast; XXXXXXXXXXXX also recounted to us his unwilling involvement, while in military intelligence, in a deal
organized within the Turkish military to sell medicine to the
4. (S) The TGS also harshly resents any implication that it
is not united in its views: in reaction to a "Washington
Post" story which looked at rivalries among the TGS
leadership, TGS Chief Ozkok on April 10 issued through
State-run TRT criticism of the story as inappropriate
particularly "at a time when the country is going through a
very serious period due to developments in Iraq." Our
contacts uniformly interpret Ozkok's statement as a general
warning to Turks to avoid similar assessments. However,
three leading journalists (Akif Beki, foreign policy
columnist Murat Yetkin, and CNN-Turk foreign policy reporter
Barcin Yinanc) subsequently separately told Embassy press
officer that they admired the Post story -- all the more so
since, in each one's opinion, no Turkish journalist would
have dared to write it. In terms of military intimidation of
journalists, both Lale Sariibrahimoglu of "Jane's Defence
Weekly" and Cuneyt Ulsever of "Hurriyet" have recently told
us they fear for their lives as a result of their public
criticism of the military.
...But Personal Rivalries
5. (S) Despite this TGS profession of unanimity of views,
there are now three main rival groups, according to our
contacts. First, the "Atlanticists," who accept, whether
enthusiastically or not, that Turkey's strategic interest
lies in maintaining firm ties to the U.S. and NATO. Second,
the rigid "Nationalists," who resent the need to maintain
ties to the U.S., oppose Turkey's EU candidacy, prefer to
trust no one (including the U.S., which they are convinced
intends to support an independent Kurdish state carved out of
Iraq), and insist on unbending maintenance of the Kemalist
State. Third, "Eurasianists," who, without understanding the
Russia-dominated nature of the "Eurasia" concept, have long
sought an alternative to the U.S. and are considering closer
relations with Russia or some as-yet ill-defined grouping
including Russia and Iran or Russia and China. Part of the
motivating force is the "Rappallo Syndrome," the sense that
Turkey and Russia are alone, equally victims of mistreatment
and disrespect by an arrogant West (ref F). In addition, as
XXXXXXXXXXXX has noted to us, another motivation for the livelier
interest in Russia is the satisfaction among "Eurasia"
advocates in the TGS that Russia shares the same preference
for "stability" and will not press the Turkish State to
continue to democratize. In the intramural TGS political
contest, the "Eurasianists" and "Nationalists" are
provisional allies.
6. (S) Our contacts see the main figures as follows:
-- TGS Chief Gen. Hilmi Ozkok is more democratically-oriented
and more of an Atlanticist than any of his recent
predecessors. A principled man who has upset people when he
has stuck to those principles, Ozkok believes a
democratically elected government needs to bear the
responsibility for political decisions. He is, however,
largely isolated, with few if any real allies among the top
brass. In a bid to avoid confrontation with his more
strong-willed and hard-line associates, Ozkok fails to assert
his own views: one contact acknowledged that Ozkok exhibits a
"Hamlet-like" uncertainty. Examples of this were Ozkok's
failures: (1) to overcome TGS delaying tactics against U.S.
operational plans; and (2) to force TGS colleagues to inform
the government of the military's own planning or the logic of
U.S. strategy and plans in the crucial run-up to parliament's
March 1 (failed) vote on the U.S. and Turkish troop
deployment motion. Ozkok did seek permission to go public
asking that Turkey support the U.S. prior to the vote and was
directed not to by President Sezer. Only when the press, in
uncharacteristic fashion, began to criticize him afterward
did he make a public statement that the TGS supported the
U.S. request. Ultimately, however, Ozkok backing for the
U.S. northern option was five days late and $6 billion short.
-- Ozkok is opposed by a coterie of senior Army generals from
the rigid-nationalist and Eurasianist camps, including most
notably: (1) Deputy TGS Chief Gen. Yasar Buyukanit; (2) Gen.
Aytac Yalman, the Land Forces Commander, the position from
which future TGS Chiefs are usually elevated, though Yalman
is likely to be retired; (3) First Army Commander Gen. Cetin
Dogan; (4) Second Army Commander Gen. Fevzi Turkeri, who,
according to XXXXXXXXXXXX, has long used the nationalist socialist
weekly "Aydinlik" to leak scurrilous, anti-American stories
(e.g., accusations that the U.S. materially supports
PKK/KADEK); (5) General Tuncer Kilinc, the secretary-general
of the powerful NSC and an outspoken advocate of stronger
Turkish ties to Russia and Iran (ref F); (6) Gen. Sener
Eruygur, Commander of the Jandarma -- an arm, the sources
note, to which the TGS routinely resorts for investigative
and "policing" purposes. We have also heard that J-3 Lt.
Gen. Koksal Karabay, touted as a possible future TGS Chief,
is associated with this group. Ozkok's most ardent and
liberal supporters (typified by the J-5 Air Force Lt. Gen.
Resat Turgut) tend to be less assertive than the
-- The hard-liners are supported from the outside by
influential retired senior officers including Gen. Doga
Aktulga (who participated in the 1997 "post-modern" coup
d'etat against the then Islamist-led government); Gen. Teoman
Koman, at one time director of the national intelligence
organization (MIT); and Ozkok's predecessor Huseyin
-- The hard line is also carefully tended by the War Academy
in Istanbul, the site for Kilinc's pro-Russia/Iran comments
at the annual national security conference in March 2002 and
for an extraordinarily bitter series of anti-U.S. comments by
Kivrikoglu, Dogan and a dozen other senior Turkish officers
in reaction against the presentation by the Dean of NDU's War
College at the March 2003 conference.
The TGS and U.S. Interests
7. (S) The TGS's prolonged political opposition to the U.S.
Iraq strategy, continued operational foot-dragging, and
continuing accusations that the U.S. has an anti-Turkish
agenda in Iraq have prompted more Turks to ask more questions
about how committed the TGS is to relations with the U.S. In
addition, with the generals coming under more public
scrutiny, TGS contacts have begun to admit to us what many
other contacts have concluded: that "some" in the senior
leadership are more interested in undermining AK party and
the Kurds than in preserving the strategic partnership with
the U.S. (ref E).
8. (C) Given the current political environment, friction in
the TGS will continue to compound the Turkish State's
resentment toward the U.S. and reluctance to make helpful
decisions on questions of central concern to us in the fluid
period ahead. Moreover, strains between the top brass and
more fiery elements lower down the chain of command could, as
they have done repeatedly in the past (most recently in
1997), emerge as a political problem for the leadership. We
have some evidence that Ozkok wants to bide his time on
reestablishing solid cooperation with the U.S. until his
opponents in the TGS retire. However, as so often in Turkey,
biding one's time becomes an end in itself as outside events
pass by at their own, swifter pace. Our contacts thus expect
that any fundamental changes to the current military
domination of the Turkish State system, as well as the
regaining of dynamism in the U.S.-Turkish relationship, will
require both the retirement of the hard-liners and,
especially, the development of a new cadre of modern,
forward-looking officers.
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