Another bizarre military decision by the general staff?

The Turkish military’s last-minute decision to cancel two major and costly ongoing national maneuvers was announced on Tuesday evening without further explanation. This has prompted anxiety as well as speculation over the reasons for this cancellation. Since Tuesday evening, when the military posted the decision on its website, the only explanation for the cancellation of military exercises came from Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül on Wednesday. However, his explanation has not satisfied the Turkish public in the least. He said, “The cancellation decision is an internal decision of the Turkish General Staff.”

How is it that two big national military maneuvers that have been planned for a long time can be cancelled without any explanation and that a civilian authority figure, i.e., the defense minister speaking on behalf of the government, cannot come up with a reason that would satisfy the public? Since a satisfactory explanation for the cancellation of the exercises has not been made, the matter is open to much speculation. Among those speculations are that the highly politicized Turkish military is seeking ways to publicly display its power struggle with the government. Before elaborating on that, let me go back to the General Staff announcement on the maneuvers.

The General Staff released a brief statement on its website on Tuesday evening, stating that since the Denizkurdu-2011 (Sea Wolf), as well as the Efes-2011 (Ephesus), joint maneuvers, during which live ammunition would be used, have been cancelled, the press tour planned for 25 May would not take place.

The General Staff did not even dare to provide an explanation for the cancellation which came seven days after Denizkurdu began in the Eastern Mediterranean and nearly three weeks after Efes did, the latter having started on May 3 in the Aegean Sea. Efes was scheduled to end on May 29 and Denizkurdu on May 26; both exercises have been taking place once every two years and both carry an implicit message about Turkish strength to neighboring Greece.

In addition to the General Staff’s failure to explain the reasons for the cancellation of those two costly exercises, Turkish Defense Minister Gönül’s statement that the decisions came following internal evaluations conducted by the General Staff — that it was an internal decision by the military — have been unacceptable in any democratic country. Gönül’s remarks leave us with the impression that he is a minister of another country.

The failure of any meaningful explanation for the cancellation of the two national maneuvers and Gönül’s remarks that the decision came as a result of an internal evaluation by the military prompt us to assume that this decision has more to do with the power struggle with the leading political power.

My well informed retired military sources noted that it was abnormal that such large military maneuvers were cancelled without any explanation and without any good reason, like, for instance, the emergence of a risky situation in the seas in which the exercises have been taking place.

This military decision appears to have been intended to give a message to the government that the military stills retains its privileged status and that it can make decisions, even at the last minute, without informing the political authority. Through this message, the General Staff might have also intended to boost the morale of its uniformed and civilian supporters who are of the belief that the ongoing coup plot trials of many former and active officers, including generals and service commanders, are of a political nature. The suspects are being tried over charges of triggering an armed provocation to unseat the government, a constitutional crime.

According to my well informed military sources, since the military maneuvers have already been under way and have supposedly fulfilled their mission, their cancellation would not have had any negative impact on the military. The military thus might have also intended to utilize the cancellation of this exercise to its advantage, giving Greece, which is in deep economic crisis, a message that Turkey has extended a nice gesture to its neighbor.

Turkey and Greece have improved their political ties considerably but deep-rooted sovereignty claims in the Aegean are pending resolution.

Nevertheless, the military should be acting in a more responsible manner while making decisions that require consultation with the political authority and the elected governments should ensure that the armed forces do not act in a haphazard manner.

Lale Kemal, TZ