The October meeting of the Turkish National Security Council (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu – MGK) delivered major decisions regarding the reorganization of Turkey’s domestic security structure. In the areas of inter-agency counter-terrorism cooperation and border security, the changes are comparable with those made by the United States when it established the Department of Homeland Security.
During early October’s Counter-Terrorism High Council meeting (chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan), Turkish civilian and military elites discussed the need for a reorganization of Turkey’s domestic security structure to better address the recent rise in domestic terrorism. This led to the MGK decision to create a new organization for counterterrorism coordination under Interior Ministry control. Input was sought from a range of security organizations, including the Interior Ministry, the General Staff, the Gendarmerie, the Turkish National Police and the National Intelligence Agency (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati – MIT) (Zaman, October 23).
According to information provided by Interior Ministry officials, the details of the initiative are as follows:
At the heart of this comprehensive reorganization is the goal of combating terrorism economically, politically, psychologically, socially and internationally along with traditional military measures. In this respect the scope of the two new agencies has been broadened by design, in order to combat terrorism at home and abroad. Foreign recruitment by the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan - PKK) in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Europe will be addressed by opening offices in those areas to coordinate counterterrorism activities with local authorities and isolate the PKK’s external support (Aksam Gazetesi, October 23).
The new Interior Ministry agencies will also address the domestic social concerns that exacerbate terrorism. To this end, developing projects to prevent terrorist recruitment and providing public outreach will be among the main tasks of these agencies. The reorganization also sets high standards in terms of the future conduct of security operations. Oversight, accountability and responsiveness to public concerns are the new themes for counterterrorism actitivities (Aksam Gazetesi, October 23).
After the PKK attack on the Turkish military outpost in Aktutun in early October, border security has sparked a public debate on the need for increased precautions. Since PKK militants have been coming from the Iraqi side of the border, securing the frontier to prevent terrorist infiltration has become an important concern for Turkish counter-terrorism efforts. To this end, the reorganization will include the establishment of a new undersecretary for border security (Zaman, October 23).
The MGK also warned Iraq about preventing the use of its soil as a safe haven for terrorists. In light of repeated Turkish demands for Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to deny safe havens to the PKK, the MGK has decided to closely monitor Iraq’s progress in this area (Bugun Gazetesi, October 21).
Due to the multifaceted nature of terrorism, the methods used to combat it will determine the success of the new Turkish counterterrorism policy. Turkish Minister of Interior Besir Atalay noted, “[W]e will take into consideration terrorism with all of its dimensions” (Milli Gazete, October 23). The Minister’s statement summarizes the substance and the spirit of this reorganization. For that reason, it is important to note the key change in the approach to counter-terrorism. The overall transfer of authority from traditionally military domains into the civilian bureaucracy of the Interior Ministry is the most important element in the reorganization effort, though this is not meant to deny the military’s indispensable role in combating terrorism. The move is accompanied by an integration of military and civilian decision making structures through inter-agency mechanisms, such as the establishment of databanks and intelligence-sharing pools (Aksam Gazetesi, October 23).
To evaluate the success potential of the new organization, it is important to examine its structure in detail. As of now, the fact the creation of the new organization passed from an ad hoc Counter-terrorism High Council meeting at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office to official MGK resolutions can be viewed as a demonstration of civil and military consensus on the principal idea of the new organization. The presence of the top echelons of Turkey’s military and intelligence in the MGK alongside Turkey’s political elites gives the MGK a unique function in Turkey’s national security structure. Despite this, there is no guarantee the Turkish parliament will draft corresponding laws to legislate the MGK’s decisions regarding the new organization. Although the ruling AKP (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) have an overwhelming majority in parliament, pressure from the republican CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) and nationalist MHP (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi) parties is likely to influence parliamentary debates of the issue. Mounting public pressure to do more to combat terrorism is likely to be taken into account by those parties in the approaching 2009 nation-wide municipal elections. Thus, taking into account the domestic political dynamics of Turkey can help to understand the timing of this reorganization.
The reaction of the Turkish military will also play a critical role in the final form of the reorganization. Hence, the military is a key actor in its implementation, especially since it is the military whose authority has been most diminished as a result of the security reforms. So far, there have not been any open challenges from the General Staff, at least in public. Though there may be some resentment in the military over the reforms, the reorganization so far appears to be in keeping with the belief of Turkish Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug that effective counterterrorism measures must rely on joint civil-military measures (Turkish Daily News, October 29). As the reorganization has been a response to the changing nature of the terrorist threat and the demands of the Turkish public for a safer Turkey, its success will be determined by its ability to meet public expectations.