In the wake of the failed coup attempt last week, Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan has cast a wide net across Turkey’s armed forces, police and other civil services. The purge under way right now in the military is resulting in thousands of enlisted men, NCOs and officers all being detained. The officer corps especially has been ruthlessly dealt with. Politically, the actions of Erdogan’s government make sense. The military was the driving force behind the coup attempt after all and it is unclear deep the betrayal runs. This will not be a short term action. Erdogan is driven to remove all vestiges of opposition to him from the services.
Unfortunately, the purge will bring about significant consequences for Turkey’s military posture and national security. As hundreds, if not thousands of Turkish officers are arrested, morale in the military is already plummeting. Effective and popular commanders are being placed in detention whether or not they had anything to do with the coup. Their replacements will be officers who’s only qualification for the job is loyalty to Erdogan. Those officers who are left will be too busy looking over their shoulders to run their units properly. As morale plunges, military readiness will follow close behind at a time when Turkey needs its armed forces to be prepared and vigilant against potential threats such as ISIS, what remains of Syria’s military and Russia.
In the coming weeks, Turkish intelligence and law enforcement services will be working to determine how deep the coup ran while Erdogan’s government uses the uprising as justification for a nationwide crackdown. Turkey’s attention will be inexorably focused inward. How will Ankara’s external enemies and rivals try to use this to their advantage? More significant is how NATO and the European Union could inevitably respond to Erdogan’s crackdown.