Thu, Jul 21, 2016 - Page 9 News List

The strategic consequences of Turkey’s failed coup attempt

The botched coup could undermine Turkey’s relationship with the US and the EU, and affect its armed forces’ ability to combat Islamic State terrorism

By Sinan Ulgen

A military coup against an elected government typically unleashes a flood of analysis about the country’s future direction following the break in democratic rule. However, failed coups can be just as consequential.

The botched attempt by elements of the Turkish military to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will have far-ranging implications for Turkey’s foreign relations and regional role. In particular, Turkey’s relationship with the US is headed for considerable turbulence.

The coup attempt heralds a new and uneasy phase in the Turkey-US relationship, because Turkish authorities have linked it to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher based near Philadelphia in the US since 1999, but with a core group of followers in Turkey.

Gulen was previously charged with establishing a parallel state structure primarily within the Turkish police, judiciary, and military. More recently, Turkish authorities classified the Gulen movement as a terrorist organization — a label given new meaning by the failed coup.

However, despite the growing evidence concerning Gulen and his followers, the impression in Ankara is that the US has so far refused to constrain the activities of his network, which includes a range of schools and many civil-society organizations.


This network allows the Gulen movement to engage in substantial fundraising, which the authorities claim sustains the nefarious operations of its affiliates in Turkey. As a result, Gulen’s continued residence in Pennsylvania has become not only a contentious issue in the bilateral relationship, but also an important source of rising anti-US sentiment in Turkey.

The failed coup is set to compound this trend. In the post-coup era, the US is set to come under significant pressure to reconsider its laissez-faire attitude toward Gulen. The Turkish side has already signaled that it plans to initiate a formal request for Gulen’s extradition.

The coup has therefore brought a new urgency to the need for the two NATO allies to settle this important dispute. A failure to find common ground under these changed circumstances would weaken prospects for cooperation at many levels. The effectiveness of the joint fight against the Islamic State group which relies heavily on airstrikes originating from the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, would doubtless be jeopardized.

More broadly, a breach in this key bilateral relationship would weaken NATO cohesion in its policy toward Russia, with Turkey seeking to move beyond the confrontational framework set out at the alliance’s recent Warsaw summit.

The consequences of the failed coup are also likely to affect Turkey’s relationship with Europe.

In March, Turkey and the EU agreed on an ambitious package of measures designed to stem the flow of refugees to Europe. However, while the arrangement has been a clear success, it remains politically vulnerable.

For Turkey, the biggest prize was the EU’s commitment to lifting visa restrictions on Turkish citizens traveling to the Schengen Agreement area, a move scheduled for last month. Instead, visa liberalization was postponed until October, owing to Turkey’s refusal to comply with a few remaining conditions.


At the core of the diplomatic impasse is the EU’s demand that Turkey amend its anti-terror legislation to ensure that it reflects more closely the norms established by the European Court of Human Rights. The aim is to limit the legislation’s implementation to genuine terror cases and prevent its use as a tool to restrain freedom of expression.

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