Ali Balcı’s Militarist State Discourse in Turkey is an adaption of the second chapter of his PhD thesis that surveyed the period between 1960 and 1983 in Turkey, which witnessed three military coups in row. Following Michel Foucault’s understanding of discourse, Balcı analyzes the militarist discourse between 1960 and 1983 that thoroughly dominated the state discourse. The main argument of the study is that the militarist discourse dominated all spheres in Turkey, from the state apparatus to society and the economy, in this period of history. Although the book can be read as part of the growing critical literature on civil-military relations in today’s Turkey, it differs from other studies by situating the dominant militaristic discourse within a specific period.
The first part of the book accounts for the term “militarism” and elaborates on the global context of militarism, namely the Cold War period. “Militarization” and “militarism” are used interchangeably to denote the intervention of the army in politics and the prevalent military-inspired practices in state institutions and society (pp. 20-1). Both terms are also replaced by a “militarist discourse” which refers, rather ambiguously though, to a comprehensive set of discursive practices embodying the military’s effect(s) on politics and society. Therefore, Balcı uses the term “militarist discursive period” (militarist söylemsel dönem) to refer to a specific time span in the political history of Turkey when militarism, militarization and militarist discourses were not challenged by any notable opposition. The book also challenges existing analyses of military takeovers in Turkey which view them either as inevitable results of an evolutionary process or historical characteristics of society, and instead argues that the militarist discourse of the period can only be understood by looking at concomitant conditions of the day and their fusion in Turkey and the world (pp. 11 and 33-41).
The rivalry between the US and Russia and its ramifications on global politics sets the historical ground for the emergence and spread of militarist discourse all over the world. The examples of military takeovers from Third World countries are evidence of how comprehensive the effects of this rivalry were in the Cold War era (pp. 19-32). Therefore, the militarist discourse prevailing in Turkey in the aforementioned period is contextualized in the global context of the Cold War. And the increased power of the military is not independent of global power relations of the time. The Truman Doctrine of 1947 and Turkey’s entry into NATO in 1952 are significant cases in point. Both were conducive to the proliferation and institutionalization of the Turkish army (p. 44). An extensive body of literature is also surveyed in this section to unfold this relationship. For example, the book quotes some examples from other studies to reveal the direct involvement of US intelligence in the formation of paramilitary groups in Turkey against the so-called threat of communism as in other NATO countries (p. 45).
In the second and main part of the book, Balcı provides a thorough historical account of the “conditions of possibility” that led to the toppling of the Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti). This, indeed, is where the strength and weakness of the book lies. In this section, Balcı argues that the period under question has a conspicuously distinct character from other periods of the modern Republic of Turkey by suppressing all dissident voices to silence and militarizing all aspects of political and social life, yet at the same time the author concedes that the very conditions that led to this period are also inseparable from the previous conditions. In support of his argument, the author takes on board a considerable amount of literature and examples from various texts that are critically analyzed.
The foundation of the National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu) and the OYAK Bank are analyzed in detail to emphasize the political and economic aspects of militarization. The legal adjustments that intensified the silence imposed by the army, for example banning any criticism of the Turkish Armed Forces, are exemplified duly. More significantly, what Balcı foregrounds consistently is the fact that the deferential attitude of the political parties of the time did not only contribute to the legitimacy of the presence of militarism but also exacerbated it by their hostile stance towards the Communist movements of the day. This argument is vital because it challenges the image of political parties as subordinate entities and puts them under scrutiny as active agents of this silent period which Feroz Ahmad famously described as “democracy of political tutelage” (cited on p. 75). The silence that cuts across boundaries within the trajectory of political groups in Turkey, i.e. leftists, rightists and Islamists, amounts to an internalization of the army’s role as a protector of the country not only against foreign enemies but against the country “itself” (p. 56).
Balcı concludes that no matter how much the influence of the militarist discourse has diminished, it has remained and still remains to be a debilitating sub-category of state discourse in Turkey. Without a doubt, this book is very relevant in understanding today’s Turkish politics inasmuch as the remnants of this military discourse are deeply ingrained in all aspects of life in Turkey. And more importantly, the author’s invariable emphasis on “silence” subtly illuminates the suppression imposed through the militarist discourse; nevertheless, it needs to be developed further as an analytical category.