Tanks on Istanbul's main streets. (Photo: Defne Karadeniz)
The Turkish Armed Forces – or at least elements of them – carried out a coup d'etat in the late-night hours Friday. The intention of the coup was to depose President Recip Tayyip Erdogan. This was quite a shock to most Americans, as Turkey would strike many people to be a very unlikely country for a coup. This is partially due to its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and it has in the past petitioned for admission into the European Union. Turkey, though, has had a turbulent domestic history with military involvement.
This should have Americans' attention. Not only is Turkey next door to the Syrian civil war, as well as on the front lines of the fight against the Islamic State, but American forces, notably the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik Air Base, are deployed in-country. The safety of American troops during this time is one area of concern.
Turkey is not the only NATO country to have seen a military coup. Portugal had one in 1974 that toppled a dictatorship (the "Carnation Revolution"), and Greece saw a coup in 1967 that catapulted a notorious military junta into power for seven years. Spain saw attempted coups in 1981 and 1982, both of which were thwarted by the government. France also famously had a close call with a coup in 1958.
Since Turkey's admission to NATO in 1952, the country has seen two full-fledged military coups take place (in 1960 and 1980) as well as three other military interventions ("memorandums" issued in 1971, 1997,and 2007) in Turkish domestic politics prior to the one that started Friday. Some circles believe that the Turkish military carried out a "stealth coup" in 1993, citing a number of suspicious deaths, including that of then-President Ozal. In most cases, the coups took place when the government was perceived as going too far in an Islamist direction.
Erdogan had faced a number of allegations that he was going in an Islamist direction during his rule. The Turkish government had been reportedly turning a blind eye to fighters joining ISIS. Erdogan's government also had been arresting members of the military, including some who were purportedly involved in the alleged 1993 coup. Erdogan had also been accused of trying to set up a dictatorship, involvement in electoral fraud, and even imprisoned a former Miss Turkey over comments she made. He may have had this coup coming.
The coup could also have some serious consequences for the Turkish military. The United States has generally issued sanctions against juntas installed via military coup. One notable case was in 2013 when weapons sales were placed on hold in the wake of the coup that deposed Morsi. Egyptian forces facing a fight against terrorists in the Sinai peninsula did not get Apache helicopter gunships that had been provided as military aid.
What effects could this coup have on the Turkish military? Surprisingly, the Turkish military may be better postured than some other countries to weather some sanctions from the United States. Turkey does produce the F-16 Fighting Falcon locally, so its force of over 200 Falcons will still be able to operate. The same is true for its UH-60 Blackhawks, and some other systems.
But the older F-4E and RF-4E Phantoms in the Turkish Ai Force could have readiness issues, as the United States could cut off spare parts for the fighter-bombers and recon planes. The same would also apply for other modern systems Turkey has, including the M270 Multiple-Launch Rocket System, the MGM-140 ATACMS, and the eight Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates that the United States gave to the Turks in the last 1990s. Turkey also could see trouble remaining a partner in the F-35 program for the duration of military rule, and it is an open question whether it would be able to keep its stocks of AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles and AIM-120 AMRAAMs operational. Furthermore, the Turkish Navy's force of SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, which operate off frigates and corvettes, could have problems operating.