ANKARA — The Turkish government has appointed Nurettin Canikli, a veteran politician from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as the new defense minister, in what industry says is part of efforts to build more business-friendly relations, including foreign players.
Canikli replaces Fikri Isik who was appointed as deputy prime minister in a small cabinet reshuffle earlier in July. Before the reshuffle Canikli was deputy prime minister in charge of economic management, sharing this portfolio with Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek.
“Canikli is well-known in international finance circles. He is a prestigious political figure with a reputation to be ‘business-friendly,’” said a London-based senior international banker. “His appointment should be good news for defense companies, local or foreign.”
A defense industry executive from a Turkish-foreign joint venture said: “Canikli has a reputation to be a serious statesman who is pro-market and pro-business. He is a strong believer in international partnerships.”
Canikli studied economy and finance at the Ankara University. He did his postgraduate studies in money, banking and finance at the Sheffield University in the United Kingdom. He worked as a tax auditor and acting chief tax official for Istanbul before joining politics. Canikli served as MP for three parliamentary terms on the AKP ticket, and had previously also served as customs and commerce minister.
Coming from the ranks of a career in finance bureaucracy, one party official said, Canikli should not be expected to opt for a major reshuffle in the procurement bureaucracy.
“He believes in seniority … He would not chose to work with ‘my men’ instead of ‘competent men who know their job well.’ He will likely not reshuffle top management at the procurement bureaucracy,” the official said.
He said: “The [procurement] bureaucracy should expect him to encourage them to advance existing international programs or launch new ones. He has a favourable opinion on international partnerships.”
A former bureaucrat who worked with Canikli said: “I expect him to be keen on advancing professional management at state institutions. He would wish procurement agencies to work like efficient, privately owned companies. That means he will have a good relationship with the main procurement office.” That office is the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (or SSM in its Turkish acronym), run by a veteran bureaucrat, Ismail Demir.
An SSM official said: “While he has a favourable opinion on international programs he will pursue an agenda to step up Turkey’s various indigenous design, development and production programs. For him the trade-off between ‘international’ and ‘indigenous’ is not a zero-sum game.”
Under the AKP’s rule since 2002, indigenous programs have become the backbone of Turkey’s procurement policy. Turkey has launched multibillion-dollar indigenous programs including a new generation main battle tank, a new generation fighter jet, drones (including armed systems), corvettes and frigates, a landing platform dock, helicopters, satellites and scores of armored vehicles.
But Canikli will likely not become the sole decision-maker shaping Turkey’s several weapons systems programs.
“His office will act like a secretariat between the SSM and the [presidential] palace,” said one senior AKP figure. “He will be instrumental in shaping top decisions but will not be the top decision-maker himself. The president has an ambition about building a sustainable, high-tech local industry … hence his direct involvement in major decisions.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the major driving force behind Turkey’s modernization efforts with a strong touch of “national” effort. He says he wants to build a totally ‘independent’ arms industry by 2023, the Turkish republic’s centennial. He wants to eliminate any dependence on foreign-made systems, although he does not oppose Turkish participation in international programs or foreign know-how in Turkish programs.