ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has passed new laws granting him full authority over defense procurement and control over Turkey’s top defense companies.
The Dec. 24 decree of a state of emergency forces the country’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or SSM, to directly report to Erdogan. SSM was previously under the defense minister’s authority.
According to decree No. 696, SSM’s personnel will be appointed with the president’s approval.
The decree also authorizes the president to call for and chair meetings of the Defence Industry Executive Committee, or SSIK, Turkey’s panel that oversees top procurement decisions and national arms programs. The committee’s other members are the prime minister, interior minister, defense minister and chief of the military general staff. SSM will operate the committee’s secretariat. SSIK was previously chaired by the prime minister.
Erdogan has been largely running Turkey with state of emergency decrees after a failed coup in July 2016 that aimed to topple his government. In April, the Turks narrowly voted to pass constitutional amendments that gave Erdogan almost unchecked powers in a new “executive presidential system.” Before the April referendum, the prime minister had the executive powers, while the president had a largely ceremonial role.
After ruling Turkey for 12 years, Erdogan in 2014 was elected as Turkey’s president and has since expanded his powers.
The state of emergency decree No. 696 also brought a critical foundation under the control of Erdogan. The Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, or TSKGV, which owns majority shares in Turkey’s top defense companies, will now report to the president. Before the decree, it reported to the defense minister.
The decree empowers the president to act as chairman of TSKGV’s board. Other board members are the defense minister, deputy chief of the military general staff, undersecretary to the defense minister and SSM’s undersecretary.
Some of the Turkish companies controlled by TSKGV are military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense company; Turkish Aerospace Industries; Tusas Engine Industries; missile-maker Roketsan; and military software specialist Havelsan. All of these companies are considered top defense companies in Turkey.
A senior government official from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party said the decree reflects the president’s notorious interest in the defense industry and indigenous programs.
“It is not a secret that our president views many of our indigenous programs as his pet projects,” he said. “It is not surprising that he has officially taken charge of these programs, as the April referendum gave him the authority to act as an executive president.”
Some industry sources think the new decree will not change much in the way Turkish programs are run.
“The decree only formalizes a de facto situation in which Erdogan was the procurement boss,” a Western company’s Turkey executive said. “From our point of view, there will not be much change.”
Other industry sources expect the decree to boost Erdogan’s involvement in procurement and programs.
“It is true that there was a de facto situation before the decree. But that was an anomaly, legally speaking. Now that that situation is de jure, I think the president will feel more liberty to personally administer critical decisions, especially in milestone programs,” an Ankara-based industry official said.
“This will further centralize decision-making in the Turkish system,” according to a London-based Turkey specialist. “With the procurement and military bureaucracy weakened, the president will run a one-man show.”
However, the government official disagreed. “The president’s decisions on major programs, local or international, will be based on skilfully crafted input and deliberations coming from the procurement and military bureaucracies, sometimes even from the Foreign [Affairs] Ministry,” he said.
Erdogan’s interest in defense procurement and indigenous programs is not new. In 2014, a draft bill empowered then-Prime Minister Erdogan to extend the terms of top brass. The bill meant that the annual reshuffle in top brass underscored a visible shift in power from the generals to civilians in controlling defense procurement.
In the 1990s, Turkish generals had the upper hand in procurement decisions. Since Erdogan rose to power in 2002, the military’s role in politics and procurement has significantly diminished.
With his new powers, Erdogan will now select a contender for the serial production of the Altay, Turkey’s first indigenous main battle tank in the making. He will finalize an emerging deal with Russia for the purchase of four S-400 systems that will make Turkey’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense system. Erdogan also will oversee Turkey’s parallel talks to co-produce a similar air defense architecture with know-how from the European Eurosam consortium, maker of the SAMP/T system.
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.