Social insecurities and security politics


On Friday 28th March 2014, Depo presented Social insecurities and security politics as part of Time to Talk’s The crisis of trust in Europe: how to build new bonds of mutual confidence series.

In Europe, loss of trust is perceived as a negative development, threatening the very social fabric, upon which democratic institutions rest. However, in Turkey it appears that trust is neither seen as a required, nor as an established component within social relationships. According to worldwide surveys of social values, Turkey is amongst the countries with the very lowest rates of interpersonal trust. Surveys which evaluate confidence in social institutions also suggest that in Turkey institutes commonly seen as being the furthest removed from democratic participation – such as the army – come out with highest levels of public confidence.

For the first debate in the crisis of trust series, Depo wanted to look at the role trust plays in security. In Turkish, the words for “trust”, “confidence” and “security” come from the same root: “Güven” (Güven=trust, Güvenlik=security). Historically a country whose local and international politics have been shaped by the perspective of national security and which has depended upon its military power, Turkey, has recently been seeing an expanison in its police and intelligence services. The Social insecurities and security politics debate aimed therefore to rethink these institutions, the changes they are undergoing and the relationship these changes bear to current perceptions of trust and concerns about democracy.

Since many of the questions raised in the debate relate to current political events in Turkey, it would probably be helpful to start with some background information. The last year has been an eventful year in Turkish politics and this debate took place only two days before the local elections, themselves coming in the aftermath of the Gezi protests of 2013. During these internationally observed protests in mid-2013 the police responded with brutality in order to maintain public order and eight people were killed and many more were injured. This was not the only shockwave in Turkish politics, however, and what followed Gezi, and appeared to be far more threatening to the ruling AKP [Justice and Development Party], was the split between PM [Prime Minister] Erdoğan and the Hizmet Movement headed by Fethullah Gülen. This split broke the alignment of the two leading Islamic influences in Turkish political and cultural life and Gülen’s sect has now been accused of constituting a “parallel state”. In December, some very serious corruption charges were put forward, involving the highest levels of the Erdoğan administration and causing four ministers to resign. Many of these accusations were based on wiretapped conversations of government ministers, the PM and his family and these were then leaked and made publically available. The final leak was a wiretap of a meeting attended by Turkey’s highest ranking bureaucrats and concerning a possible intervention in Syria. Erdoğan and the AKP responded by accusing the “parallel state” of arranging the wiretaps and of fabricating the corruption charges.

In Depo’s debate, Zeynep Şarlak started her talk by discussing the background of the security state and the historical emergence of its ideology. Şarlak looked at the development of the concept in the USA and how it was then exported to other countries – including Turkey – talking about the events and motivations that shaped the security state in North America and inviting the audience to draw parallels within Turkish political history. After setting the frame for the security state paradigm, she then analysed how state security mechanisms propagate a sense of insecurity and animosity.

In 1914, a US lobby, called the National Security League, started to focus on the issue of national security. The National Security League was a patriotic, nationalistic organisation funded by wealthy national elites and supportive of a significant expansion of the armed forces – through the implementation of national service – the naturalisation and Americanisation of immigrants, Americanism, meritocracy and increased governmental intervention in the economy to ensure military preparedness. Although the league did not last long and had ceased to play a role in American politics by 1940, the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the Second World War ensured that the league’s principles were revisited and came to be included in the national political discourse. The total war basis of the Second World War and it’s narrative of “good” versus “evil” went a long way towards ensuring public support for changes to the structure of the state and led to serious military investment and a restructuring of the economy. The industrial-military complex in the USA has since become so significant that it has transformed the national economy, but its peacetime institutionalisation started in 1947 when the National Security Council was formed. The establishment of the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] followed close on the heels of the National Security Council and it is these two institutions which would come to be the major export models of the American security state. The next step in American national security policy was to form alliances with other like minded nations and select right wing military regimes. Here the word “national” stood for a homogenised identity, which defined itself against the “other” and this formula demanded the constant presence of a threat, a wolf at the stable door. For the latter part of the 20th century the USSR helpfully bared its fangs and the spectre of this opponent was used to suppress critical voices by association, redressing domestic threats in the light of the external menace. For instance, McCarthyism was used to destroy not only the American communist party, but also to seriously undermine workers’ unions. Subsequently, the development of the national security concept, both ideologically and in practice, led to a suppression of dissident voices within the USA.


In Turkey similar instruments emerged following the coup d’état of 1960 and the National Security Council [MGK] came into being. During Depo’s debate, Şarlak pointed out that the structure of the council was shaped by a concept of domestic security, reflecting the military’s tendency to muscle in on state policy, sharing power with elected politicians; an approach mirrored in many of the satellite countries with which the US army cooperated during the Cold War. The Turkish national security state was then steadily reinforced between the 1960s and the 1980s and following the military coup of 1980 was instituitionalised so thoroughly that the MGK and its general secretariat have now been the key security actors in Turkey for the past two decades.

Şarlak argued that from the moment the complex ideological and social basis of Turkish society – familiarity with traditionally repressive states, strong paternalistic codes, a social structure made up of mostly isolated communities, Kemalism as a hegemonic doctrine later accompanied by a quasi-totalitarian Turkish-Islamic synthesis – was combined with the national security ideology, it became almost impossible to establish a social democratic identity and to act as a free citizen.

Evren Balta’s talk took up the security and social insecurities issue where Şarlak left off and pointed to the transformation of the security apparatus, the marketisation of security as a service and the relationship of both developments to perceptions of trust and confidence within Turkish society. Balta claimed that the late 20th century reorganisation of the security institutions had had a direct impact upon senses and perceptions of security on an individual level. A sense of insecurity and a lack of trust have, she said, come to be the defining principles of public life in Turkey, leading to an increased desire for people to ensure their own security: that of their physical selves, their properties etc. People are surrounded by CCTV systems, scanners, guards, border security systems and an encompassing surveillance cloud, yet the presence of this security paraphenalia merely serves to promote a feeling of insecurity by making itself impossible to overlook. However, what Balta really finds paradoxical is the evidence her research uncovered that shows that, while crime rates dropped worldwide at the end of the twentieth/start of the twenty-first century, the rates of imprisonment and detention did not subsequently decrease, but rather steeply increased.

Balta argued that the prevalent sense of insecurity, perhaps even paranoia, in regard to security issues, is not rooted in real, actual threats, but rather is a result of the self-reorganisation of the security apparatus and their associated industries. In detailing her argument Balta listed three areas where transformations and reorganisations are observable:


1- The way public security has been reorganised since the 1990’s.

Modern states used to divide security into two seperate realms: Outside of a country’s borders security was the business of the military, while internal security issues were handled by the police. At the start of the 90’s this division started to disappear, police apparatuses around the world started to gain more power, achieving new levels of autonomy, for example, the capacity to execute international operations. According to Balta thera are two main reasons for this change: one it helps the police undertake responsibility for organising poverty (aiding moves away from welfare states and helping criminalise poverty) and two it fits in better with the characteristics and structural changes within modern terrorism. These two changes have given rise to an active and detailed profiling of citizens, with the supposed aim of preventing crimes “before” they actually happen and the knock on effect of suspecting every citizen until they have proved their reliability – we are no longer innocent until proven guilty, rather guilty until proven innocent.


2- The privatisation and commodification of security.

In the past two decades, security has developed into a market. Indeed it is one of the fastest growing and most profitable industries worldwide. Companies want to step into the very attractive business of private security. It is a vast market in Turkey, with over nine thousand private security companies employing 300 to 400 thousand personnel in this one country alone.


3- An increase in “community justice”.

As their sense of security dwindles, individuals are starting to take security into their own hands. According to the data presented by Balta, Turkey suffered from an average of ten annual cases of violent vigilantism between 1991 and 2004, this figure, however, then quickly rose to 50 incidents a year after 2004.



Evren Balta teaches at Yıldız Technical University in the Department of Political Science and International Relations. She received her PhD in Political Science from the CUNY-Graduate Center in 2007. While primarily teaching comparative politics, she has special research interests in conflict studies, civil-military relations, and territorial politics. In addition to several articles, she has co-edited [with İsmet Akça] The Politics of Military, State and Security in Turkey (İstanbul Bilgi University Publications, 2010) and is the author of The Global Security Complex (İletisim Publications, 2012).

Zeynep Şarlak is a graduate of Boğaziçi University’s Department of Economics, from whose Political Science and International Relations Department she also received her M.A. degree before working in the Comparative Politics Department of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris in France. Since then she has worked in Galatasaray University’s Department of Political Science as a research assistant and as a researcher for the international research project Crime and Culture within the sixth framework programme of the European Commission. She also helped develop the Financial Literacy program as part of a project supported by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, a Turkey-wide program led by TEB [Türk Ekonomi Bankası]. Currently she is a PhD student at Leiden University and is working as a researcher on the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly’s cross-border citizens’ network for peace’s inter-communal reconciliation & human security project involving the West Balkans and Turkey. Her focus areas include national security and the sociology of corruption.



Tartışma: Toplumsal Güvensizlikler ve Güvenlik

Saat: 18:30 Tarih: 28 Mart 2014

Güven kaybı Avrupa’da son yıllarda, özellikle de ekonomik kriz döneminde yükselen, demokratik kurumların üzerine inşa edildiği toplumsal dokuyu tehdit eden olumsuz bir gelişme olarak tespit ediliyor. Türkiye’de ise güven, kurucu ya da yerleşik bir toplumsal ilişki unsuru olarak hemen hiçbir zaman var olmamış. Toplumsal değerler araştırmalarına göre Türkiye dünyada kişilerarası güvenin en düşük olduğu ülkelerden biri. Öte yandan toplumsal kurumlara duyulan güvenle ilgili araştırmalarda demokratik katılıma en uzak kurumlar güvenilirlik açısından en üstte çıkıyor.

Türkiye’de toplumsal ve siyasal güven/güvensizlik durumunu farklı alanlara odaklanarak tartışmaya açmaya çalışacağımız toplantıların ilkinde konuşmacılar konuyu güvenlik kavramının iki perspektifinden ele alacak: Zeynep Şarlak Türkiye’de güvenlik devletinin gelişimi, günümüzdeki tortuları, bu siyasi ve sosyal yapının güvensizlik üretme mekanizmaları, Evren Balta ise güvenlik aygıtının dönüşümü, güvenliğin piyasalaşması ve bunun toplumdaki güven duygusu üzerindeki etkileri hakkında konuşacak.

İkinci kısımda izleyicilerin soru, fikir ve yorumlarını paylaşmasıyla toplantı, tek taraflı sunum formatından çıkıp zihin açıcı tartışmalara imkân sağlayacak bir platforma dönüşebilecek.



Zeynep Şarlak – Araştırmacı, yazar. Halen Leiden Üniversitesi’nde Türkiye örneğinde güvenlik devleti konusunda doktora çalışmalarını sürdürüyor. Türkiye’de yolsuzluğun hangi ilişki biçimlerinde ortaya çıktığı ve nasıl algılandığı konusunda araştırmalar yaptı.
Evren Balta – Siyaset Bilimci, yazar. Yıldız Teknik Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde doçent. Dünyada ve Türkiye’de güvenlik siyasetleri ve uygulamaları üzerine araştırma ve yayınları bulunuyor.