After becoming a member of the NATO Alliance on 18 February 1952, Turkey initiated a comprehensive modernization program for its Armed Forces. Towards the end of the 1980s, a second restructuring process was initiated.
The TAF, with a combined troop strength of 1,054,750 soldiers, is the second largest standing force in NATO (after the United States). Currently, 36,700 troops are also stationed in the north of Cyprus.
European Union officials state that the addition of the Turkish Armed Forces into the EU Military Framework will enable it (the EU) to be a true global player and super power. The TAF already participates in European Union battlegroups under control of the European Council, as a part of the Italian-Romanian-Turkish Battlegroup, which will be on standby for duty during June–December 2010. It also contributes operational staff to the Eurocorps multinational army corps initiative of the EU and NATO.
NATO officials also state that the modern day Turkish Armed Forces are "very experienced and well-trained".
The Turkish Army has its foundations in remnant Ottoman forces inherited after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The rise of Turkish nationalism in Anatolia, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, led eventually to victory in the Turkish War of Independence, and subsequently to the founding of the Republic of Turkey, at which time these remnant forces were reorganized into the Turkish Army.
In July 1974, the Turkish Armed Forces intervened against a coup in Cyprus, organized by EOKA-B and led by Nikos Sampson who ousted the democratically elected Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III in order to establish Enosis (Union) between Greece and Cyprus. The coup was backed by the Greek military junta in Athens. The conflict in Cyprus lasted until August 1974 and resulted in the de-facto division of the island between the Turkish Cypriot controlled north and the Greek Cypriot controlled south. Turkey still maintains troops in Cyprus, since a political solution could not yet be achieved, and since many members of the Turkish Cypriot community fear a return to the intercommunal violence which occurred between 1963 and 1974. A referendum in 2004 for the Annan Plan which aimed at reunifying the island was supported by the Turkish Cypriots, but rejected by the Greek Cypriots, on the grounds that it gave too many rights and political powers to the Turkish Cypriots who make up 1/5 of the island's population.
Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia are the shortest land and air transport routes to the vast energy resources in the Middle East. Radical changes are taking place in the region around Turkey, and these changes bring great challenges with them. While the uncertainties in the content and duration of these changes continue, Turkey stands firm as an element of stability in the region.
In this environment of uncertainty, the threat to the security of Turkey is no longer comprised solely of the various regimes and military powers in the region, but also of political, economic and social instabilities, border disputes, struggles of power and terrorism.
In addition to the regional crises, the Turkish Armed Forces must -based on political decisions- also be prepared to respond to the crises which pose a threat to global peace.
Strictly adhering to Atatürk’s principle, "Peace at Home, Peace in the World", the Armed Forces of the Republic of Turkey is determined not to pursue any aggressive intentions, but will take action when the independence of the Turkish state and the security and honour of the Turkish nation will be attacked; in parallel with the common ideals of international organizations and treaties of which Turkey is a member and signatory.
As a member of the NATO Alliance, the Republic of Turkey has ensured an increased sense of security to her allies and has contributed to the protection of global peace as well. Turkey continues to cooperate with NATO countries in the field of defense and fully supports the initiatives towards global disarmament and arms control. In this context, Turkey is committed to a global disarmament plan that is realized under an effective control mechanism, which does not adversely affect the security of any nation.
In an environment full of hot conflicts, Turkey, having great importance as the last link within the NATO defense chain, must have a powerful national defense capability and a strong Army that's ready to effectively react against potential dangers.
The main elements of the Turkish Defense Doctrine are the determination for national defense, NATO solidarity and loyalty to the Turkish Armed Forces.
The Armed Forces of the Republic of Turkey comprises the Army, Navy and Air Force which are subordinate to the Turkish General Staff. The General Command of Gendarmerie and the Coast Guard Command, which operate as part of the internal security forces in peacetime, are subordinate to the Land and Naval Forces Commands, respectively, in wartime.
The Chief of General Staff is the Commander of the Armed Forces. In wartime, he acts as the Commander in Chief on behalf of the President. Commanding the Armed Forces and establishing the policies and programs related with the preparation for combat of personnel, intelligence, operations, organization, training and logistic services are the responsibilities of the Turkish General Staff. Furthermore, the Turkish General Staff coordinates the military relations of the Turkish Armed Forces with NATO member states and other friendly nations.
The Turkish Armed Forces consists of five branches:
The Turkish Army is one of the largest standing armies in the world and the second largest army of NATO. The Turkish Army can deploy an Army Corps of 50,000 men to conduct joint operations at short notice. The Army can conduct air assault operations with a lift capability of up to six battalions at a time, day and night.
The Turkish Air Force is one of the oldest air forces in the world and operates one of the largest combat aircraft fleets of NATO. In its long history, many famous air aces and aviation pioneers have served in the Turkish Air Force, including Sabiha Gökçen, the world's first female combat pilot. Supported by the TuAF's in-flight refueling capability, the fighter jets of the Turkish Air Force can participate in international operations and exercises on every major continent and return back to their home bases.
The Turkish Navy has historically been one of the largest sea powers of the Mediterranean. Supported by its replenishment ships, the Turkish Navy can participate in international operations and exercises on every major sea and ocean of the world. Submarines can individually navigate up to 15,000 nautical miles and return back to their home bases.
The Turkish Gendarmerie is responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas which do not fall under the jurisdiction of regular police forces.
The Turkish Coast Guard is responsible for maintaining law and order in the Turkish territorial waters.
The military has had a record of intervening in politics. Indeed, it assumed power for several periods in the latter half of the 20th century. It executed coups d'etat in 1960, 1971, and 1980. Most recently, it maneuvered the removal of an Islamic-oriented prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, in 1997.
On April 27, 2007, in advance of the November 4, 2007 presidential election, and in reaction to the politics of Abdullah Gül, who has a past record of involvement in Islamist political movements and banned Islamist parties such as the Welfare Party, the army issued a statement of its interests. It said that the army is a party to "arguments" regarding secularism; that Islamism ran counter to the secular nature of the Turkish Republic, and to the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The Army's statement ended with a clear warning that the Turkish Armed Forces stood ready to intervene if the secular nature of the Turkish Constitution is compromised, stating that "the Turkish Armed Forces maintain their sound determination to carry out their duties stemming from laws to protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic of Turkey. Their loyalty to this determination is absolute."
Contrary to outsider expectations, the Turkish populace is not uniformly averse to coups; some people welcome the ejection of governments they perceive as unconstitutional.
Apart from contributing to NATO, the Turkish Navy is also available for the Black Sea Naval Co-operation Task Group (BLACKSEAFOR), which was created in early 2001 by Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine for search and rescue and other humanitarian operations in the Black Sea.