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    Orphan State

    What is the purpose of a Lebanese national dialogue when any participant who might whisper that the Lebanese state should have command over all its territory knows that he (women have no role in the “national dialogue”) risks being labeled a traitor? In such an atmosphere it is best to be realistic and fatalistic about the longevity of the Resistance’s weapons. Why question the tide of history? The weaponry will probably prove a principal element in an eventful ride into the unknown in South Lebanon, and whoever drives events, for sure it won’t include the Lebanese state. Que Será, Será – Whatever will be, will be.

    Is there really no choice? Lebanon’s best weapon is perhaps simply to be a strong democratic state, its strength illustrated by state monopoly of force, a proud national army, and refusal to sign any peace that does not address its requirements.

    Overall, the indefinite postponement of a state monopoly of force can only mean further fraying of the already-tattered fabric of state and society in Lebanon. Lebanon will evolve as two countries that are organically intertwined, but one will be excluded from war and peace decisions, making it ever more desperate for a divorce. This is a poisonous domestic scenario.

    The coexistence of a national resistance and a national army, the former having precedence over the latter, can only demoralize the state army. It is really hard to see the situation in any other way. Further, despite its social and welfare wings, Hezbollah has admitted that it cannot carry the full apparatus of a state in the territories it controls. The people need the services, policing and justice that only the state can provide, but these activities cannot function seriously when the state is a subordinate partner that does not hold the monopoly of force.

    Of course Lebanon must have enlarged and highly robust defensive capabilities in the hands of its national army. Such capability is the cornerstone of any national defense strategy and any agreement for decommissioning private weapons. Lebanon is in a state of war with one neighbor, and faces continuous destabilizing infiltration from the other. In manpower and training, the national army presents a viable platform for the necessary military reinforcement. However, if the army has to persevere much longer as a poorly-regarded secondary force, this viability will corrode.

    The way forward depends on the balance of sentiment within the Shia community. As long as the majority of the community feels it needs Hezbollah’s armed wing for external security and to hold up the community within Lebanon, state monopoly of force cannot be implemented. Hezbollah’s majority has become so sufficiently entrenched that only extraordinary events or an extraordinary political initiative could substantially shift the Shia balance.

    Any political initiative would have to go beyond the standard Lebanese national dialogue. Presumably it would involve bringing forward constitutional change to the top of the agenda, for example abolition of sectarian allocations in parliamentary elections and/or a presidential council with a rotating chair. Political sectarianism cannot suddenly evaporate, considering Lebanon’s fundamental character as a collection of communities. Nonetheless, that does not preclude concepts for a new pluralistic compact. The problem is that it is impossible to have a genuine constitutional debate, let alone a legitimate outcome, in an environment in which at least half the country feels intimidated and overshadowed by private weaponry.

    Hezbollah’s situation is obviously connected to external factors. The party’s Iranian and Syrian partners remain committed to its armed wing. Iran and Syria apparently oppose the right of the Lebanese state to monopoly of force. For Iran, Hezbollah represents a deterrent against an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities, which is from the perspective of the Iranian regime a logical strategic investment. This is potentially a double-edged sword for Hezbollah, however. There is a reasonable chance that the party’s Shia public would react badly to damages perceived as resulting from servicing Iran.

    By the same token, Hezbollah’s championing the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which is controversial for Shia in general and not a natural orientation of Lebanese Shia, may have a similar souring effect.

    These are speculative developments. What is not speculative is the commitment of the international community, expressed through multiple UN Security Council resolutions, to state monopoly of force in Lebanon. In the world beyond the parochial boundaries of Middle Eastern affairs, state monopoly of force is an existential matter for the global family of nations. We know why it does not apply in Lebanon and we know the status quo will carry on, but the fundamental position of the international community will also not change.

    William HARRIS
    NOW Lebanon
    18.11.2009

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