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    Defense Begins with State-Building

    Despite the obvious canyon separating the perspectives of the March 14 and March 8 political camps regarding their versions of Lebanon’s defense strategy, members of both factions would almost certainly agree on one issue: the National Dialogue process, if left in its present form, will result in no change whatsoever.

    When talks about defense strategy are limited to bullets and missiles, tanks and planes, soldiers and fighters, it all really amounts to much ado about nothing.

    Lebanon’s so-called leaders, divided beyond repair on the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons, have evidently lost sight of what constitutes the defense strategy of a functioning nation: the ability of a state to maintain stability – not just in terms of security, but also to administer robust sectors of education, health care, justice and development. Defense policy includes all the factors necessary to allow citizens of a country to conduct their lives protected from the vicissitudes of external threats.

    Defense strategy, when understood with the goal of preserving a nation’s sustainable way of life, is all-encompassing – it is not about rocket-propelled grenades, although those have their space as well.

    As far as defending the most fundamental requirements for life, the Lebanese people have through the years demonstrated remarkable resilience. However, what distresses them and has distressed them is not whether they can repel a potential enemy attack; the Lebanese state itself remains a question mark.

    The most basic institutions of this state do not function properly, and they should be the subject of any dialogue that aspires to relevancy. People are concerned with rampant public-sector corruption, a judiciary that fails to protect or ensure their rights, a seeming decline in the quality of education and the ills of the health system. These institutions – so vital to the ability of a nation to defend itself – exist in a perpetual state of crisis management; to call them feeble might be generous.

    As we knew before Tuesday’s theater of the absurd, a debate over Hizbullah’s status as a non-state actor is a waste of time. Hizbullah’s role should be far down the agenda of a dialogue on what Lebanon’s defense strategy requires. To protect and strengthen the Lebanese people, the National Dialogue needs to focus foremost on state-building – establishing, shaping and promoting the institutions that guarantee a flourishing society.

    If the participants at the dialogue table ever dedicated their energies to this strategy, the National Dialogue could finally become useful. Politicians should not engage in the empty sound and fury of a fight about the weapons of Hizbullah; they should fight to create a state that can develop the institutions trusted and effective enough that one day – far in the future, by all appearances – the state will have the ability to take over the role of Hizbullah.

    The Daily Star
    10.03.2010

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