The National Dialogue and the Defense Strategy: True or False?1. The National dialogue is meant to bridge the gap between two points of view on how to defend Lebanon.
False. The gap is not between two "views". The gap is between the Lebanese constitution, which gives the state exclusive authority over all armed forces in the country, and the presence of a military organization (associated with one party) and operating outside the constitution and authority of the state (which represents all the Lebanese people).
Differences of views about the various military and nonmilitary elements that should constitute the national defense strategy are debatable. But it is the government that has the responsibility of putting together such a strategy. In any event, no defense strategy can breach the basic constitutional principle of complete state sovereignty and authority over all arms.
2. Those who object to Hizbollah’s maintenance of an independent armed force want to deprive Lebanon from a much-needed military capability.
False. The objection is to Hezbollah’s authority over the weapons and not to Lebanon maintaining them. What is needed is a concrete and workable transition plan that will enable the Lebanese army to take over and integrate that capacity into its own arsenal and organizational setup. It may take some time. The dialogue committee should set the objective and let the experts draw up the roadmap.
3. But Hizbollah’s independent military force has been made legal by the reference to the “resistance” in the ministerial declaration endorsed by parliament.
False. Ministerial declarations cannot make constitutional what is not. The vague reference to Hizbollah in the infamous Army-People-Resistance tripod together with the principle of full state authority in the same ministerial declaration was intended as constructive ambiguity. But even if the oblique reference to Hizbollah as one leg of the tripod is made explicit in a ministerial statement or in government declarations it would not make it constitutional. It would only make its unconstitutionality more transparent. Moreover, although the Ministerial statement is endorsed by Parliament, the principles of the constitution supersede any legislation or vote of confidence in the government.
4. The President’s primary role in the national dialogue should be to mediate between the two sides in order to reach a compromise.
False. The president can play the role of mediator to bridge policy differences and help reach compromises. But The President is the guardian of the constitution and state sovereignty and cannot be viewed as a mediator on the matter under discussion in the national dialogue. He should naturally play a leading role in charting a transition , from where we are now to a fully constitutional situation, where state authority is exclusive and complete. There can be no compromise on the end result. The Lebanese army command should play a primary role in helping the president draw up a workable transition, in coordination with Hizbollah as practically and logistically needed. March 14 is a very interested party, but is not the counterparty to Hizbollah. The state is.
5. It is possible for a sovereign state to have an independent armed force outside its authority as long as part of the country’s territory is occupied.
False. Occupation of territory in itself, even if fully recognized as such under international law, does not allow or make legal a duality of authority over armed forces. Only if there are citizens under occupation where state authority does not extend, can people and groups assume the responsibility of armed resistance, independent of official state institutions from which they are practically cut off. That was the case in the South and part of the Beqaa until May 2000. Fortunately, and thanks to the sacrifices of the legitimate resistance supported by the whole nation, no Lebanese people are under occupation today. Shebaa farms and northern Ghajar have no bearing on Hizbollahs claim to an independent military responsibility, whether for liberation or defense.
6. Hizbollah’s independent military capability protects Lebanon by providing a deterrence against Israel.
False. Any military capability in Lebanon, including that of Hizbollah, has a deterrence effect. But in this case one needs to weigh Hizbollah’s deterrence against the additional risks that the status quo carries. These include: Lebanon being targeted as a de facto ally of Iran (Hizbollah is in a declared alliance with Iran); the deepening of Lebanon’s sectarian fault lines (unavoidable given Hizbollah’s character); the erosion of state authority (Hizbollah is perceived as the mightier of the two); and the inevitably infectious spread of illegal weapons (weapons that protect weapons and weapons against weapons that protect weapons). Netting the costs and benefits, it is difficult to see how Lebanon is being better protected by Hizbollah’s current status. Deterrence does protect when it is in the hands of the legitimate armed forces and under the collective authority of the state. This should be the aim.
7. Hizbollah’s military capability and its alliance with Iran are intended against Israel, so can’t we leave them alone and let Hizbollah do its thing?
False. Lebanon is one country and a very small and delicate one at that. If there is a risk to part, there is a risk to all. If the South is attacked other parts Lebanese and other Lebanese cannot be indifferent. We are in it together. Lebanon is not a collection of autonomous groups or regions. Even in federal systems decisions on war and peace and authority over weapons are centralized. National defense is not an area for outsourcing or privatization. This is true for any country. For Lebanon it is critical.
8. We need to agree on what kind of state we want before we address the weapons issue.
No we don’t. The Lebanese system and constitution are neither perfect nor sacred. But we are not in the business of creating a country or state from scratch. We do have a unified state, and an agreed constitution. If we view Lebanon as a country still-in-the-making, we run the risk of other parties and communities arguing for their own autonomous armed capabilities, pending the establishment of a “new and improved” state. That would be disastrouss. The Lebanese state has plenty of problems but it is not at square zero.
9. All we need is to solve the matter of Hizbollah’s independent weapons and all our problems will disappear.
Of course not. We have many other problems that also need to be addressed. Lebanon’s increasingly dysfunctional political system and its ineffective public administration have fallen far short of what the Lebanese people are capable of, as individuals and as a society. From the archaic election law and other reforms in the Taif accord yet to be implemented, the terrible condition of the country’s infrastructure, to the grossly unsatisfactory environment for productive investment and job creation, there are many serious problems in urgent need for national attention. But underlying all these problems is a general failure of governance. The basic functioning of Lebanon’s political system needs to be restored, with reasonably coherent governments being formed to reflect the expressed will of voters and not the balance of (armed) powers, and on the basis of transparent competition among policy (not narrow political) platforms and choices, and a reasonable degree of accountability. This, obviously, is a tall order. Removing the elephant does not cancel the need to tidy up the huge mess in the china store. But until that happens, tidying up will remain next to impossible.