Now Lebanon Website
Beirut , Lebanon
Wednesday, March 11, 2010

Neutrality now, de-confessionalism later

There is renewed debate going on in Lebanon about ending the confessional system that reserves certain political positions for representatives of certain religious communities, as stipulated in the 1989 Taif agreement between the Muslims and the Christian of Lebanon under the patronage of Syria, Saudi Arabia and the United States. It reminds me of the agreement between the Christians and the Muslims in 1920 in the presence of the power breakers, who at the time were France and the United Kingdom at the famous Versailles conference in 1919, which let to the French proclamation of independent Lebanon. 

In both occasions the Lebanese have sought to disengage from the regional conflicts and push ahead with a sovereign, independent, democratic and unique state in the Middle East. In 1943 the Christians agreed that Lebanon is an independent country with an Arab culture, and the Muslims accepted the idea of a greater Lebanon, and together they forged a neutral unwritten National Pact. In 1989 in Taif, Saudi Arabia, the Christians of Lebanon agreed to give up some of their power to the Muslims on a 50/50 basis in exchange for full sovereignty and the removal of Syrian and other militias from Lebanon, a clearly neutral compromise. 

After 30 years of instability, wars and destruction in Lebanon, the world community finally stood up for its sovereignty, independence and stability by voting for three United Nations Security Council resolutions (1559, 1680 and 1701), which directly support the institutions of Lebanon's government. The resolutions are also steering Lebanon towards a neutrality status. The Lebanese themselves now need the courage to call for Lebanese territorial neutrality in the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, which will allow Lebanon to be a modern state.  

The 1989 Taif agreement has not been fully implemented. There are still militias in Lebanon in control of some areas and streets of the country. 1. Hizballah maintains its heavy arms and regional military status to fight Israel. 2. The 11 Palestinian camps are full of weaponry and continue to have an Arab military status based on the 1969 Cairo accord. 3. Weapons continue to flow from Syria to its allies in Lebanon and its political will over the Lebanese government continues to interfere in Lebanon's internal affairs. 4. UNSCRs 1559, 1680 and 1701 have yet to be fully implemented. 5. The Israelis still occupy Shebaa, Ghajar, the hills of Kfarshouba, and continue there over flights and intelligence activities in Lebanon.   

So what should come first? The political deconfessionalism suggested by some of the March 8 coalition and their new allies, or the implementations of the three United Nations Resolutions to remove illegal weaponry, militias and to finally and conclusively ends Syria's political interference in Lebanon as demanded by the March 14 coalition? 

The Road Map toward Lebanon's Neutrality

If Lebanese neutrality is implemented, Lebanon's territory will be free from any military use by Syria, Iran, Israel and armed Palestinians. Their will also no longer be militias attached to any of those countries operating on its territory. 

Unilateral declarations of neutrality need the backing of other powers, in the region or internationally. There are three successful neutralities around the world, and each one has its unique circumstances and raison d'etre. The first one was Switzerland, located in the very heart of Europe and bordered by Germany, Austria, Italy, and France. Before its neutrality status Switzerland, like Lebanon today, was used to wage wars and as a pawn between the rival European countries. The Swiss institutions were not able to function independently. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and its people asked for the country's positive neutrality. On November 20, 1815, Austria, Britain, Spain, Prussia, Russia, and France signed an act recognizing and guaranteeing Switzerland's perpetual neutrality and the inviolability of her territory.   

Just like Lebanon's relations with its neighbors, Costa Rica has had testy relations with neighboring Nicaragua, with much of the friction stemming from the personal rivalry between Costa Rica's "Don Pepe" Figueres and Nicaragua's "Tacho" Somoza. The Costa Ricans realized that the only way out is through their unity and military disengagement. In 1948 Costa Rica abolished its army and declared unilateral neutrality, which was recognized by the neighboring countries. But because it did not have a strong foundation, Costa Rica lost its neutrality in the 70s and 80s until President Oscar Arias Sanchez restored it in 1983.

When Turkmenistan established its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its citizens decided to pursue a neutral foreign policy in the region. At the global level Turkmenistan was able to establish full diplomatic relations with great powers such as the U.S., Russia, the EU, and China. At the regional level Turkmenistan established friendly relations with neighboring countries, including large regional powers like Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and India. At a December 12, 1995 session of the United Nations General Assembly, Turkmenistan requested neutrality status and all 185 members of the United Nations responded by unanimously adopting a special resolution, "On the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan."

All three neutralities came about from the united will of the people. Switzerland and Costa Rica have neutrality understandings that enjoy regional respect and acceptance, and Turkmenistan is the only neutrality that was voted on by the United Nations General Assembly. Other countries recognized as neutral are: Austria, Finland, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Malta, Sweden and the Vatican.

Lebanon's Territorial Neutrality

There are two ways for Lebanon to proclaim a neutrality status. - 1. Since the question of neutrality has to be unilaterally and formally proclaimed as a foreign policy position, the Lebanese factions, free from any type of foreign pressure, could decide to come together based on their 66-year experience of instability, wars, and interferences from neighbors, and realize that the best path to long term stability and security for Lebanon to proclaim its neutrality and follow Turkmenistan's example by asking the United Nations General Assembly for international and regional recognition. 2. If the Lebanese inside the country are not free to act, Lebanese in the Diaspora can lobby for a U.N. resolution on the Territorial Neutrality of Lebanon on their behalf. This resolution would enforce the disarmament and disbandment of militias and armed groups operating in the territory of Lebanon through the United Nations Security Council. It would also implicitly cut off the militias from their irregular foreign alliances and their suppliers of arms and training. It could also lay the groundwork for the Lebanese Government to eventually adopt a formal "permanent neutrality status," as a basis of its foreign policy in order to ensure that the country will not be entangled in any future Middle East conflict. By adopting such a permanent neutrality status, Lebanon will no longer be dangerously committed by existing agreements and understandings with Syria and Iran. A neutrality status would also greatly help to stop the over flights of Israeli warplanes and stabilize and secure the Lebanese-Israeli border/blue line even if a formal peace treaty may still be far away. A permanent neutrality status for Lebanon may ultimately constitute the best guarantee for its long-term stability. 

Reform from Bottom Up

With neutrality first we are giving the Lebanese politicians the opportunity to have a buffer zone where they are able to mend fences between the different groups, make their own decisions without foreign interference and start to think and act only in the interests of their constituencies and of Lebanon. When the Lebanese start trusting each other and respecting one another's uniqueness, than Lebanese deconfessionalism is the answer not only politically, but also socially and culturally. From there, other reforms such as confederations, decentralization and most importantly the re-writing of a Lebanese constitution that will reflect a modern state of Lebanon can easily take place.    

The rights and duties of a neutral power are defined in Sections 5 and 13 of the Hague Convention of 1907. A permanently neutral power is a sovereign state bound by international treaty to be neutral towards the belligerents of all future wars. The concept of neutrality in war is narrowly defined and puts specific constraints on the neutral party in return for the internationally recognized right to remain neutral.

Walid Maalouf