Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Former US Public Delegate to the United Nations
Former Director Public Diplomacy at USAID

Center for Education Dialogue and Advanced Research
United States House of Representatives
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Washington, DC

I have been talking and advocating for Lebanon's territorial neutrality since the United Nations Security Council voted in favor of Resolution 1559 in 2004. I consider this resolution a path towards neutrality. From all of the UNSCRs that were issued by the Security Council throughout the years, only 1559 and 1701 have a full staff to follow-up on its implementation and a requirement for them to report to the Council every six months.

Ever since gaining their independence, Lebanese have sought to disengage from regional conflicts and push ahead with a sovereign, independent, democratic and unique state in the Middle East.

But, neutrality has to be a sovereign decision taken by the government and supported by the United Nations. So, the Lebanese themselves now need the courage to call for Lebanese territorial neutrality in the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, which will give Lebanon the chance to be a modern state. Recently, there have been several voices from inside Lebanon who are calling for neutrality like President Amine Gemayel, Deputy Dory Chamoun and Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Raï.

There are three different types of neutrality around the world that were recognized legally by the United Nations: Switzerland, Costa Rica and Turkmenistan. Each country's neutrality was tailored on its geography, circumstances, timing and raison d'être. There are also eight countries that are considered by the world community as neutral in their hemisphere and they are Austria, Finland, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Malta, Sweden and the Vatican. Their neutrality allows them to always make sound foreign policy decisions that do not offend their neighbors.

My idea of neutrality for Lebanon is territorial only. And I believe that the Turkmenistan neutrality is the best example for Lebanon. The Assad-Baath regime is collapsing and its friends in Lebanon are wondering what is next. 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 63-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.

What are the strategic interests for the US, Lebanon and the region?

1. Break the axis of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
2. Solve the Palestinian refugees' deadlock in Lebanon.
3. Democracy will flourish faster and become a positive Arab example in the region.
4. It will enhance religious tolerance in the broader Middle East.
5. Minorities will become better protected and free to practice their faith.
6. Lebanon will regain Shebaa, Ghajar and the hill of Kfarshouba from Israel.
7. There will be no more Israeli over flights over Lebanese territories and the Lebanese-Israeli border/blue line can be stabilized and secured even if a formal peace treaty may still be far away. Also UNSCR 1680 will be fully implemented in demarking the boarders with Syria.
8. It would enforce the disarmament and disbandment of militias and armed groups operating in the territory of Lebanon.
9. It would also implicitly cut off the militias from their irregular foreign alliances and their suppliers of arms and training, and stop arms and other products in and out of Syria (which is of course a conduit in and out of Iran).
10. By adopting such a permanent neutrality status, Lebanon will no longer be dangerously committed by existing agreements and understandings with Syria and Iran.
11. 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.

In conclusion:

A neutral Lebanon would mean that Syria, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia would stop playing the various Lebanese communities off of each other.

A neutral Lebanon means a stable Lebanon that is of course in U.S. interests, not only from a U.S. investment perspective, but also as a potential regional partner to help with regional crises. It would be a strong and stable partnership taking into consideration the Lebanese migration to the United States since the early 1840.

A neutral Lebanon means a peaceful Lebanon not only as a Middle Eastern democracy, but also as a country made up of various religious and ethnic groups that have learned to peacefully share power. It becomes an example to promote democracy and tolerance around the world.

A neutral Lebanon means one border that Israel; a besieged U.S. ally will not have to worry about anymore. And Israel will no longer bomb a Lebanese hospital or some other civilian target, which can make us look bad by association and risk losing international credibility when we use our veto to protect the Israelis in the U.N. Security Council.

Therefore, neutrality is the answer for a better Lebanon.