Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How We Failed the Lebanese State

I appeared last night on TV Ontario's "The Agenda with Steve Paikin" to discuss the future of the state. The news "hook" was a report that the militant--non-state actors--fighting the Lebanese Army in the north are better equipped than the country's official army. The shorthand definition of what constitutes a state is its ability to maintain a monopoly of force within its borders--so the question was raised, are we seeing the end of the state system, or at least new challenges where non-state actors can challenge the prerogatives of the state?

It was an interesting discussion and I would encourage you to go to the Agenda's site and listen to it.

But one point from last night that I wanted to further develop right now. I said that Lebanon right now has the worst of all worlds. Prior to 2004 (and after 1990), Lebanon was a partly unsovereign state, with Syria exercising a de facto protectorate. This was resented by many Lebanese, it was galling to the West, but it did help keep factions in line and because Israel made it clear it would hold Syria responsible for what happened in Lebanon, it acted as a check to prevent harrassment against northern Israel from getting out of hand. We (the West) were able to remove most of the Syrian presence--but we didn't do much to build up the capabilities of the Lebanese state nor were we willing to commit the blood and treasure needed to make Lebanon truly sovereign again. And the war last summer showed that the Lebanese government neither could fully control its territory but also that it would not be given absolution for failing to control militant elements.

Say all the negative things you want about the post-1815 Congress of Vienna system--including its reactionary nature--but one thing they got right was that states had an interest in making sure neighboring states could function at a minimum level of operation. The Russian Empire sent a flotilla to Istanbul in the 1840s not to capture Constantinople but to help the Sultan maintain control over Anatolia for fear that continued instability would trigger a wider conflict in the Near East.

In Lebanon, we could have tolerated the Syrian role; or we could have done everything it takes to make the government truly sovereign. Instead, we decided that rhetoric trumped reality.

The state system is going to be around for the foreseeable future. So either we want to make states function--a variation of Amitai Etzioni's "Security First" principle--or we want to midwife the emergence of new states that can function (e.g. do we want to dispense with trying to hold together "Somalia" or pave the way for recognizing Somaliland in the north)--or we bring back some version of the old trusteeship program--which means the major powers have to pony up the resources.

Lebanon has been asking for help. Don't think they are going to get what they need.

There is no "we" in this - Lebanon was never that important.

You should ask: "What price Israel?"
Sometimes vague and imperfect solutions are better than pushing for "clarity" and "resolution." Is Lebanon better off today because the Cedar Revolution?
Anonymous 7:04:


The stability of Lebanon is shattered and the Jacobin policy of US & EU leaves not much hope for stability any time soon.

By the way, you and others ought to stop talking of "problems" and "solutions"; Lebanon, Russia, North Korea, or Iran are not "problems" that are to be resolved with just the right mixture of different tools of state-craft.

Rather, one ought to think of buying soup: "The more you pay, the more soup you get." And yes, "So little of it and it tastes awful too.".
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