The next round of “national dialogue”, to be held at the Baabda Presidential Palace, will feature the development of a new Lebanese defense strategy. Launching this debate at this time seems reasonable, as Lebanon needs to redesign its defense policy and strategy, taking into account the geopolitical, technological, economic, and demographic developments. Lebanon can no longer remain in the dark on issues relating to protecting its citizens and vital national interests. In its strictest sense, the political timing is far from ideal, as the Lebanese stand divided on national issues. Above all, a nation defends common values, values shared by the Lebanese. To give this debate a chance, the debate should be depoliticized, a comprehensive approach to security and defense adopted, preconceptions avoided, and exchanges around this national issue democratized.
De-politicizing the debate
In a period of acute political crisis, the Lebanese will struggle to come together around these common values, which serve as pillars for their national policies and therefore their defense policy and strategy.
In this context, how can we establish a common understanding of threats and how can we agree on a common perception of the vulnerabilities of our national system? The national defense policy and strategy ought to be revised and adapted to internal, regional, and international changes. Taking stock of our security and defense scheme in the broadest sense of the term is now imperative. But it is also vital to de-politicize the debate.
Adopting a comprehensive approach
Strategists are well aware that the threat is multifaceted, so is the defense. The threat is permanent, so is the defense. These are the pillars of any modern defense strategy that would protect the vital interests of the nation in today’s security setting. Whether these threats or vulnerabilities are of a military or other nature, the State must be able to act and react continuously and simultaneously on several fronts.
In Lebanon, the debate is bound up in a restrictive reasoning. For some, the development of a new defense strategy has become tantamount to the disarmament of Hezbollah. For others, it stands in contrast in favor of the maintenance of its military arsenal. Based on this erroneous reasoning, the debate is already doomed to failure. The debate should therefore be broadened, to include external defense and internal security, economic defense, diplomatic action, media lobbying, etc. The discussion should not be restricted to the mere military and technical setting, but rather include homeland security, and the all necessary measures for the consolidation of state structures, national cohesion, social and economic stability etc.
The defense strategy is a political choice. For Lebanon, as for any other country, defense is not imposed. Therefore, that choice shall be made upon the consideration of geographic, demographic, economic, geopolitical, security specificities. The choice, essentially political, is ultimately the responsibility of politicians. In a strictly military sense, the implementation of the defense and security strategy is the responsibility of the military. In other aspects, this strategy opens up to other components of the nation, including civil defense, economic actors, diplomacy, media, etc. Preconceptions are then to be avoided, even if it is already known that the defense will be asymmetrical, for example against Israel, to be a defense of the weak against the strong, that which Hezbollah has chosen.
A more democratic debate
Lebanon is a democracy. Democratic countries often resort to a more or less open debate on their security, through a White Paper in which the various political, social, economic, technological components take part.
France is in the process of launching a fourth project for a new White Paper on Defense and Security, to follow the third White Paper on Defense and Security, developed under outgoing President [Sarkozy] and guided by a civilian figure, with the contribution of experts from various sectors and generalists, including foreign parties.
In Lebanon, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had suggested the Arab League’s association to the debate. One may object that this issue is a question of national sovereignty. Also, would Lebanon be requested to advise on defense and security strategies of sisterly countries?! If an external party is to be associated, it should only be in its advisory capacity. Such a participation could enrich the debate, especially if other contributions, from experts and regional and international think tanks are called for. However, the central issue is and must remain national. Yet, this debate should not be exclusive. First, the military should not play the sole role in developing a defense and security policy and strategy, especially when viewed in its entirety. Committed politicians are not to solely handle this file. The national dialogue must be truly national, and must be a genuine dialogue.
The various parties involved certainly have their opinions, even their ideologies, on defense and security, but their national duty requires a dialogue around these critical issues. This dialogue is not a power struggle, but a debate and an exchange of ideas which should allow for a more harmonious perception of sources of threats, vulnerabilities, priorities, implementation tools and means to allocate to security and defense.