Missing the target

The legions of an increasingly ineffectual force (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The security situation last month has been so telling of the dearth of reform and progressive policy that it’s high time we to stand to attention. The Addisieh incident, which left two Lebanese soldiers, one Lebanese journalist and an Israeli officer dead prompting the American’s to withhold $100 million of aid to the Army was just the start of the rolling security snowball. Then, in a move which should be regarded as mostly a public relations stunt, Defense Minister Elias Murr and his father both placed $667,000 in an account to equip the Army hoping the Lebanese would fall in.

But before we consider shell out our hard earned cash, shouldn’t we get a sense of what we are getting in return? Currently, talk of military reform centers on weapons. In part the focus is well placed because, as the Addiseh incident proved, the Lebanese army is now capable of picking off some of the most well-equipped soldiers in the world, which was not the case during the Nahr-al-Bared battle when they lacked the weaponry they now have thanks to the Americans. The irony is however that if units had mobilized (with the intent of actually intervening) from Akkar when the gun battle in Bourj Abi Haidar erupted last month over a parking space or last year when similar clashes broke out in Aisha Bakkar, both situations could have been contained before they spread. It doesn’t take a security analyst to realize that the problem was hardly the weapons.

Both incidents produced the jittery feeling of impending war that we have grown all too accustomed too while  proving that our security is bankrupt. In fact, it is philosophy of “red lines” that persists in our country and keeps us confined in our socioeconomic and political constructs that is mostly to blame.

Many of the lines are obvious, ranging from the arms of the resistance to maintaining sectarianism power structures. But when the army and the security forces can’t intervene to stop a fight over a piece of unoccupied asphalt, then its time to pickup that red pen and start drawing again.

Instead the government’s response is that weapons should be collected from citizens. While in principle it’s a laudable initiative, the government can’t even collect taxes properly, much less the arsenals. The response is typical of a political class that is used to taking painkillers instead of seeing the doctor.

The right answer is genuine reform of the security apparatus that requires both cash and a basal reassessment that extends far beyond “more weapons.” But before we are asked to keep footing the bill, we need some assurances.

Incidents like the Bourj Abi Haidar clashes require the security apparatus to take timely decisions independent of the political class; otherwise there is little point in borrowing, begging or simply taking handouts to equip that apparatus. Secondly, the Addisieh incident proves that the security aid that comes to Lebanon needs to roll in without strings attached like the American aid that was pulled when we used it to defend (at least what we thought was) our territory. Now that Iran has tabled an offer to equip the Army, if we take them up on the offer will the Army have to protract its policies in the region or face the prospect of losing support again?

Even if we can to act quickly and posses weapons to deal with our pesky neighbor or a gang of ruffians, without structural reform we will miss the target. Because post-war economic architects decided that our economy would be built almost wholly on services, productive and vocational sectors have been largely ignored. The result is that unless citizens can afford good schooling, speak several languages, and have the right connections they are boxed out of private sector employment. This pushes them onto public sector and into the ranks of the security “services.” What results is an over-bloated army of lingering servicemen lying in their undershirts performing redundant jobs while draining the state’s empty coffers.

Hence unless these are the priorities for security in the country, we cannot be expected to extend tap our wallets to support a withering institution. Money talks. A lack of it talks even louder.


Author: Sami Halabi

Sami Halabi is a policy consultant who covers a range of policy issues and analyses development programmes, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. Sami specialises in analysing policies and programmes in order to provide evidence-based recommendations to policy-makers and international development agencies. Sami holds a Master of Public Policy with Distinction from The University of Edinburgh.

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