Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Realist Look - Lebanon Cornered

I have always considered the Realist school of thought in International Relations literature to be deficient. It assumes that states are monoliths, and that they will do everything within their powers solely to pursue their material interests in an international arena that reflects a Hobbsian state of war. If anything, Lebanon is the quintessential counterexample to these assumptions. Furthermore, most democratic states approximate Lebanon more than they do the Realist ideal.

The Realist school is quite revealing though. Although it fails to explain reality in its complex totality, it does explain one dimension of reality. As such, it serves as a useful tool in our attempt to understand inter-state relations including the standoff between Lebanon and Syria.

Lebanon and Syria: Monolithic and Adversarial states

Lebanon is currently under attack from Syria, which after 30 years of occupying Lebanon was able to infiltrate the security services to such an extent that they have effectively been neutralized. Consequently, the Lebanese state cannot defend itself or its citizens against assassinations carried out by the Syrian intelligence services, and will remain incapable of doing so until its security services are reformed and pro-Syrian elements within them are flushed out - a very painstaking and time consuming process that implies a lot more than changing a few, or even all, the top brass. Until this process is complete, Lebanon will remain naked and vulnerable to Syrian aggression.

A solution exists, however. A solution referred to as deterrence. In other words, a state that is unable to defend itself from an adversary, is able to protect itself if it possesses the ability to hurt the adversary to such an extent that it deters the exploitation of its own weaknesses. Examples of deterrence are everywhere. The quintissential example though pertains to nuclear weapons.

Both the Americans and Russians did (and still do) not have any defenses against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Their solution was mutual deterrence; a solution referred to as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). If one state used its nuclear weapons against the other, it risked its own destruction as well. Deterrence ultimately prevented nuclear strikes despite the fact that both states were completely vulnerable to one another's missiles.

Lebanon, unfortunately, does not possess a deterrence capability against Syria. It does not have a military apparatus with the necessary capabilities. It does not operate a strong enough intelligence agency that has infiltrated the Syrian regime. It definitely does not possess missiles armed with nuclear warheads, nor scuds armed with chemical agents. Lebanon, in short, does not have any form of deterrence capability, period!

Thus far, it has relied on the capabilities of other more powerful states to detter Syrian aggression, such as France, the United States and Saudi Arabia. However, Realists tell us that states will only exert themselves only in so far as doing so will benefit their own material interests. Consequently, we must all ask ourselves, as Lebanese the following questions:

  1. Are we able to stand up to the Syrian onslaught on our own?
  2. Can we withstand the Syrian onslaught as we develop the capabilities to defend ourselves?
  3. How long will that period last?
  4. Will we be able to defend ourselves or will we capitulate to Syrian hegemony?

I ask these questions during a time in which I worry that we have become isolated again. I worry that we have been abandoned because of our allies' Realist impulses. The cost of dettering Syrian aggression now appears to outweigh the benefits of doing so.

The best case scenario would be one in which the Lebanese political elite unite to improve the state's capabilities in a way that could not have materialized had they not been experiencing such a brutal onslaught. The worst case scenario is capitulation, or worse, division and ultimately the collapse of the state.

Since the fate of my country is not in my own hands, I cannot make any predictions. I can only pray that Lebanon is victorious.


programmer craig said...
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programmer craig said...

I posted a long comment and then decided it's better to keep it simple. You make good points, Raja, but you are considering only the material best interests of the nation's involved. The US is at war. Syria and Iran are both "informal" enemies in that war (though Iran is a member of the Axis of Evil club!) - also, Israel is quite likely to take action against Iran sometime soon, which may aid Lebanon more than you think. I don't have even a good guess what's going to happen in the next year or two, but I think you should examine US military interests in the ME and rethink the situation, maybe.

Hani G. said...

Great thread Raja, although I think it is better to rethink your view on Realism. It is fact and being pragmatic in our actions is conforming with realism in International Relations. We don't like it but who ever said the world was fair? Indeed as you said, it does serve as a useful tool in our attempt to understand inter-state relations between Lebanon and Syria.

Programmer Craig I am still at pains to understand how an attack on Iran will help Lebanon. We have a substantial percentage of our population which is sympathetic to Iran. In the midst of the apparent divisions between what are known as the anti-Syrians and pro-Syrian/Iranians in Lebanon, I would like to know how you came to that conclusion.


programmer craig said...

"I would like to know how you came to that conclusion."

No you wouldn't, Hani. Why are you asking me to comment now on things you specifically asked me NOT to comment on, a week or two ago? I think you know very well what I mean.

Hani G. said...

Programmer Craig, this is a blog.

It's for public review and YES I would like to know. What I said over two weeks ago was related to yet another difference of opinion and shouldn't be blown out of proportion or taken out of context.

When you make a statement, it is worthwile supporting it with examples/historical events and/or strong beliefs.

If you feel strongly about it, you can make an effective point through an example.

sam said...

From a realist USA point of view: "The Iranian regime is more of a problem for the US than the Syrian regime, and we can't deal with both."
For Lebanon, the Syrian regime is more dangerous.

Syria keeps threatening that if the regime goes down, Lebanon will fall apart, but it appears that the price we will pay if the regime persists is much higher. That is probably not true in the case of Iran. To say that we will not be able to contain Hezbollah before the Iranian regime goes down means we're hopeless.

We don't want to admit that we don't have a nation. It is becoming unfortunately clear that we are not part of the same country. Lebanon doesn't exist because we don't agree on who's the enemy, because a large part of the country thinks that it's not ok to attack syria through the UN, even if everybody knows who's behind the assasinations, and that the assasinations will continue.

The problem is here. So please, it's not right to say: "Unfortunately, Lebanon has no nukes" or "Israel will probably wage war on Iran, and that's good for Lebanon."
What Lebanon??

I hope I'm wrong.

programmer craig said...

"A Lebanese man who was serving a life sentence in Germany for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner and the killing of a U.S. Navy diver has returned to Lebanon after German authorities paroled him, a Lebanese security official and the Hezbollah guerrilla group said Tuesday."

Maybe you can try to reconcile with Hamadi now, Hani. This is really unfortunate timing for Germany to do this. Everybody in the US over the age of 35 remembers watching the video of Hamadi dumping the body of that American on the tarmac in Beirut, like so much garbage. Germany just kicked Lebanon in the teeth.

programmer craig said...

Oh, gee... now we hear on the US news that Hamadi was released the same day a german hostage in Iraq was released. Was that a Lebanese game, or an Iranian game?

Amal and Hezbollah are both in the news again in the US now. This isn't going to end well.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

The realist school of thought is better applied to the cold war and to the pre-1945 period. But it has proved to be a complete failure for explaining the events in the middle east where you have to take into account non-state factors such as religion, tribe, terrorism etc...

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"Oh, gee... now we hear on the US news that Hamadi was released the same day a german hostage in Iraq was released. Was that a Lebanese game, or an Iranian game?"

What do you mean Craig? That Iran is abducting hostages in order to pressure western countries? Well that would be a first !

I blame Germany for this. If they didn't want to have problems with Iraqi terrorists, they shouldn't have participated to the Iraqi war (oh wait! they didn't!).

Hani G. said...

The story always starts with the Americans doesn't it Craig?
If you slapped me and then I slapped you back, that will be the sin and that will be where the ball will start rolling.

Just like 9/11, there is now a new world order. Every terrorist event more horrid that took place before or after is nothing in comparison. Then again who ever said the world was fair? Indeed Realism in International Relations has always been at play.

I am not condoning terrorism in any of its forms. Whether its a plane hijacked in Beirut or a whole town flattened in Iraq, Craig.

A problem doesn't suddenly arise out of nowhere and when people express hate, it's better to ask why.

I am still waiting for an answer on how you think an attack on Iran will help Lebanon.

Take your time.

programmer craig said...

"I am not condoning terrorism in any of its forms. Whether its a plane hijacked in Beirut or a whole town flattened in Iraq, Craig."

Hani, fuck you. You made your own bed, now sleep in it. Don't complain to me that you shit in your bed and I should come clean it out for you. Look at you! You're STILL shitting your bed. What the hell is wrong with you, Hani? You motherfucker, comparing a terrorsit hijacking of civilian airplane and a murder of a passenger to combat?

I say again. Fuck you.

programmer craig said...

Beirut is going to burn. I'm going to dance. Thanks, Hani. You brought up my 20 year old hatred for Lebanon and threw it back in my face. You motherfucker. Let me find you in Lebanon someday, Hani. Let me find you in the US, even.

programmer craig said...

I just switched sides, in case you didn't notice, Hani. I support Hezbollah and Syria now. Better a clear enemy than a treacherous ally.

Hani G. said...

Clearly Craig the kitchen got too hot for you!!!
How pathetic that you should resort to that kind of language. You got a little agitated and decided to insult me, but you only insult yourself.

Sadly I expected too much from you. Silly me! Silly Hani for initiating a proper debate with programmer Craig. I've learnt my lesson.

By the way, I live in London. That's London in England, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Whenever I go to Lebanon, I usually stay in Aley, Mount Lebanon. That's where I am from you see.

I don't usually go to the States, but if I go I'll be sure to inform you through this blog beforehand. If you need more information please feel free to ask.

One more thing, you mean you were actually an ally??? Seriously??? I (we Lebanese) let you slip out of our hands like that??? But you're the great Programmer Craig, everyone wants to be friends with you!

Now I advise you to take my initial suggestion seriously. Stick to programming and if you feel the urge to pollute a blog in this manner, do it in one who's members may think of you as 'cool'.

Doha said...

Please, guys, keep it cool. Please, let's not resort to insults. This is embarassing. Please take your debate far away from here. Debate is good, but it's good when it's healthy, and what's going on is nothing close to healthy.

Hani G. said...

Doha, you're right. But please compare the threads and then think of whom you should ask to keep cool.
His language was unacceptable.