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:
- Are we able to stand up to the Syrian onslaught on our own?
- Can we withstand the Syrian onslaught as we develop the capabilities to defend ourselves?
- How long will that period last?
- 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.