[DEBATE] : An Orwellian occupation
grinker at mweb.co.za
Sat Aug 19 13:15:03 BST 2006
Tuesday 15 August 2006
An Orwellian occupation
Taking Doublespeak to a new level, the United Nations will send a
15,000-strong force to occupy Lebanon in the name of strengthening it.
With a shaky ceasefire in place in Lebanon since yesterday, both Israel and
Hezbollah have claimed victory in the conflict. In the West, the legions of
armchair strategists are already pontificating on which side emerged
victorious. Did the Israeli failure to rout Hezbollah mean a victory for the
militia? Or does the impending deployment of an international peacekeeping
force to southern Lebanon mean the end of Hezbollah? Are Iran and Syria the
real victors? Or has the US managed to further its schemes for regional
This pin-in-the-map approach to the conflict - and 'strategic' assessments
based on the number of casualties, or the deployment of the Israeli army, or
comparing the quantity of ordnance used by both sides - all miss the key
political outcome of the war: the newly expanded reach of the international
community in the Middle East. The strategic balance between Israel and
Hezbollah is far less important than this overall political effect of the
The ceasefire is based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.
The terms of the resolution call for the incumbent UN peacekeeping force in
southern Lebanon, Unifil, to expand from 2,000 to 15,000 troops. In tandem
with an Israeli withdrawal, this strengthened force will then occupy south
Lebanon alongside an equivalent number of Lebanese troops. UN
secretary-general Kofi Annan is expected to cobble together this
international force within the next few weeks, with France, Italy, Turkey
and Malaysia as key troop-contributing countries.
Even if the ceasefire breaks down and the terms of the resolution are
redrafted, everyone knows that the international community and the UN will
still be involved in any final settlement. Indeed, this was the firm
expectation from the very beginning of the war. The fact that the extensive
involvement of the international community is taken for granted, regardless
of the outcome on the battlefield, indicates that the strategic gains that
either side could hope for were constrained by this basic limit. It is a
peculiar war that is fought out despite everyone knowing full well the final
outcome: an expanded international presence in the region.
So what does this expectation about the international community tell us
about the aftermath of the conflict, and the political outlook for the
Intervention forces and UN peacekeepers have been despatched on numerous
occasions during the turbulent history of Lebanon: 1958, 1976, 1978 and
1982. The 15,000-strong proposed revamp of Unifil will be the largest
intervention in Lebanon's post-independence history. Historically, UN
peacekeeping operations have largely been small-scale, lightly-armed
international forces used to monitor buffer zones between hostile states.
The military weakness of these deployments was expressly intended to
convince belligerents that the peacekeepers could not alter the balance in
favour of any combatant.
The new peacekeeping force proposed for Lebanon is different: it will be a
large, heavily-armed military operation whose nominal purpose will be to
strengthen the hold of the Lebanese state over its own territory. In other
words: nation-building. But it is not only Lebanon that will now be propped
up by the international community; Israel will be, too. Israel's acceptance
of Resolution 1701 shows that it accepts that responsibility for the
security of its northern border will be handed to this de facto
international police force.
Given France's central role in drafting Resolution 1701, many expect the
French will take the lead in the expanded UN operation. This will mean the
military and political return of the ex-imperial overlord to its former
colony, with the international community seemingly oblivious to how French
colonial rule fomented many of the conflicts that have afflicted Lebanon
since independence. Still, it would be wrong to see the proposed
peacekeeping army as Great Power intrigue pure and simple, or as little more
than a veneer for French neo-colonialism.
The new readiness to deploy military force in the guise of peacekeeping -
and the new readiness by those on the receiving end to accept such
deployments - represents a new model in international affairs. Those powers
with the least stake in a conflict are now seen as the most legitimate
guarantors of lasting peace. Nation states abdicate their political
responsibilities to the higher moral authority of the international
community in the name of justice and peace. But welcoming the international
community in to preside over the fate of the region is no guarantee of
peace. On the contrary, this makes peace dependent on the whim of outside
powers more interested in trying to salvage their own moral credentials than
in establishing a just peace. In this sense, the enhanced power of the
international community is a defeat for Israelis and Lebanese alike.
Both countries handed over control of their affairs to remote and
unaccountable powers. This model of an interest-free politics is untenable;
those with no stake in the conflict have less incentive to resolve it, and
are far less accountable to the people who are directly involved. Now,
instead of Israel violating Lebanese sovereignty, the UN solution will allow
other powers to infringe Lebanese sovereignty in a more Orwellian fashion,
by occupying the country in the name of strengthening it.
Instead of demanding that the West should restrain Israel, or that it should
protect Lebanon, we should challenge the paternalistic belief that people
will inevitably slide into barbarism if they are not sheltered by the
international community. Accepting the patronising belief that the peoples
of the Middle East are incapable of managing their own affairs without
outside interference is tantamount to accepting that conflict in the region
is inevitable - and that war is akin to a natural disaster beyond human
control. The only ultimate guarantee of peace in the Middle East is to allow
the people who live there to resolve their own crises.
Philip Cunliffe is co-editor of Politics Without Sovereignty: A Critique of
Contemporary International Relations, which will be published in December
2006. He is chairing the debate Empire of Regulation or Lawless World? at
the Battle of Ideas festival in London in October 2006.
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