A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies looks at the development of the Lebanese Armed Forces since the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April 2005.
“Executive Summary: The withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon on April 26, 2005, redefined the role of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The overlapping domestic and regional contests over post-Syria Lebanon, aggravated by the assassination of political and security figures, the Israel-Hizbullah war of 2006, terrorism and the remilitarization of society, placed heavy pressures on the LAF.
Indeed, the struggle over post-Syria Lebanon has also been a contest over the future mission and ideological direction of the LAF. The LAF has shown that it is one of the few Lebanese institutions in the post-Syria era trusted by a substantial cross-section of Lebanese society.
However, its force development over the 2005-2008 period does not reflect its increasingly important institutional role in Lebanese and regional security. The analysis reveals that the LAF has become more representative, more balanced and more capable as a fighting force. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Lebanon could have weathered the turbulence of the post-Syria era without the LAF.
Local and international actors also appreciate the military’s role as a stabilizer in Lebanon and the Middle East. If the Lebanese military is to consolidate its position as the guarantor of Lebanon and as a positive force in the region, the present unique opportunity to develop the LAF as a fighting force has to be pursued in earnest.
Lebanon’s competing parties, the LAF and the country’s international allies – especially the United States – will face important challenges in 2009 and beyond on the road to LAF force development. Recommendations to bolster LAF force development in 2009 and beyond include:
The purpose of this report is to examine the force development challenges that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) are facing in post-Syria Lebanon. It also seeks to build on opportunities for Lebanon and its foreign allies to strengthen the LAF both as a local institution, and as a stabilizing fighting force in the Middle East.
- Efforts to control or re-orient the Lebanese military by competing Lebanese actors only serve to undermine the LAF’s effectiveness as a fighting force and a national institution. Such attempts must stop if LAF unity and its stabilizing role in the country and the region are to be preserved.
- The Lebanese government must move quickly to provide the military with the close to $1 billion it requires for essential force development. This can be accomplished by setting national expenditure on defense at 4 to 5 percent of GDP over a three year period to implement an updated force development plan modeled on the fiscally conservative 2006 plan.
- Any attempt to strengthen the LAF so that it can fight Hizbullah will fail. Close to 30 percent of the officers corps is Shi„a and given that the LAF is a reflection of Lebanese society, it cannot be ordered to act militarily against one or another
- The U.S. needs to recognize that building up the LAF as a deterrent against Lebanon’s neighbors undermines Hizbullah’s logic regarding its weapons arsenal. Accordingly, the U.S. should focus on helping the LAF to lay the foundation for Hizbullah disarmament in the mid-to-long term rather than all-out confrontation in the short term.
- U.S. policy towards the LAF is unclear and hurts U.S. efforts to bolster the LAF as a positive force in Lebanon and the region. These policy ambiguities should be revised and the U.S. must articulate clearly whether or not it will provide the LAF with the heavy combat systems it needs for force development.
- Recent spikes in U.S. military assistance funding have not yet translated into additional defense aid to Lebanon. Congressionally appropriated funding should be set at a level that reflects U.S. recognition of LAF needs.
- The U.S. should consider mechanisms that would reform Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to accelerate equipment deliveries to Lebanon. Alternatively, it could allow congressionally appropriated and supplemental funding earmarked for the LAF to be used in the acquisition of military equipment from U.S. allies. Such moves would positively impact the turnaround time for the receipt of new systems by the LAF while also relieving the burden on the U.S. effort to arm and equip the Afghan and Iraqi security forces.”