PM Siniora's Address to the Foreign Policy Association in Munich

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

 It is my pleasure to address you today and I would like to extend my gratitude to the Foreign Affairs Association and its chairman Dr. Horst Mahr, as well as to my dear friend Mr. Willy Rellecke, for providing this opportunity to meet with you, and think aloud about some of the big issues that are facing us together, Germans and Lebanese, European and Arabs, in a highly interconnected, yet complex world.

 A world where the meaning of nations, the definition of frontiers, and the perception of security and safety, have all become highly dynamic concepts. A world where something as old as a volcano in Iceland, as remote as a deep-water oil-well in the Gulf of Mexico, as trivial as a bird or swine flu, as random as a trader’s technical glitch, can send global stock markets down, halt international transport, threaten business continuity, cause environmental damage, wipe out billions of dollars, and worst of all, inflict loss of human life that cannot be compensated; all of these being shocks with repercussions that know no boundaries, and recognize no frontiers.

 I am using these seemingly random events of a rather unsystematic nature and of a certain idiosyncrasy, only to highlight the extent to which our world has shrunk, and how much our lives have become intertwined in this global village. But this is only the frame, or the general background, to the much deeper and more complex challenges we are all facing.

 In fact, various regions in the world, Europe and the Middle East being of particular relevance to us, are going through a period of such high political ambiguity, elevated military tensions, or strong economic volatility, (and sometimes two or more of the above). Developments and shifts in focus are occurring so suddenly, that it is sometimes hard to fully grasp their implications, let alone lucidly indentify the deep transformations that lie beneath them.

 The challenges broaden to include the fight against radical Moslems from the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the streets of New York; the nuclear ambitions of Iran; the ever more complicated Palestinian-Israeli problem; and the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, with an added Turkish angle recently, as well as the other hot spots in the Middle East from Iraq, to Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and as well Lebanon. These are some of the political/security problems at hand today and that directly concern us as Lebanese, as Arabs, but also as residents of the global village.

 In the absence of a resolution, or even a strategy or a clear track to tackling some of these deep and complex political problems, the extent of fogginess and the level of uncertainty have increased. The state of ambiguity was further complicated since 2007 by sub-prime mortgage problems in the US, that turned into a global financial crisis, which later turned into a global economic crisis, whose repercussions are yet evolving as it has now moved from the private sector whether household or corporate to the sovereign states, starting from Europe but surely not stopping there.

 Is there a connecting trend, an underlying force of change at the core of many of these issues that can help us make sense of them?

 My opinion is yes: a deeper transformational trend does exist. But while my argument is straightforward, its corollaries are in fact highly complex.

 My argument is that the political ambiguity, security vulnerability, and economic volatility, are all different manifestations of a transition from a world that has been solely dominated by United States hegemony at the political, military, economic and even cultural levels long before and after since the collapse of the Berlin wall, to potentially a multi-polar world; but where the political, military, and economic sharing of power entails different parties, adding further to the complexities of the new world order, if we can yet call it such.

 What is gradually emerging is a multi-polar world where poles are different according to the different issues. A world where the United States of America has to share  military power with Russia,  economic power with China, and  political power with Europe. But China also has strategic ambitions that it may seek to realize, and Russia has political ambitions that it is actively seeking to realize, and Europe had turned its economic ambitions into realities through economic integration, but this great experiment is being currently subjected to a tremendous test. All these factors add to the complexity, and to the uncertainties. Even more, other countries like Brazil and India are also emerging, economically and in some circumstances politically, as we have witnessed only lately. And others such as Turkey and Iran have political, economic and military ambitions at the regional level, but they are pursuing them in different ways and with different methods, adding further to the complexities and uncertainties of the new global power relations.

 Ladies and gentlemen,

 The truth of the matter is that one world order appears to have ended, while a new one has yet to be born.

 A sequence of events that may have started with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 which lacked moral justification, to the sub-prime crisis in the United States in 2007, have clearly significantly weakened  American hegemony over the world. In fact it may have inflicted irreparable damage on this hegemony, to the extent that it may have ended it.

 But a new world order, politically and economically has yet to take clear shape. Some would draw several parallels with the interwar period of the last century, when the economic and military hegemony of Great Britain had been largely eroded, but the dominance of the United States (and later of the Soviet Union) were not yet clearly established. Interestingly, that was also a period characterized by much political ambiguity, but even more intriguingly, a great economic depression with glaring similarities to the current global conditions, albeit at a lower intensity thus far.

 A period when an order may have ended, but when another has not yet firmly risen, is by definition a transition period.

 In fact many of the symptoms of a transitional period can be identified in today’s world: the sudden shift of focus in international affairs, the awakening of dormant issues (such as the renewed military tensions on the Korean peninsula), the lack of global political leadership, the higher frequency of acts of aggression and the repeated use of excessive force (such as the Israeli attack on the freedom flotilla), and the bigger role and influence of groupings such as G-20, eclipsing the traditional G-7, and many others are, in my opinion, symptoms of a significant period of transition.

 But the more worrying and pressing question to me is: what repercussions will such a period entail? How do the urgent yet unresolved problems fit into this context? and subsequently, what can be done to reduce their risks, but also to maximize their benefits, if any?

 In my opinion, one of the strongest challenges posed by this transition period is the inherent return to the primary religious, sectarian, ethnic, or tribal instincts, which will further foster introversion, arrogant righteousness, and rejection of the other.

 Ideological, religious, racist, and xenophobic conflicts whether big or small, are not reflections of a clash of cultures as many would argue, but rather reflections of the return to the ethnicity, sects, tribe, or even to the concepts of isolation and seclusion. And all these vices feed not only on the fanatics and their narrow horizons, but also on those who are suffering from oppression and feelings of defeat and who have given up hope, and have nothing left but the expression of rejection and aggression since reaching solutions to their problems seems to be no longer possible by peaceful means.

 This is the real threat, ladies and gentlemen. The lack of direction, the disillusionment in big dreams, the absence of real progress in solving pressing issues, all paving the way to the ugly return to the primal religious, racial, and xenophobic instincts, reversing decades of political, social and economic progress.

 And it is the same multi-faced phenomenon of the return to primal instincts which we saw on the streets of Beirut, that we see in Darfur, and in Yemen. It is even more flagrant in the aggression, siege and collective punishment on the people of Gaza, and belligerence we see in the Palestinian occupied territories and in Gaza, as well as in international waters, not just against Palestinians and Arabs, but against civilians on a flotilla with no intention of aggression.

 And another return to primal instincts, that reacts to opposing yet similar instincts, and hence argues that Islam is the enemy. A return to a narrow definition of nation and strict observance of frontiers that argues that economic integration and openness have brought nothing but problems.

These several faces of the return to primal instincts are the real threats of a transition period; threats that affect us all. Threats that sometimes place us one against another while in fact we are often fighting the same battle. A battle against being hostages of our own instinctive comfort zone, be it a sect, a tribe, an ideology, an ethnicity, a race, or what have you.


Ladies and gentlemen,

 We can spend hours debating these complex matters and attempting to design the best possible responses to these threats. But I would like to focus on two issues that concern us as Lebanese and as Arabs.

 In the Middle East, home of the three monotheistic religions, and sadly the battlefield of many of the wars that historically took a national or religious color, Lebanon, a small country of 18 different sects, has provided for a long time a model of diversity and freedom within unity. A democratic system was designed precisely in order to deal with the issue of multiple religions and sects, a system that worked well, despite the major setback of the civil war, which was brought about by the regional and international shocks inflicted on the country. The system worked to the extent that Pope John Paul II claimed that Lebanon is not just a country, it is also a message.

 But Lebanon, ladies and gentlemen, is also an experiment, and one that continues to struggle to prove that it can succeed. An experiment that needs to be further developed so that it can serve as a model in its region. However, the vulnerability inherent in its political and religious composition has often made it import or mirror the conflict and divisions of its surroundings, rather than export the principles of diversity, democracy and tolerance to its surroundings.

 In particular, the Palestinian struggle and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the American invasion of Iraq, and now more recently the Western-Iranian face off, have all taken their toll on this small, open, diverse democracy, where various historical factors have inhibited the emergence of a strong central state.

 The succession of events, constituting nothing short of political and security earthquakes, starting with the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005, to the war of assassinations that followed targeting politicians, journalists, and intellectuals and that did not stop until 2008; the sixth ravaging war by Israel in 2006 killing and injuring around 6000 individuals and inflicting severe damage to the infrastructure and the economy, in response to the kidnapping of three soldiers; the war against terrorism initiated by a radical Islamist group in the North in 2007, a constitutional crisis, and the near-coup against a legitimate government in May 2008 that threatened to send back the country into a sectarian conflict, are all some of the main challenges that we have faced, and that we have managed to survive while keeping our country sovereign, democratic, diverse, and free. And also achieving the highest economic growth rates not just in history, but also in the region, under global financial and economic circumstances that I am certain you all fully grasp.

 In fact the last 60 years, and not just the last 5 years, are a sign of the resilience of the Lebanese model, where democracy, freedom of speech and expression and belief, as well as a free and liberal economic system, all emerged unscathed by the global, regional and local developments.

  But resilience did not necessarily mean complete success, neither in developing the model, nor in its ability to inspire the systems around it in the region.

 And the future complete success of the Lebanese experiment is in no way guaranteed, my friends, without the conglomeration of domestic, regional and global efforts. For Lebanon has and continues to pay, not just the price of its own special characteristics of diversity and democracy, but also the price of the enormous problems in probably the most complex region in the world.

 The journey to the success of the Lebanese experiment is long and tough. Yet it is a journey that we Lebanese have no alternative but to take, since there is no other model that can account for our diversity, our shared objectives and our shared destiny. And it is a journey that the international community has a vested interest and actually has no other alternative but to support.

 For the truth of the matter is that while the journey is long and tough, the alternative, i.e. the failure of the Lebanese model, would be nothing short of a catastrophe with repercussions that reach not just the region, but the world beyond.

 For the failure of a diverse, democratic, free, and sovereign Lebanon is also the failure of a message, a message of peace and openness, and diversity and unity and co-existence. The failure of Lebanon is the victory of the opposing message, of the wrong message that even marginally different people cannot and should not form a nation. A failed Lebanon is an empowerment of the ugly instincts that I mentioned above. A failed Lebanon is a step in the wrong direction in a world going through a sensitive yet momentous period of transition.

 The success of the Lebanese model is not just a domestic Lebanese need, or even an Arab need; it is also an Islamic and an international need.

 Being a laboratory, a reflection of the problems in the broader region, the success of the Lebanese experience also entails finding a just and final solution to one of the oldest and deepest remaining problems in the world and which, in fact, is the mother of most problems in the Middle East: the unresolved Israeli Palestinian conflict. The truth is that this is a noble yet a long-overdue objective in itself, and independently of the success of the Lebanese model.  And that is the second issue that I want to raise in my discussion of our shared responsibility in the global village during this transition period.

 The Palestinian problem is the mother cause, the key to unlocking many of the locks that separates the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims around the world from the West. It is an essential hammer to destroy the wall of psychological separation between East and West; for in the end, it is the ultimate test of how truthful the West is to the values of freedom, justice, democracy and liberty, and human rights, values that should be applied universally, without recourse to double standards.

 A people without a land, without an independent state, without hope, without horizon is not just unjust, it is no longer acceptable. It is no longer acceptable for the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to remain hostage of a belligerent right-leaning Israeli government, to remain hostage of Western guilt towards Israel, in the game of International Politics, and to remain hostage of Arab divisions and paralysis.

 An unresolved Palestinian problem is a waste of resources, and a lack of progress on political and social and economic reforms in our part of the world. This lack of progress will widen further the Eastern separation and alienation from the West, and will reduce its ability to be the worthwhile partner that the West so needs to achieving the common and general objective of prosperity and human progress.

 An unresolved Palestinian issue is also a cause that is hijacked by the extremists, by the fundamentalists, by those who succumb to the ugly instincts I detailed above. It is a cause that is used as a bargaining chip, and manipulated by the growing regional and other international powers as a way to book their seats in the new order.

 Pairing the Palestinian question with other issues in the region plays exactly into the hands of those who do not want to provide a just solution to the just Palestinian cause; and this is a perfect example of how the interests of extremists (who are supposedly on opposing sides), are sometimes completely in line with each other.

 An unresolved Palestinian issue also risks throwing an already boiling region into more populism. And populism is a slippery slope towards more radicalism, which in turn widens the separation of the East from the values of moderation and openness, leading to a build-up of violence and risk of war.

 In this context, an unresolved Palestinian issue is also a major setback in a world going through a delicate transition.

 Ladies and gentlemen,

 It is crucial that we succeed, for the alternative to success is not failure, it is much worse. It is disintegration, it is conflict, and it is wars. This is of concern to us all, Arabs and Europeans, Lebanese and Germans, politically, but also economically.

 In fact I find it particularly interesting, that both Lebanon and Germany have an important role to play in this fight against what I called the threat of return to the primary instincts, albeit in different ways.

 For both Lebanon and Germany have somehow, provided a kind of a model in their respective regions.

 Lebanon can and should provide a model of political democracy and religious diversity, both within national unity; a model that needs to be dearly preserved, because it has become a rare commodity not just in the region, but also in the world beyond.

 In much the same way, Germany, the credible partner, also has an important role to play in guaranteeing the success of the European experience of economic integration and unity.

 This unfolding financial and economic crisis has brought us back to the importance of fundamentals: fiscal prudence, monetary responsibility, not shying away from reforms, especially structural and labor reforms, and while understanding that reforming is a journey, not a destination. The recent developments in Europe have shown that for the European experiment to succeed, other European countries need to look more and more like Germany in terms of work culture, discipline, and most importantly reforms that enhance productivity.

 Germany thus has a role in leading the way forward. Succumbing, throughout Europe, to instincts of seclusion and isolation on that front will also be a major setback, and the dangerous collapse of a model that has provided an anchor for our ambitions and aspirations as Arabs, but also as nations that are looking to open up their economies and integrate them regionally and globally.


My friends,

 The world has a direct interest and a direct responsibility in the success of the voice of moderation and tolerance, both in Lebanon and in the Arab region, through pushing forward the just and viable solutions, which would also isolate the fanatics, and usher in a period of political and economic reforms that are so much needed in the Arab world, for the sake of the whole world.

 The journey is long. It will not be easy. But the future depends on our bold and decisive actions today. We should help ourselves and each other to overcome fear, to overcome the appeal of comfort zones, whether religious ethnic or national, and to overcome injustice.

It is in the world’s interest, in the medium and long-term, to push towards real and lasting solutions to the acute yet deep problems, which will foster a peace that is based on the acceptance of the other, an understanding of their fears and aspirations, and reinforce cooperation, openness, and prosperity. 

It is up to us, as intellectuals and officials, or whichever influential position we hold, to lead the way, searching for the common denominator; a common denominator for the future of humanity.

 I thank you for your attention today, and I am looking forward to a lively and engaging discussion.


Fuad Siniora

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