New Strategies for Third World Conflicts: The Lebanon Model
Abraham, Antoine J., Contemporary Review
ON Sunday, October 23, 1983, two hundred and forty-one American servicemen lost their lives to a truck bomb that demolished the US Marines Battalion Landing Headquarters in Beirut. Not since the Vietnam war had so many Americans died needlessly. But this was not a military victory for anyone or any side, nor was it a defeat for American military power. It was the failure of a peace process that was ill-conceived, poorly thought out, and badly executed, without any understanding of a conflict similar to Lebanon's protracted intercommunal conflagration. That disaster in late October was just another failure of American foreign policy and diplomacy in the Near and Middle East. This essay will focus upon the Lebanese conflict; on its significance for other third world confrontations; and it will propose a more plausible scenario for conflict resolution in the non-western world.
Until quite recently, the United States has almost always found itself involved in ideological conflicts: Fascism in World War Two, and some mode of Marxism (Communism) in the Korean War and Vietnam War, arising from the bi-polar Cold War. In some instances, the United States has tried to uphold freedom and to strengthen democracy as seen in its involvement in Grenada, Panama, and the Arab-Persian Gulf. But currently, the United States is being dragged into a new type of conflict that is not primarily ideological (conflicts in which political theory plays only a very small role). In these struggles the citizens in the country are often the victims of their own hostilities. The new confrontations can truly be called 'peoples wars' in which groups of people attempt to destroy each other for land and power in a nation. The groups may be based upon racial, ethnic, religious, sectarian, linguistic, tribal or clan differences, or, in fact, any combination of the above. What they all have in common, however, is a minimum of ideological content that can cut across their differences and unify a nation. (In a few cases, some form of nationalism is espoused, but only to be rid of foreign forces in a country and certainly not to maintain unity among the divergent groups beyond that objective.) Examples of this type of conflict abound: Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India, clan rivalry in Somalia, the religious-ethnic tensions in the Balkans, Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, the Sudan, and Algeria, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Lebanese civil war.
All of these conflicts, which are really not new, dating back decades and centuries, have recently re-surfaced or flared-up with the worldwide decline or loss of faith in ideological solutions to the basic human problems of identity and security. These struggles are usually referred to as cultural or identity bound conflicts. The technical term used is 'protracted social conflicts' (PSC). They are extremely common in the non-western world where western styled nationalism and nation-building has been largely unsuccessful because parochial interests (the old notables, the landed aristocracy, the traditional religious elites) fear cultural modernization and a wide-based distribution of power among the various groups and classes that make up the population of the country. Thus a clash between tradition and modernization results in communal strife. All protracted social-ethnic-religious conflicts possess common features that delineate them from the 'strategic conflicts' between states over political ideologies. These factors which are often misunderstood in the United States, or are not focused upon in American diplomacy, involve issues of identity, possession of 'historic lands', racial/ethnic exclusiveness, and religious prejudices. Thus, the inability to find common ground in modern political methodology to resolve these problems leads to several 'protracted intercommunal conflicts' (PIC), and often to protracted intracommunal strife as well. The natural extention of these conflicts is a spill over into the international arena and the search for foreign sponsors to support one group over another; and, to obtain arms on the international arms market. …