Lebanese Budget Skimps on Overloaded Army
By: Hassan Chakrani
Published Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The Lebanese state’s 2012 draft budget allocates $1.2 billion to the Lebanese army, a meager amount by all means, and more so in consideration of the military’s increasing responsibilities. Lebanon’s military spending trails far behind most countries in the region, allocating only 2.8 percent of its GDP to military expenditures.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest military spender relative to its GDP, with 8.9 percent going to armaments. Israel is fourth with 6.4 percent of its GDP going to armaments, diverting $15.4 billion in 2012 to military expenditures, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Yet the challenges faced by the armed forces in Lebanon are enormous given the country’s size. The Lebanese army is required to confront terrorism and fundamentalist groups. The armed forces are also tasked with protecting the border, even taking over the responsibilities of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at some point.
The army is making do with whatever resources it has at its disposal, but the growing scope of its responsibilities requires stepping up the army’s funding.
Ninety-nine percent of the defense ministry’s budget goes to the army. Out of the 1,790 billion Lebanese Lira ($1.2 billion) allocated to the ministry, LL1,772 billion ($1.17 billion) goes to the Lebanese army. Upon examination of the budget, one observes that 75 percent of the overall budget of the Lebanese armed forces, or LL1,388 billion ($925 million) goes to salaries, wages, and other related provisions. Other notable provisions include allocations for research and training courses, which receive a measly LL225 million ($150,000).
The army also allocated no more than LL17 billion ($11.3 million) to cover “secret operations,” or intelligence activities. But in a country like Lebanon, which lacks in financial resources and the kind of forward-looking political thinking that would invest in the army, efforts must principally focus on internal “preventive” defense, made only possible by intelligence networks that can detect threats.
Allocations for the defense ministry’s capital spending, including assets and equipment, amounts to LL92.33 billion ($61.5 million), of which LL91.56 billion ($61 million) goes to the army. Out of this figure, LL56 billion ($37.3 million) is earmarked for equipment, but this also includes “furniture and office supplies.” This leaves LL52.5 billion ($35 million) for technical equipment.
Here, military leaders do not hide the importance of foreign assistance in filling gaps in the army’s needs since there is no real alternative to developing radical solutions for funding the armed forces.
Recently, the Lebanese government approved a five-year plan to arm the Lebanese military. Experts believe this plan is the best way to enhance the army’s capabilities, beyond the fragile framework drawn up by the annual budget.
According to Jean Kahwaji, chief of the Lebanese armed forces, this plan was “one of the most important achievements of the military establishment in recent years, as it reflects our aspirations for a strong army, where officers and soldiers would have the best expertise and equipment to safeguard the Lebanese state against internal and external threats.”
In the same vein, an Army Colonel told Al-Akhbar “We are really counting on the plan to overcome the problem of low budget allocations for the army.” However, the funds assigned to the plan have since been lowered from $5 billion to $1.2 billion.
“True, the amount was reduced by 76 percent, but we understand the reasons for this austerity,” the colonel continued. He pointed out that the army is doing everything it can to optimize available resources. “As you know, the army is fighting with nothing but its flesh to protect civil peace. Ultimately, despite everything, we have an interest in political stability,” he said.
Lebanon and the Arms Trade
The Lebanese are no strangers to arms, whether in using them, or trading them. Yet this has not improved the army’s capabilities by any measure, whether by facilitating arms deals or securing grants from donor countries.
Lebanese arms dealers are known for their involvement in brokering agreements, particularly in Gulf countries. On this particular issue, one observer remarked, “Lebanese can often be mediators in arming other countries, but they fail to help their own country’s military.”
Case in point: A certain prominent Lebanese minister who had a key role in the infamous al-Yamamah arms deal, between Saudi Arabia and the British defense firm BAE systems.
Details of the deal began to leak back in 1985, but it was not fully exposed until 2006. It emerged that former Saudi ambassador to the US and director of Saudi’s intelligence agency since 2012, Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, was the person who negotiated with late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, to facilitate the deal, subsequently bringing in $40 billion to BAE over a period of 20 years.
During the investigations, the British police determined, “More than £6 billion may have been distributed in corrupt commissions, via an array of agents and middlemen.” One of those was the Lebanese minister, who probably kept his share from the scheme in Swiss bank accounts.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.