timesofmalta.com – Rich on Maltese neutrality and Libya

by Rich Rubenstein on March 11, 2011 · 0 comments

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

timesofmalta.com – Maltese neutrality still a brilliant idea.

At the end of my two-week stay in Malta teaching in the George Mason/U of Malta master’s program, I wrote this article, talked about it with my class, and sent it to The Times of Malta, which ran it today (March 11).  I’m convinced that this marvelous island could be a world center for peacemaking and conflict resolution if only its people and government resist the pressure to take sides in civil conflicts like that currently raging in  Libya.  With Gaddafi now pushing back, that nation is moving rapidly towards civil war.  I’m convinced that a long, murderous struggle can be avoided, and that the Libyan people can be empowered to solve their own problems without military intervention, provided that the simplistic Good Guy/Bad Guy narrative now being peddled by interventionists and their pet media is not allowed to dictate policy.  How can this be done?  I’ll blog on this shortly . . . .

Here’s the article:

Friday, 11th March 2011

Maltese neutrality still a brilliant idea

Richard E. Rubenstein

I hope a visitor to Malta may be permitted to express his views about the debate raging over the “neutrality principle” contained in the Constitution.

The debate has been stimulated, of course, by recent events in the Arab world, particularly in Libya, where the popular uprising against Muammar Gaddafi seems to be mutating into civil war and where various forms of military intervention against the Libyan dictator are apparently being contemplated by European and US officials.

Article 1, section 3 of the Constitution famously defines Malta as “a neutral state actively pursuing peace, security and social progress among all nations by adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in any military alliance”. It goes on to specify the country may not be used as a military base by any other nations except to defend Maltese independence or to enforce UN Security Council decrees. This means Malta should not permit its facilities to be used for military intervention against Col Gaddafi, even if the beleaguered leader uses unjustified violence against rebel forces.

A considerable number of officials and experts have expressed dismay with this result. Some say the clause was adopted under Dom Mintoff’s leadership in order to establish Malta’s “non-alignment” in the Cold War and that it is therefore obsolete. Others believe that applying it would damage the nation’s international standing and trade relations. Still others believe the moral duty to protect populations from atrocious violence or war crimes by their leaders outweighs “the civil law” and should eventually lead to the repeal of article 1, section 3.

I want to take a different position entirely – one that I have not yet heard strongly expressed in the debate. In my view, the Constitution’s neutrality principles are neither outmoded, contrary to Maltese national interests, nor immoral. On the contrary, they reflect a creative vision of Malta’s international role that goes far beyond the Cold War context of the Mintoff years.

This valuable – nay, invaluable – notion is that, in a world of competitive nations and power blocs seeking to pursue their fancied economic and geopolitical interests by “any means necessary”, including the use of massive violence, there is a crying need for regional peacemakers. The world in general, and the Mediterranean region in particular, desperately needs nations sufficiently neutral – and public servants sufficiently skilled – to be able to help conflicting parties resolve their conflicts before they escalate to genocidal levels.

This sort of neutrality does not imply either passivity or immorality. On the contrary, it reflects a deliberate decision to serve the nations in the way the Catholic Church aided Europe’s sovereigns during the Middle Ages – by mediating their disputes. It recognises the enormously valuable role that can be played by skilled facilitators who, because of their impartiality, can be trusted by conflicting parties to help them discover and deal with the underlying causes of their struggle.

This sort of conflict resolution goes beyond negotiation and power-bargaining to an analysis of violence-producing problems. It is what ended the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland and the civil war in Mozambique and kept a dozen nations from exploding after the collapse of the Soviet empire. If a trusted neutral had been available to mediate between the United States and Iraq, the world might have been spared that agonising and unnecessary war. And if conflict resolution techniques were employed now in Libya, I believe a vastly destructive civil war could be avoided.

But conflict resolution cannot work unless a willing nation or organisation makes a firm decision to adopt a “third party” role – to remain officially impartial even when those generally condemned as bad guys use outrageous violence against those acclaimed as good guys. This impartiality is often hard to maintain. Yet, how many times have we discovered, after great destruction, that the good guy/bad guy distinction was oversimplified or that, even where one party was clearly at fault, using mass violence against him only weakened the society’s capacity for peaceful reconstruction?

Despite its strategic position in the Mediterranean, Malta is not a great economic or military power. Far-seeing leaders of both political parties have understood that, in a power-addicted world, this is not a disadvantage but an advantage. The neutrality clauses of Malta’s Constitution call on the island nation to exercise a different kind of power – moral authority – and a different kind of strategic thinking: strategising for peace. They ask the Maltese to exercise self-restraint, not for narrow national purposes but to serve the common good as the nation did when it negotiated the Law of the Sea Treaty and other international agreements.

No, the Constitution’s neutrality clauses are not obsolete. With sufficient willpower and dedication, Malta could realise its destiny to become one of the world’s leading platforms for peace and conflict resolution.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: