A french version of this article appeared in the print edition of L’Orient le Jour on December 9, 2011.
In a time of political upheaval in the Middle East, and changing world economic order, Lebanon needs to adapt both its foreign and economic policies. Lebanon should play the role of “middleman”, an equidistant and honest broker that connects different players with each other.
Lebanon’s foreign policy is presently unsustainable. With no articulated doctrine, the central government relies on ad-hoc tactical moves in conducting its foreign policy. Quick fix solutions in the current environment are inadequate and it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain balance between polarizing forces. A more mature and long-term approach would offer more leverage and opportunities
Lebanon needs a cohesive overall strategy. A strategy guided by the basic goals of internal stability, and economic growth. It has to be a proactive foreign policy that prevents rather than reacts to crises.
This is a different approach from Turkey’s “zero problems” policy and Qatar’s conflict mediator role. Rather than interjecting in conflicts in the Middle East and beyond, as both countries have done, I would suggest a more retracted role considering Lebanon’s more modest resources, a role of silent spectator, carefully managing shifting coalitions.
Lebanon needs a cohesive overall strategy. A strategy guided by the basic goals of internal stability, and economic growth.Georges Sassine
Lebanon should lead with a clear message upfront and declare neutrality as a first and fundamental principle. In the short term, focus should be on vital relationships for our future. By way of illustration, Lebanon should refrain from making a bet on outcomes in Syria and Iran and maintain vagueness and silence. Regarding Saudi Arabia’s unclear leadership succession the Lebanese government should actively maintain relationships with different Saudi stakeholders.
I am suggesting a foreign policy that is consistently carried through. A strategy that employs neutrality as its leading instrument until a clearer future emerges. The risks are too high, and Lebanon will be better off with a pragmatic foreign policy instead of no policy at all.
On the economic front, Lebanon performed remarkably well facing the 2008 global financial crisis, but the risks to Lebanon’s economy lie in long-term changes. As the global economy moves towards greater integration and trade, how will Lebanon win in a more globalized world?
The answer is not in competing head to head with leading economies, but in finding unique opportunities to benefit from the rise of emerging markets.
Commerce corridors are shifting to South-South trade … The new opportunity for Lebanon will be in linking Brazil and China, as well as India and Russia.Georges Sassine
Lebanese businessmen benefited from playing the role of middlemen for decades. Their focus has been on the old economic order as intermediaries between the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. As a multipolar world emerges future opportunities will differ. Commerce corridors are shifting away from North-North and North-South trade, to South-South trade. China, India, and Brazil are trading more with each other as demand from advanced economies is slumping. The new opportunity for Lebanon will be in linking Brazil and China, linking India and Russia, and maybe several developing countries at once.
Take for example, Alibaba.com, an online aggregator where buyers and sellers trade wholesale merchandise. Alibaba connects 42 million users across 240 countries and is a success because it is the most efficient way to trade across borders and link so many people and countries. Similarly, Lebanese middlemen should explore new ventures to profit from globalization trends. The Lebanese government needs to adapt its economic strategy to the changing economic landscape and encourage Lebanese businesses to reap the benefits.
A new reinvigorated vision should prioritize five key initiatives: promote private sector participation and entrepreneurial ventures; remove barriers to doing business; refocus the education system on required skillsets; increase infrastructure investments; and incentivize business with foreign countries.
To achieve stability and long-term growth, Lebanon needs to articulate a clear vision and strategy that harnesses the country’s existing capabilities. It’s a matter of vision, courage and absolute determination.
Georges Pierre Sassine is a public policy expert and Harvard University alumnus. He wrote this commentary for L’Orient Le Jour.
A french version of this article appeared in the print edition of L’Orient le Jour on December 9, 2011. Original title: “Une nouvelle politique économique pour faire face à l’incertitude”
(L’Orient Le Jour: http://www.lorientlejour.com/)