Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents



Like most of the Middle East, Lebanon has a long history of conflict and conquest. Unlike other Middle Eastern nations, however, Lebanon also has a long history of inviting, or at the least acquiescing in, foreign military intervention. Lebanese leaders have traditionally traded sovereignty for security.

Prior to its establishment as a sovereign and independent state shortly after World War II, Lebanon had existed under centuries of foreign domination. Many Lebanese cities capitulated to the invasions of the Crusader's, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and Lebanon's Christians collaborated with the French Crusaders. In the early seventeenth century, the Druze (see Glossary) ruler Fakhr ad Din II concluded a secret treaty with Ferdinand I, duke of Tuscany in Italy, to oppose the Ottomans. Italian mercenaries helped to organize and equip his army on the European model. In 1840 the British and the Ottoman Turks bombarded Beirut at the behest of the Maronites (see Glossary) and the Druzes, who had united to fight the invasion of the Egyptian Muhammad Ali. In the 1850s, the Druzes cultivated a special relationship with the British, while the French maintained their traditional role as protectors of the Maronites. In 1860 European nations landed troops in Beirut to protect Christians and to end a massacre by the Druzes that had claimed over 10,000 Christian lives. And after World War I, Lebanese Christians supported the French Mandate.

The Ottoman Empire ruled Lebanon indirectly for almost 400 years (beginning in 1516) by delegating authority to local amirs (princes), who raised feudal armies consisting mainly of nonLebanese mercenaries and some Lebanese conscripts. During this period, the amirs intentionally integrated their militia, and Christian Maronites and Druzes served side by side. In the settlement that followed the Druze massacre of Christians in 1860, Lebanon was made an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire ruled by a Christian mutasarrif (governor) appointed by the Sublime Porte, i.e., the imperial ruler, but subject to the approval of the European powers that had intervened to help stabilize the area (see Religious Conflicts , ch. 1). The mutasarrif was empowered to establish a small local militia, whose officers were apportioned from religious groups in the area. The provincial militia was a voluntary organization, and it disintegrated with the advent of World War I.

After the establishment of the League of Nations mandate over Lebanon in April 1920, France formed the Troupes Spéciales du Levant (Levantine Special Forces), which were composed of Lebanese and Syrian enlisted personnel but commanded predominantly by French officers. The percentage of Lebanese and Syrian officers in the force increased gradually, however, especially after the outbreak of World War II. By 1945 approximately 90 percent of the officers in the Troupes Spéciales du Levant were Arabs, and the force had attained its maximum strength of about 14,000.

During World War II, Lebanese troops fought effectively in Lebanon with the Vichy French forces against British and Free French forces. After the surrender of Vichy forces in the Middle East in July 1941, volunteers from the Troupes Spéciales du Levant were enlisted in the Free French forces and participated in combat in North Africa, Italy, and southern France.

In June 1943, the French reconstituted units of the Troupes Spéciales du Levant, which were then attached to the British forces in the Middle East. In 1945, as the result of continuing pressure by Lebanese leaders for control of their own forces, the French turned over to them the Lebanese units of the Troupes Spéciales du Levant. These units totaled about 3,000 men and became the nucleus of the Lebanese Army.

Following independence, the government of Lebanon intentionally kept its armed forces small and weak--a "toy army," as one expert described it. Christian politicians, aware of the ubiquity of military dictatorships in Arab nations, feared that Muslims might use the armed forces as a vehicle for seizing power in a military coup d'état. Furthermore, as laissez-faire businessmen, the Christians appeared unwilling to incur the cost of maintaining a large standing army. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lebanon never spent more than 4 percent of its gross national product on the military budget. Furthermore, many Christian Lebanese feared that a large army would inevitably embroil Lebanon in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Muslim politicians, on the other hand, were wary that a strong army, because it would be commandedby Christians, be used prejudicially against Muslim interests. At the same time, however, they tended to feel that the military should be strong enough to play a part in the Arab-Israeli struggle. Finally, prominent politicians of all religious denominations have tended also to be feudal warlords commanding their own private militias and fearing that a strong army would erode their personal power.

Because of this disagreement over its role, the Lebanese Army has played little part in Lebanese politics. Furthermore, it has remained on the sidelines even with regard to issues within the scope of its mandate to preserve security. Consistent with this circumscribed role, the Lebanese Army's most salient mission has been to supervise and referee Lebanon's traditionally violent elections, which even in relatively peaceful times have been a volatile mixture of ballots and bullets.

Data as of December 1987

Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents