25th September 2014 Beirut, Lebanon
A United Nation at the UN
For a week every year, the world’s foreign policy elites relocate to New York for the annual jamboree of statecraft, the UN General Assembly. The pace is frantic – diplomatic speed-dating. But it matters. The UN may not be perfect, but no-one has yet come up with a better idea for global coexistence.
It matters in particular to Lebanon, a country already under siege from the effects of the Syria conflict. A country whose extraordinary diversity and tolerance is a nightmare for ISIL, the unIslamic non-state that wants a presence here.
This year, there are three crucial moments for Lebanon during UN week.
Firstly, the International Support Group meeting on 26 September. Meeting for a third time, on its second anniversary, this group will discuss how the international community can better help Lebanon, and how Lebanon can better help itself. One silver lining of the Syria crisis and ISIL threat is that more countries are increasing their support, especially to the Lebanese Army. For the UK’s part, we are determined to combine humanitarian work with longer term development interventions that help Lebanese host communities and refugees. And at this meeting, Lebanon’s international friends will also sound the alarm about the risks of leaving the Lebanese Presidency unfilled any longer.
Second, the No Lost Generation Initiative. A growing coalition of Lebanon’s supporters will set out how we will work with the government to get every child in Lebanon an education. The UK continues to deliver actions and not just words. Yesterday DFID Secretary of State Justine Greening announced a £31 million pledge to education in Lebanon. The UK has put huge effort into pulling this work together, alongside the Lebanese Education Minister, building on the support and good work done so far over the past few years by the EU, US and UN agencies. We want to recognise that Lebanese communities throughout the country have responded generously to the refugee crisis, and to invest in their, and Lebanon’s, future.
Third, Iran/Saudi talks. Lebanon badly needs political breathing space. No-one under-estimates the differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia on issues across the region. But a more respectful and productive dialogue would go a long way towards reducing tensions. It is a mistake for Lebanese leaders to think that there is some kind of magic fix as a result – they must themselves take advantage of any change to find new ways to work together. But if there is an opportunity, it must be seized.
UNGA takes place against the backdrop of the international community’s deliberations on how best to counter the threat of ISIL terrorism and intimidation. Inside Lebanon, this means backing the security forces who are on the checkpoints, facing ISIL, and in some cases held hostage. It means that the silent majority who value Lebanon’s diversity have to shout louder than those that don’t. It means not being intimidated or fatalistic. It means establishing, for the first time, genuine Lebanese sovereignty on the border. It must not mean scapegoating refugees, 78% of whom are women and children.
We must not underestimate the challenge, nor the courage required. But never underestimate the resilience of the Lebanese people.
There can be few countries in the world with such a significant United Nations presence as Lebanon, from the troops on the Southern border to the humanitarian agencies. I’ve seen the extraordinary work that they do. We can build Lebanon’s resilience when Lebanon focuses on the key to its strength – as a united nation.
This version was originally published on An Nahar English.