Major problems have developed over plans to rebuild the Lebanese Army, a step crucial to ensuring long-term stability in a future reunited Lebanon. Lebanese Defense Minister Issam Khoury said over the weekend that the government hoped to conscript 18,000 men over the next 18 months as a first step in an overall effort to strengthen the numbers, equipment, and morale of the armed forces so that the Lebanese Army could reestablish authority.
However, for reasons both external and internal, the process is in such delay that diplomats and members of the multinational peacekeeping force have begun to express concern through official channels.
The biggest obstacle is the fact that 80 percent of the country is still under foreign occupation. Indeed the weakness of Lebanon militarily is reflected in that there are 16 foreign armies - including the multinatinal force and 10 -nation United Nations force - in a country smaller than Connecticut. The total number of Israeli, Syrian, and Palestinian troopsis estimated at approximately 60,000.
It will be difficult even to begin the draft in any place but Beirut due to the foreign occupation. And deployment of Lebanese troops is out of the question until foreign troop withdrawal has been finalized.
A second problem related to external conditions is financing the rebuilding. Recruiting and training 10,000 men will cost about $130 million, according to Beirut's authoritative An-Nahar newspaper. It is a difficult expenditure at a time the Lebanese budget is suffering from a massive deficit. And that does not include huge expenses for arms and tanks.
The Lebanese government has been counting on economic aid from the oil-rich Gulf states to help. But last month the Saudi Arabian Defense Minister, Prince Sultan, said no funds would be given to Lebanon until all Israeli troops had left the couuntry - a position apparently adopted by all potential Arab sponsors. Financial problems are considered the main reason the new conscription law, adopted by the Cabinet in November, has not yet been implemented.
The internal problems are more numerous and complex, many of them tied to the longstanding issue of sectarian rivalry between Christians and Muslims.
Lebanon's power structure is based on an unwritten agreement of 1943 that divided up all government positions on the basis of a census taken in 1932. It has never been officially updated.
At the time, Christians had the largest proportion of the population and thus won the key jobs and largest share in all institutions - including commander of the Army and the best military jobs. However, the population breakdown has altered radically over the past 50 years, with the Shiite Muslims now having by far the largest numbers.
Muslim leaders have been deeply concerned about lack of reforms to accommodate the new situation. And feelings have deepened as a result of the detention of hundreds of Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians, many of whom have been held for four months. All were arrested by and are being held by the Lebanese Army.
Many Muslims privately express doubt and suspicion about their role in an army that continues to be dominated by Christians. The government has attempted to give the command structure a new image with the appointment of a new chief last month, Gen. Ibrahim Tannous, and new commanders of internal security and intelligence. The government also announced plans to ''ease out'' some 40 high-ranking officers. But it has done little to allay Muslim fears.
It has been noted often by Muslim leaders that the Army has reasserted itself only in west Beirut, while making only token patrols of east Beirut, where the Christian Phalange militia still has strongholds and weapons.
Indeed the status of the Lebanese forces is one of the major issues in the rebuilding process, for there are some in the government who favor incorporating the Phalange into the Army or into a new national guard.
And the Israelis are insisting that another Christian militia, under the control of renegade Army Maj. Saad Haddad, be given a legitimate security positon, despite the fact he officially faces court-martial charges for his break-away actions.
Settling these issues will take a long time, further delaying the rebuilding process. Diplomatic sources here feel the Phalange will never disarm. They say the government is considering offering the Phalange a role in the Army as a compromise.This, however, would be unacceptable to Muslims in light of the role allegedly played by the Phalange in the September massacres in two Palestinian camps.