THERE is no shortcut to ending the 15-year war in Lebanon, and no military solution to the country's political problems. Those on all sides who have chosen killing as a way of saving Lebanon are producing the opposite result - they are, in fact, killing Lebanon. But Lebanon's dismemberment is not the result of external interference; rather, it is the result of the breakdown of the Lebanese system itself.
At its core, Lebanon's conflict arose from the political and economic inequities of an outmoded system of governance that gave preference to the elites of the Christian and Muslim sects. As the injustices of this system intensified, the disenfranchised rebelled. Those with power fought to maintain their hegemony, leading ultimately to a breakdown in national cohesion. While the initial rounds of fighting had an ideological and political character, sectarian loyalties increasingly came to dominate.
As each group sought to buttress its position by appealing to outside forces, the conflict became more internationalized. Syria become involved, as did Israel, the Palestinians, Iraq, Iran, and, at times and to differing degrees, the United States and France - each picking a side. As a result, Lebanon's unity is fractured.
At bottom, ending the military and political conflict requires resolution of the fundamental issues of class and sect. Internal political reform must be aimed at creating national integration through a more representative government that can restore to the Lebanese a sense of national unity and purpose. Any effort to short-circuit this fundamental restructuring of Lebanon is doomed to failure. Those who have tried to resolve the war in Lebanon short of such a restructuring have found themselves mired in the conflict: Syria since 1976, Israel since 1978, and the US in 1982.
Currently there is pressure for the US to be involved again in Lebanon. This has been tried before, in 1958 and 1983. Both times, because the involvement was unilateral and one-sided, the effort failed.
Based on this past involvement, some counsel continued US disengagement. I strongly disagree. With the exception of the 1983 initiative, this has been the approach of both the US and the Soviet Union for most of the past 15 years. That hands-off policy has reduced Lebanon to little more than the Cambodia of the Middle East.
In the political vacuum thus created, terror has run rampant. Nine Americans and thousands of Lebanese are held in degrading captivity. The country has become a vacant lot in which regional conflicts of all kinds are battled out by surrogate groups all too eager to carry out their appointed roles in exchange for weapons and support. Each new round of inter-sect fighting creates new wounds, deepens divisions, and makes restoring Lebanon's unity more difficult.
The US must become engaged - but engaged in a comprehensive process to find a long-term solution to Lebanon's conflict.
But the US cannot hope to assist in resolving the conflict by itself. Any long-term solution requires participation by the Soviet Union and the Arab League too, as major actors that can work together to exert leverage on Lebanon's competing forces. When the US and the USSR put their weight behind a local effort, as they did in southern Africa and the Iran-Iraq war, they can ensure progress toward peace. But of utmost importance, both superpowers have to put saving Lebanon at the head of their agendas - and stop seeing Lebanon as a secondary or subsidiary issue.
Simply put, warfare in Lebanon cannot continue with its current intensity without the complicity of the great powers or their allies in providing arms to various militias and armies. Only by strangling the flow of weapons into Lebanon can the militias be cut down to size.
The flow of arms could be stopped by a firm US-USSR, with the cooperation of their allies, to embargo and, if necessary, interdict arms transfers. Asserting control over arms flows through Israel, Syria, and Iraq into Lebanon is the best way to use the US-Soviet relationship to hasten an end to the conflict.
The United Nations must reaffirm its support for implementation of UN Resolution 425 (passed after the 1978 Israeli invasion of Lebanon). UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon must be enabled to complete their mission and take positions in the so-called Israeli security zone - a euphemism for Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon. The role of these UN forces should be further expanded to replace the by-now discredited Syrian peacekeeping forces in the north and east.
Also on the UN agenda should be an all-party conference with fundamental political reform as its goal.
Any resolution of the conflict in Lebanon, by necessity, depends on the degree to which such a settlement guarantees its sovereignty, unity, and independence. While outside parties can endorse these goals, only Lebanon's people can guarantee their realization by negotiating a new formula for governance and national unity.
For a resolution to be possible the militias and partisan armies - through their patrons and supporters - must be reined in so that the people of Lebanon and their political and religious leadership can be freed from the tyranny of the gun.
As an incentive to Lebanon's leadership, an international commitment to massive reconstruction aid must be forthcoming. While such aid is out of the question at this time, an immediate increase in humanitarian aid to private voluntary relief organizations for food, shelter, and medical treatment is needed. Lebanon's political problems cannot be resolved overnight, but Lebanon's people immediate needs.
Such a long-term approach may not appeal to those who seek either a quick fix or punishment of one side or another. It is, however, only through such an approach that the fundamental political problems of Lebanon can be addressed and resolved.