A large majority across Lebanon’s sectarian dividing lines trust the military as a neutral, nonsectarian institution. Military personnel, in turn regard the people as the sovereign they aim to protect, but harbor little regard for sectarian political elites that do not demonstrate a concern for the national interest. Policies and capabilities for civil-military cooperation are in place, but suffer from limited resources.
As one of the few successes of post–civil war institutional reconstruction in terms of representativeness and cohesion, the armed forces play an important nation-building role, and are viewed with pride by citizens. Opinion polls show that the armed forces are the most popular and trusted national security actor in Lebanon, and possibly the most trusted state institution as a whole. The military enjoys strong cross-confessional support, and is viewed to be at low risk for corruption.
Most Lebanese feel that the military represents and acts on their behalf, and it is generally viewed as neutral, but the armed forces’ attempts to maintain this neutrality in the face of protests sometimes lead to the perception that it supports one side or another. The armed forces include all confessions and do not have a strong social or partisan bias. Communal elites sometimes chafe at their inability to bring the military under their sway, and since the civil war the perception that the military belongs to one group or another has largely disappeared.
Citizens are proud of the military’s rapid professionalization since the 2005 Syrian withdrawal, but a history of dissolution or division in the face of communal strife has generated a fear among the public and military commanders alike of the military becoming involved in future domestic conflict. Civic activities and public campaigns conducted by or on behalf of the military broadly echo the general sentiment of trust and affection towards the military. These efforts would be more effective with streamlined planning, modernized staffing procedures, and less reliance on methods used in psychological operations.
Civilians generally regard a military career as a means of social advancement, but Shia Muslims are more likely to be drawn to Hezbollah or nonmilitary careers, and the attractiveness of a military career is waning among Christians and Druze. Civilians, particularly the media, are free to discuss the military or defense affairs, but self censorship often limits discussions and the military’s overclassification of data leaves the public and media relatively ill-informed about the intricacies of defense affairs.
The military actively promotes positive respect in its ranks for civilians and regards the people as the sovereign it aims to serve. At the same time, the military does not actively inculcate positive perceptions of political elites. The armed forces recognize the primacy of civilian leadership, even if they doubt that political leaders have the nation’s best interests at heart. The military sees itself as representing, though not defining, the national interest, but has no history of mounting coups d’etat. The military regards civilian authorities as sectarian and incompetent in defense affairs, but maintains the veneer of obedience by interpreting orders from these authorities in a way that minimizes societal fragmentation, sometimes avoiding implementation of orders altogether.
The military cultivates an ethos of representing the nation instead of particular groups. The dominant narrative usually supersedes communal differences that exist within the armed forces, but intercommunal tensions in society sometimes exacerbate these differences. The military meticulously implements a confessional quota system at all officer ranks and strives to recruit from geographic areas and communities in need of greater representation, to include females since 2017.
Military personnel regard themselves as entitled to superior terms of pay, benefits, and pensions compared to civilian counterparts, due to the greater risks, hardship, and hours that they endure. Retired personnel have protested to maintain these benefits, but there is evidence that these benefits exceed those of civilians of equivalent rank. The armed forces do not undertake opinion surveys to assess and improve their image, but they encourage third parties, including foreign governments and the United Nations, to do so. The military routinely ranks highly in such surveys.
The armed forces see civil-military cooperation as integral to their public support and see it as an essential part of their mission. Critics outside the armed forces argue that these activities are motivated by a desire to win foreign assistance, but military officers engaged in civil-military cooperation insist that their efforts are genuine and seek to elevate this mission to the Deputy Chief of Staff level. The military has established both a strategy and a doctrine for civil-military cooperation, though these were not integrated into operational planning until 2016. A civil-military cooperation center founded in 2014 has only slowly streamlined its activities into the military’s other functions.
The military has established civil-military cooperation units and staffs at strategic, operational, and tactical levels, but most of their work focuses on the tactical level. This function is not uniform across all major units, but the capability is present in the theaters of operation and areas of responsibility in which significant civilian engagement is required. Civil affairs are increasingly prevalent across military training programs and courses. This training is not systematic, but is slowly becoming institutionalized. Meanwhile, a small staff manages this function with a limited budget, through which it conducts civil-military cooperation training for units.
Limited resources for civil-military cooperation activities require the armed forces to engage civilian authorities at municipal and local levels, as well as foreign and international military forces. Coordination with national leaders is less frequent. For lack of resources, the armed forces do not methodically assess the impact of civil-military cooperation activities, relying instead on third parties or anecdotal evidence.
Q1 - Civilian Perceptions
Q2 - Military Perceptions
Q3 - Civil-Military Cooperation