Is it really our neutrality we're respecting – or something else?

Published: March 11, 2011 at 10:40am

The Times, today

Libya uprising – Malta insists on non-military solution
Ivan Camilleri, Brussels

Foreign Minister Tonio Borg yesterday remained non-committal on the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, or parts of it, saying Malta would not necessarily back such a decision even if made at UN and EU level.

Speaking after an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels, Dr Borg said the 27 member states were united on the need to have UN Security Council and Arab League backing for a no-fly zone to be imposed. Saying Malta preferred a non-military solution, he noted the island might not back military intervention even if the decision was taken by the UN Security Council and the EU.

“We have to see how things develop,” he said curtly when pressed over Malta’s stand in the eventuality of a UN-backed decision on a no-fly zone.

“Malta will not necessarily back such a decision even if taken at a UN and EU level. We have our neutrality to respect and we have to tread carefully with such a decision,” Dr Borg said.

51 Comments Comment

  1. Antoine Vella says:

    I get the impression that Tonio Borg is rather less firm than the PM regarding what should be Malta’s commitment to remove Gaddafi.

    • Stefan Vella says:

      I doubt Tonio Borg is acting on his own. I must admit that I am finding Gonzi’s position unclear.

      He refused to hand over the military planes to Gaddafi again and yet, might not assist a UN sanctioned military intervention.

      This fence is a precarious place to sit. From a moral, ethical, financial and ultimately national interest perspective, I would be happier if Malta takes a firm stance and shows Gaddafi the middle finger.

    • Another John says:

      Wrong. The PM and vice-PM are entirely on the same wavelength between themselves. They are smart enough. They are just sending out different signals: for what, time will hopefully tell.

    • Macduff says:

      It’s the prime minister himself who is not being clear. First, on Bondiplus some weeks ago, he said that Malta should not shirk its responsibilities if asked to cooperate/participate in military action. Now, he categorically says that Malta should take part in humanitarian initiatives only. The mind boggles.

  2. red nose says:

    Dr Borg, what developments are you expecting? I hope you are not waiting to hear Gaddafi say that he has crushed the rebellion. I never expected a PN minister to act so irresponsibly.

  3. red nose says:

    Neutrality has become a very good screen for other interests.

    • Another John says:

      Perfectly said red nose. The question is: what are the ‘other interests’? We can only speculate, of course.

  4. Anthony Farrugia says:

    “even if the decision was taken by the UN Security Council and the EU.”

    Why are we taking a holier than the pope attitude? Am I missing something? Is there more than meets the eye?

    One could almost think that the above was dictated or suggested by our own EU Commissioner John Dalli.

  5. Anthony Farrugia says:

    Why are they (EU, UN, Arab Union, the whole shebang) pussyfooting all of them? Are they waiting until it’s all over bar the shouting?

  6. A Grech says:

    Malta MEPs back call for Gaddafi to go, no-fly zone:

    So the Maltese government might not back a UN resolution imposing a No Fly Zone and our MEPs vote in favour of calling for one!

    What exactly is a “non-military” solution? Asking Gaddafi and his family politely to leave and respect the Libyan’s people wishes?

    Why this reluctance to take a firm stand?

  7. Joseph Cauchi says:

    Should the Libyan oppositon be armed in order to defend themselves from the onslaught of Gaddafi?

  8. Jo says:

    One word describes “our” attitude – pusillanimous = cowardly.

  9. C A Camilleri says:

    ”Malta refused to trade Dutch soldiers for Mirages” from . I do not think that we can consider ourselves as neutral as some want us to be. Stand up and be counted for once. Is there somethinge else we are not being told?

  10. Joseph A Borg says:

    We should consider shifting more towards Paris and away from Rome. At least the state there functions and Sarkozy will not be there forever.

  11. flower says:

    Am working near harbour – it’s full of ships – right now there are five frigates. Looks like trouble is brewing slowly. God help us all.

    • Another John says:

      ‘God help us all’….from a tsunami or an earthquake, maybe. But because there are navy ships in the Grand Harbour? Let them come. This is nothing new. The more navy ships there are in the Grand Harbour, the safer Malta will be from mad men.

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      Five frigates won’t harm you. A gun pointed to your prime minister’s head (figure of speech here) by a cynical dictator certainly will.

      • Vanni says:

        Speaking of gun being held to the PM’s head, is James still in Libya?

        [Daphne – No, of course not. He left after a couple of days.]

  12. Azzop says:

    He is echoing KMB?!?

  13. Dr Francis Saliba says:

    There is no such thing as a neutrality between what is good and what is evil that deserves respect from anybody. That is not any respect for anything worth respecting. That is an expedient collusion with evil.

    • Corinne Vella says:

      Too true. And I know of no law that prevents anyone saying what they think and what they would like to do, just because the action itself would be illegal.

      Since we’re so big on opining on hypothetical situations, what would Malta’s position be if there were no neutrality clause in our constitution?

  14. Another John says:

    My back needs a scratch.

  15. Paul Bonnici says:

    ‘The Tsunami that saved Gaddafi’, this is the title of many articles of the future.

    It is sad, Libya will be just one cemetery if Gaddafi stays in power, he will kill every young man outside Tripoli now and just let his tribal people rule Libya.

  16. sherpa says:

    I invite the deputy prime minister to watch some of the international news about the atrocities happening in Libya. Maybe he will change his mind. How many more thousands of brave Libyans have to die before someone from the EU says enough is enough.

  17. Angus Black says:

    Every organization which matters seems to be reluctant in taking the next logical step = remove Gaddafi at all costs. Leading the fretting exercise is the United States and its stance is rather incomprehensible and controversial.

    The USA was eager to invade Iraq on, as it was confirmed much later, on false pretences – ‘erroneous intelligence’. Could it be that it was lack of intelligence? Could it be now that realizing the can of worms it got into in Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan) it became a matter of ‘once bitten, twice shy’?

    There was an ulterior motive behind getting after Saddam Hussein, but in Libya’s case, the evidence is clearer and indisputable, so why the standoffishness on the part of the (self?) proclaimed world leaders?

    Could it be the fault of the Libyan rebels themselves by being up front and first to ‘object to any foreign troops on Libyan soil’? Can they not realize that their backs are against the executioner’s wall? Can they not for a brief moment swallow their pride taking into account their predicament?

    Inviting help from anyone including (and principally) the Americans will even void the Russian and Chinese stance of not supporting a no-fly zone because an invitation by the Libyans themselves overrides any objection by the two dissenters.

    Lack of action NOW will mean the mass elimination of Libyan protesters and whoever is left will continue in their desperate existence under the thumbs of the Gaddafi regime.

    • Joseph A Borg says:

      The US doesn’t need to build military bases in Libya. The Mediterranean is well stocked in that regard.

      Military action in Libya should be in the hands of regional powers. It would be a big shame if the EU didn’t do its part in its own backyard.

  18. kev says:

    I guess Lou Bondi hasn’t wagged the dog enough.

    Whether you agree with a pacifist policy or not, we’re still a democracy, Lou, so easy with the wagging or you’ll be wagged next.

    [Daphne – Kif dahhalt il-Lou fil-kredu?]

    • La Redoute says:

      A question for the resident expert on neutrality and democracy: does the Maltese constitution guaranteeing the country’s neutrality bar the country’s goverment from taking a firm stand on what sort of intervention is now essential in Libya?

      • Interested Bystander says:

        Maybe they should ask the constitutional court. We should obtain a swift reply within ten years or so.

      • Interested Bystander says:

        Let’s have a referendum on neutrality. What was the question again?

    • Joseph A Borg says:

      Are you implying that the news coverage of atrocities in Libya was manufactured to further some president’s prospects come election time?

      Even Chomsky would be in favour of Libyans fighting for self-governance. If anything he’d rile against the EU countries that sold arms to Gaddafi and the others that pushed to lift the arms embargo.

      Kev, just in case you’re missing it: the story here is of a people that wants the freedom to determine its own future.

      I stil cannot understand how this is being called a civil war by some. Seems more like a proper revolution against the oppressing class. How ironic. Our labour party has been for decades licking boot of those it’s supposed to despise so much.

      • La Redoute says:

        Noam Chomsky warns against intervention in Libya

      • Joseph A Borg says:

        Great find! He’s against intervention by the west, which has a history of messing up the region. AFAIK he agreed that the people should rise and fight for the right to self determination. He called Libya a civil war, which would imply that Gaddafi has a decent amount of support amongst the population. I assume Chomsky’s sources are better than mine. Civil wars are nasty and leave piles of dead people. Chomsky also mentioned Wisconsin as an example of the people rising to fight corporatist interests that want to despoil the state and its people.

        I personally wouldn’t be against targeted air strikes and the use of support staff at headquarters in Benghazi or — more dangerously — inject sappers for covert operations in Gaddafi’s backyard.

        The problem is that diplomacy is anything but. The human rights garbage spewed to the media by political leaders in these situations is all rhetoric totally divorced from the realpolitik of back-room dealings happening outside the glare of cameras. What is never mentioned by the media is that military intervention means that the operations will be paid back handsomely afterwards. These exercises aren’t an extension of the public health service. The rebel council would have to agree to some concessions. These could include a US base in Libya, reparation moneys, appropriation of natural resources and land, guarantees of profitable trade, cheap leases of land and sea etc…

        Read WWI and what happened to Germany. That was overt, explicit and bankrupted the country’s chance of healing itself. It still happens in smaller conflicts. It is in the interest of the foreign powers to let the situation drag before agreeing to airstrikes as this would mean the rebels are getting desperate and will agree to sell their future for some respite now. Britain had to pay the US for ships and resources before the US got officially involved. Kind of reminds me of Marcus Lucius Crassus. Maybe the European Parliament will abide by a more humanist approach.

        In a way Malta should be wary of trumpeting too much for war. We’d look like the lap dog yapping at two pit-bulls fighting. Problem is we are in no one’s lap to keep us warm. What will we get for becoming their megaphone in the med? Britain and Italy are bankrupt, will continue to be so for a decade at least and left a nasty legacy in the region. Time to shift our allegiances within the EU. I assume Germany would like to have a solid presence in the Med. I contend it would be in our interest is to shift our foreign policy to align with France and Germany.

        Problem is what are we going to get out of it? how will the government sell it to the people?

    • kev says:

      Because this is a good follow-up to Lou Bondi’s pastazata last Monday, when he attempted to wag the dog.

      [Daphne – I watched the show, but I just don’t get the connection.]

  19. Macduff says:

    Et tu, Tonio?

  20. Interested Bystander says:

    Christ, why don’t they just invite Gaddafi to come and rule Malta if they are so keen to not upset him. In the internet age you can’t fool folk anymore. We know too much now. Foreign military were here for the evacuation. Who stopped them coming, quoting neutrality?

    The Maltese politicians have a terrific knack of pissing me off big time. Little men on a tiny island with delusions of adequacy.

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      Kemm kien hemm haddiema Maltin “jaqilghu hobzhom” fid-dezert Libjan? 500? Imisshom meta giet l-RAF ghalihom qalulhom “Thanks but no thanks. We’re neutral.”

  21. Interested Bystander says:

    “If the EU had allowed Malta to mediate between the parties, we might have persuaded Gaddafi to leave peacefully, and there would not have ben any need for dramatics and a lot of lives might have been saved. But that is too simple for some people”

    More bullshit comments readers of As if the Maltese ever let the EU stop them doing whatever they want.

  22. Stacy says:

    “Malta will not necessarily back such a decision even if taken at a UN and EU level. We have our neutrality to respect and we have to tread carefully with such a decision,” Dr Borg said

    As far as I can recollect Malta cannot say “No”, if a decision is given by the UN or the EU. Does Malta have veto they can use for the UN like China and Russia?

    [Daphne – And that is aside from the fact that the neutrality clause in our Constitution allows us to enter into battle, be used as a military base, take military action ourselves, if this is in line with a UN mandate. So, if the UN mandates military action in Libya, or a no-fly zone, and Malta refuses to cooperate, it will not be BECAUSE of the Constitution but DESPITE it. In other words: our government’s ‘personal’ decision.]

    And I also fail to understand why the Prime Mister has spoken that he wants nothing to do with the Gaddafi regime (if you read between the lines) but some of the PN ministers and the opposition keep trying to undermine him on all steps.

    Are all MPs at the moment trying to save their own ass in case there are any repercussions in Malta the PM will be blamed?

    I would like to know if Dr Borg’s words came from himself or from our PM so we know for sure it wasn’t taken out of context.

    A month ago I would have said that 2013 the elections would be unfortunately a Labour victory but seeing Gonzi in action there is no way he could lose to those money-grubbing two-faced despots.

    He has made Malta proud he has stood up to that tyrant and said ‘No, I will not help you.’

    [Daphne – I’m sorry, Stacy, but I’m not half as admiring as you are. It’s not as though there was an alternative choice called ‘Yes, I will help you. Why not and when do we start?’]

    I shudder to think what would have happened had Labour been in power.

    • Stacy says:

      This neutrality clause is a load of crap. Why it was not amended 25 years ago when the Nationalists got into power?

      [Daphne – Because the Nationalists voted to put it into the Constitution in the first place. We forget that. The Constitution is not amended by the government. As with the rest of our legal system, the legislative body is parliament – but unlike with the enactment of legislation, which requires a simple majority – one vote is enough, amending the Constitution requires the consent of two-thirds of parliament. The Nationalist opposition’s consent to the neutrality clause, back in the early 1980s after the 1981 electoral mess, was obtained in a trade-off for amending the electoral law which allowed the Labour Party to form a government after obtaining fewer votes than the Opposition, but more seats. The current government defends the neutrality clause and bangs on about upholding because it voted for it when in opposition. They have to justify their decision or at least be seen to be consistent with it, even though it was a decision taken with a gun to their heads.]

      I still don’t see how Malta, when it is part of the EU and the UN can just say “No” because it has a clause in its Constitution which allows it to use neutrality as an excuse for butting out. Would there be any repercussions on Malta from the EU or UN if it did that?

      I admire our PM – yes, it took some time but he has at least said something to the regime – “NO”. If it was the Labour Party or Dalli then the sentence you gave me would have been perfect!

      ‘Yes, I will help you. Why not and when do we start?’

      • Stacy says:

        It was not that I forgot that, Daphne, but I seriously did not know. Thank you for telling me – it makes so much sense now.

      • .Angus Black says:

        Truth be told, the neutrality clause in the Constitution was supported by the Nationalist Opposition at that time as a bargaining tool for the Socialist regime’s agreement to change the electoral districts and to a new formula that recognizes the most number one votes rather than the number of elected candidates.

        Otherwise in all probability Labour would have ruled again in 1987 having clung to power as it did in 1981 even if the NP had more number one votes. The same would have happened in 2008.

        These things are often forgotten, but once reminded, it becomes much more obvious why the choice of an NP government is vital in Malta’s circumstances at least until the LP is no longer led by dangerous clowns like Joseph and his predecessors.

        Can you imagine had Joseph been the prime minister now? How many consultations would he have had with AST, Vella, KMB, Joe Grima et al before risking opening his mouth and maybe come up with a bit of substance?

        The Mirages would today be strafing the rebels and surely he would have been cocky enough to buck the system and tell the EU to take a hike since his party will not be used to censor Gaddafi who after all paid for family allowances some thirty years ago. Il-Pixtu would almost certainly have supported Joey.

  23. David Thake says:

    I hope that the Foreign Minister has been misquoted.

    I would like to think that he actually said that Malta might still refuse to allow attacks /no-fly zone aircraft to depart FROM Malta despite it being sanctioned by the UN.

    I doubt that Malta would risk trying to undermine any UN sanctioned military action. At that point, our whole economy and reputation would be in a royal mess.

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      Let’s put it this way, David. The sanctions against Gaddafi from 1992 to 2003 were mandated by the UN. Malta still broke them.

    • La Redoute says:

      Our reputation is a royal mess, courtesy of our man in the EU commission, the persistent prevarication at home, and our history of sucking up to the dictator a few hundred miles south.

      And why would Malta refuse to allow attacks/no-fly zone aircraft to depart from Malta despite UN sanctions, if all along our defence has been our constitutional clause on neutrality? That same clause allows Malta to take action and allow action to be taken from Maltese territory.

      Are we now to interpret this latest announcement as “we don’t want to be involved in military action under any circumstance, but please go ahead if the UN says yes even though it’ll be a logistical nightmare without the use of our territory, territorial waters and air space?”

    • C Falzon says:

      The way I understand the neutrality clause it does not at all prevent us from allowing Malta to be used by foreign military forces.

      There is an exception, something like ‘unless requested by the government of Malta’. (I don’t have the text at hand at this time)

      That means that the only thing needed for us not to go against the constitution is that rather than let the UN ask us to use our facilities our government would instead ask the UN to intervene in Libya and make use of our facilities.

      Of course I am not a lawyer so I may be completely misunderstanding it.

      [Daphne – A question for Baxxter: why do we have Armed Forces if we are neutral and never plan on using them except for road blocks and in detention camps? What’s all that training about then, walking around in freezing water at Chadwick Lakes and the rest?]

      • Stefan Vella says:

        I am aware the question was not addressed to me but here goes anyway. My reply assumes Malta is on its own.

        Considering our coastal defences are nonexistent, the chances of our army being utilised effectively in defence of our state against an invasion of an amphibious brigade or higher strength is nil.

        Our offensive capability is neutered since we cannot effectively project any force above platoon strength (or maybe 2) beyond our shores.

        Basically, it is a way to employ a couple of thousand men.

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        There you take me into the realms of psychology, and existentialism, and what it means to be a man. You could ask your friend whose son is in Afghanistan with the Mercian Regiment.

        I’ll give you two anecdotes.

        In 1996, shortly before that neutrality fanatic Alfred Sant withdrew our Partnership for Peace membership, there was a call for thirty AFM volunteers to go to Bosnia and deliver baby food or whatever it was. Three hundred soldiers applied. Out of 1400 or less, minus those whose duties kept them from being deployed overseas, such as the Maritime Squadron, EOD Section, or the Air Squadron (as it was called back then).

        The second anecdote concerns a brilliant article by Stuart Ramsay, who accompanied British soldiers in Afghanistan. The folks back home were shedding tears over their young misguided children forced to fight in another Vietnam. Ramsay says he’d never met happier men. They were, he says, “the happiest blokes I have ever met”.

        A man’s place is not in an office cubicle. When industrialisation was invented, and when it was followed up by office work, depression cases shot up up. Then we drink and take drugs and spend the weekend desperately trying to get laid to make up for it all. A man would be happier on a battlefield.

        And if this counts for the average man, what must it be like for a career soldier? A soldier’s job is to fight, not to mount roadblocks for giddy tittering teenagers returning from Gianpula, or to lay out beds for illegal immigrants, or even to parade on St George’s Square every day.

        When the war in Afghanistan started, countries without even an armed forces were queueing up to contribute (Iceland comes to mind). Do you think there was any economic or political motivation? Hell no. It’s just that after fifty years of endless training for a Soviet invasion, and soldiers twiddling their thumbs on the Fulda Gap, here was a real war, with real bullets.

        Whatever the politicians and intellectuals might have said, soldiers all over the world were rejoicing. Because finally they would be doing their job.

        I’ve written about the Maltese attitude to neutrality, which has much deeper roots than a simple article in the constitution. We are convinced it is the only moral choice to be made. We are pacifists at heart, like the early Christians who were devoured by lions.

        The AFM holds an open day every year. It is always a huge success, full of excited kiddies with their parents. A couple of years ago, someone sent an angry letter to The Times over a photo of a young boy holding a rifle. Children shouldn’t begiven guns, he said, because it teaches them to kill, and they shouldn’t be taken to visit the army, because the army is there to kill people and that is evil.

        Even if we beat our swords into ploughshares, what then? Shall we all till the fields and be happy? Competition is part of human nature. And competition means conflict. Over anything from your neghbours goats to that hot chick standing by the bar. What is better, to advance and engage the enemy at bayonet-point, or to struggle to climb the corporate ladder in your nine-to-five shithole?

        Those who’d rather wear a suit and have their Maltese platter on weekends should look at the other side, at the losers in the corporate battlefield. I yearn for a war to sweep over Malta. Then they’d be shitting themselves because they’d lose everything. I would have nothing to lose except my life or my limbs. So be it.

        We now have a just war just crying out to be fought. We should form a Maltese volunteer unit, armed with anything available, and send it to fight alongside the rebels. They wouldn’t have to be professional soldiers, and there wouldn’t be any age limit. I’d be the first to join. And Gonzi and Tonio Borg can keep their precious neutrality. They are family men with succesful careers and I can understand that. But please don’t force your lifestyle on everyone.

      • Patrik says:

        For defence.

  24. .Angus Black says:

    HPB as always is inciteful, engaging, knowledgable and informative and I enjoyed reading his piece, one comment up.

    The only sentence I disagree with reads, “We should form a Maltese volunteer unit, armed with anything available, and send it to fight alongside the rebels” but my disagreement is limited to the fact that the rebels themselves came out with ‘we don’t want foreign troops on Libyan soil…’

    Are they so stubborn as to die to the last man rather than ‘invite’ foreign troops, much better equipped and better experienced?

    They seem to have similar DNA as many Maltese who continue to support a political party which, in the past, fed them canned tuna when and if it was their government’s pleasure and which presently has a number of ex-ministers of that same era one of whom is writing its electoral programme for 2013.

    Go figure.

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