Lebanon - Military Spending

By 2021 the military was threatened by Lebanon’s devastating financial collapse, one of the worst the world has seen in the past 150 years, according to the World Bank. The economic meltdown put unprecedented pressure on the US-backed army’s operational abilities, wiping out soldiers’ salaries and wrecking morale. The deterioration put at risk one of the few forces unifying Lebanon at a time when sectarian tensions and crime were on the rise amid the population’s deepening poverty. France warned that Lebanon’s military “may no longer be able to fully implement their missions which are essential to the country’s stability.” The US, the army’s largest backer, has pledged to increase aid in 2021.

Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun in a speech to officers in March 2021 openly criticized the political leadership, which has been paralyzed by infighting and has done almost nothing to address the crisis. “What are you waiting for? What do you plan to do? We have warned more than once of the dangers of the situation,” he said — a startling comment since army officers are not allowed to make political statements.

After decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political elite, Lebanon’s economy began to disintegrate in October 2019. More than half the nation has been plunged into poverty. Equally hit are the 80,000 members of the military. Before the crisis, an enlisted soldier earned the equivalent of about $800 a month, but that has now dropped to less than $100 per month. Officers’ salaries are higher but have also dropped in value, now about $400 a month. The army has tightened spending. In 2020, it announced it would stop offering meat in meals given to soldiers on duty. It still offers free medical treatment, but those in the force say the quality and effectiveness has sharply deteriorated.

The Lebanese defense minister said 03 March 2016 he would ask the government to take Iran's past offers of military support seriously after Saudi Arabia's recent decision to retract $4 billion in military aid. Defense Minister Samir Moqbel said Lebanon had informed Iran of the decision which was to be studied at a cabinet meeting. "The Iranian side was informed that when sanctions were lifted on Iran, we would study the Iranian support for the army at the cabinet," The Daily Star quoted him as saying.

Following independence, the government of Lebanon intentionally kept its armed forces small and weak — a "toy army," as one expert described it. Christian politicians, aware of the ubiquity of military dictatorships in Arab nations, feared that Muslims might use the armed forces as a vehicle for seizing power in a military coup d'etat. Furthermore, as laissez-faire businessmen, the Christians appeared unwilling to incur the cost of maintaining a large standing army.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lebanon never spent more than 4 percent of its gross national product on the military budget. Furthermore, many Christian Lebanese feared that a large army would inevitably embroil Lebanon in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Muslim politicians, on the other hand, were wary that a strong army, because it would be commanded by Christians, might be used prejudicially against Muslim interests. At the same time, however, they tended to feel that the military should be strong enough to play a part in the Arab-Israeli struggle. Finally, prominent politicians of all religious denominations have tended also to be feudal warlords commanding their own private militias and fearing that a strong army would erode their personal power.

The LAF, deliberately neglected during the 1990-2005 Syrian occupation, played an essential role in ensuring stability in Lebanon, primarily through its anti-terrorism efforts. The US committed over $600 million in security assistance ($530 million in assistance to the LAF, $86 million to the ISF) to the military and police from 2006 to 2010 to help the GOL gradually extend its control over all Lebanese territory, including areas dominated by Hizballah.

The Lebanese state’s 2012 draft budget allocated $1.2 billion to the Lebanese army, a meager amount by most means, and more considerating the military’s increasing responsibilities. Lebanon’s military spending trailed far behind most countries in the region, allocating only 2.8 percent of its GDP to military expenditures.

Ninety-nine percent of the defense ministry’s budget went to the army. Out of the 1,790 billion Lebanese Lira ($1.2 billion) allocated to the ministry, LL1,772 billion ($1.17 billion) went to the Lebanese army. About 75 percent of the overall budget of the Lebanese armed forces, or LL1,388 billion ($925 million) went to salaries, wages, and other related provisions.

Allocations for the defense ministry’s capital spending, including assets and equipment, amounted to LL92.33 billion ($61.5 million), of which LL91.56 billion ($61 million) went to the army. Out of this figure, LL56 billion ($37.3 million) was earmarked for equipment, but this also included “furniture and office supplies.” This left LL52.5 billion ($35 million) for equipment.

In 2012 the Lebanese government approved a five-year plan to arm the Lebanese military. But the funds assigned to the plan were soon lowered from $5 billion to $1.2 billion.

In September 2014 the United States and Saudi Arabia boosted Lebanon's arsenal as the anti-Islamic State coalition moves to confront the jihadist group in the region. The US pledged to provide the Lebanese Army with additional aircraft, and it announced an additional $103.8 million in humanitarian aid to assist Lebanon with the refugee crisis. With this donation, Washington will have contributed $588.8 million to help Lebanon with the refugee crisis since 2012. The new funding comes in addition to the approximately $19 million in military aid that the US delivered to the Lebanese Armed Forces following the august 2014 fighting between the Army and militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front in the northeastern town of Arsal.

In October 2014 France planned to provide weapons and military equipment to the Lebanese army as part of a $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia to help it fight jihadis encroaching into Lebanon from Syria. One of the few institutions not overtaken by the sectarian divisions that plague Lebanon, the army had few resources to deal with the instability on its border and has been seeking to modernize its military hardware.

Saudi influence had waned in recent years as its preferred politicians lost influence in Lebanon, and Hezbollah emerged as the country’s most powerful military and political force. Saudi anger toward Lebanon was kindled in January 2016 after Iranian demonstrators ransacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran to protest Saudi execution of a Shiite cleric. Lebanon did not endorse official statements of condemnation issued by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation because the statements also criticized Hezbollah.

On 19 February 2016 Saudi Arabia suspended the $3 billion aid package for the Lebanese army to buy French weapons. The kingdom has also canceled the remainder of $1 billion in aid it had earmarked for Lebanon’s internal security service.

Bahrain News Agency quoted statement announced by the Foreign Ministry as saying that the Kingdom of Bahrain asserts that Saudi Arabia’s decision reflects keenness on freeing the brotherly people of Lebanon from the confinement, in which they are undergoing, now, from foreign parties' dictations and hegemony of the terrorist group of Hezbollah, which is monopolizing Lebanon’s official stances and steer them away from the interests of the Lebanese people and their genuine link to their Arab environment.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, announced the UAE's full support for Saudi Arabia's decision to conduct a comprehensive review of its relations with Lebanon, and halt its arms deals for the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces due to Lebanon's recent official positions, including its failure to condemn Iran's aggression against the Saudi Embassy and Consulate in Iran.

The statement of the ministry noted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's decision came after Lebanon repeatedly took negative offensive and bizarre positions against pan-Arab consensus, despite contacts with the relevant Lebanese authorities.

"Lebanon's official position has been hijacked and turned against the interests of Lebanon itself and the interests of Arabs, something evident in the so-called Hezbollah's domineering and hijacking of Lebanon's official decision, which led Lebanon to taking a incongruous position that is against the pan-Arab interests," the statement stated.

"Despite the historic and traditional support extended to Lebanon by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other members states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as well as hosting a large number of Lebanese people and despite the fact that these states stood by Lebanon, during the hard circumstances it went through, we regret to see these negative trends that are not representing of the majority of the Lebanese people," the statement added.

Join the mailing list