Is the time ripe for a review of Malta's neutrality? By review I mean just that; not burying neutrality but re-modelling it to reflect modern times. Fortunately, in the last decade and a half the two mainstream political parties have verged towards the centre in matters of foreign policy.
Article 2 of the Constitution has a general and a specific part. In the specific part there are binding provisions prohibiting the setting up of foreign military bases in Malta or joining a military alliance. In the general part, pursuing a policy of neutrality in foreign affairs is a political rather than a legal question.
In 1983, in spite of the fact that two years earlier the Maltese government had deposited at the United Nations its declaration of policy of neutrality, it felt, whether rightly or wrongly is irrelevant, to sign and execute a secret arms agreement with North Korea at the height of the Cold War. This proves the flexible political nature of our neutrality provision. Joining the Partnership for Peace was considered by some Labour pundits as being in breach of our neutrality. The truth indicates otherwise. Adhering to PfP programmes is not incompatible with our neutrality, the more so when one considers that Switzerland, the neutral and neutralised country par excellence, joined the PfP programmes as did the Russian Federation and Byelorussia, which can be considered anything but bosom friends of Nato.
Neutrality is not an end in itself; it is a means to obtain an end. It is right that we should not get entangled in disputes, controversies and conflicts that are of no interest to our country but as a member of the civilised world we have an interest to join in the efforts to prevent and fight international terrorism, which is becoming more transnational in nature. Malta, for instance, has already made a modest financial contribution to the efforts of the Western world in Afghanistan in the fight against extremist groups, which have endangered the security of the Western world.
Being neutral does not mean, as Churchill once remarked, being neutral between the fire and the firefighters. We are not ashamed, in spite of our neutrality, to affirm that we belong to the Western world, in values, traditions, roots, history and interests. Our military neutrality provisions in the Constitution tell us what we cannot do but they leave a wide margin of appreciation to the government to decide which operations we should participate in, in line with our national interest.
The Opposition, in the last Budget debate, expressed a desire to engage in a debate on neutrality and its adaptation to modern times and needs. I immediately welcomed this initiative, provided that the final provisions agreed to are not more burdensome or onerous than the present provisions for, after all, the political compromise reached in 1987, and the peculiar political circumstances surrounding such a compromise, constituted a finely-balanced agreement that should not be disturbed unnecessarily.
Other personalities, including the present US Ambassador, have participated in the debate. As some commentators have remarked, our neutrality provision has not prevented us from participating in EU police missions in Bosnia or in peace-keeping missions in Georgia.
Malta has always considered the United States as an important partner; joining the European Union has strengthened this relationship. Through the EU we participate in transatlantic summits and meetings, which have strengthened, in turn, our bilateral relationship with the US.
The most altruistic move from the US side has been the spontaneous proposal by the US Administration to resettle protected persons from Malta in the States: 400 immigrants have benefited from such resettlement. A friend in need, indeed!
This does not mean that we agree with all US positions and actions but we should not shy away from supporting the US and the Western world`s efforts in building a democratic and corrupt-free Afghan Administration. I have already publicly stated that assisting in the training and education of Afghan public servants or personnel is not in breach of neutrality but an assertion of a free and sovereign country to help its friends and protect itself around the world of which it forms part.
We choose our friends and no one else. Some are friends because they have strong, geographical or cultural or political ties with Malta. Others because we share their ideas and ideals. The party in government did not approve the neutrality provision in our Constitution to shackle its actions in the international sphere. It adhered to it because it subscribed to the view that we should not get entangled in the wars of others.
But remaining callous and passive observers was never the trait of this nation; nor will it ever be.
Dr Borg is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
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