Every so often our country’s neutrality is called into question, sometimes even from unexpected quarters, such as some members of the present administration. From my point of view, this does not make any sense. There is no doubt that, up to present times, neutrality has served us well, under different governments. The relatively short history of our neutrality is a strong proof of this fact. This same history also shows that our position is appreciated and has been found useful to third countries.
These are some of the events that make this point clear:
- The Bush – Gorbachev summit in 1989
- The Euro-Med meeting of foreign ministers held in Valletta in 1996
- The recent meeting in Malta of the Chinese Foreign Minister with the National Security adviser of President Biden, that led to a meeting between the Chinese and US Heads of State
- The choice of Malta to be the Chair of the OSCE, after the Russian Federation objected to Estonia chairing the organisation.
- The passing of the first resolution in the UN Security Council which led to a pause in the Israel – Gaza conflict; a resolution that was introduced by our Permanent Representative at the UN.
It is enough to have a look at each of these events to see that, in each and every case, it is our neutrality that was the main factor in our country’s success. The fact that the Bush – Gorbachev Summit took place on our island is no coincidence. Bush and Gorbachev could have chosen many other venues, but our neutrality was the trump card.
I recall the 1996 Euro-Med Foreign Ministers’ meeting, when due to some political difficulty in finding a country that could host such an important meeting, the choice fell on Malta. The same can be said for the Chinese – US high level meeting that was held here just a few weeks back. I am sure that the Chinese Foreign Minister and the US National Security Adviser did not come to Malta for sightseeing or for a holiday. This meeting led to a meeting of the US and Chinese leaders after a relatively long period.
These are not the only circumstances or events that have given proof of the wisdom of our choice of neutrality. Many forget the soft loans that we were provided by the states of the Arabian Gulf, mainly Saudi Arabia, that led to the installation of the first reverse osmosis plants, as well as the construction of the breakwater at Marsaxlokk Harbour. One must not forget to mention that Libya under Gaddafi did give preferential treatment to Malta, such as the instruction that the Libyan merchant fleet of over thirty vessels had to do all its work at our drydocks.
On a personal note, I recall that, at an end-of-the-year party hosted by the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, I was told that, before leaving office, President Clinton wanted to have a last minute try to have a Middle East Peace agreement and that Malta was the preferred venue for such a meeting.
Of course, apart from all the above, we have not been involved in any conflict, though attempts were made by some countries to get us involved. Today some argue that with the European Union getting closer to having a military dimension, our neutrality becomes problematic. I can understand the pressure piled on Malta to change this main pillar of our foreign policy.
The EU would be short sighted if it became a monolith and simply had a closer symbiotic relation with NATO. Our neutrality, together with that of some other EU Member States, is in fact beneficial to the EU. At present, it is clear that the global geo-political situation is in a flux and, if it joined a western military alliance, Malta might soon find itself on the wrong side of history.
Some also argue that there are threats to the island’s security and that neutrality does not provide any safeguards. In my opinion, the reverse is the truth: it is neutrality that safeguards our security, and history has given us proof of this. Being part of a military alliance increases our security risks.
I hope that this cornerstone of our constitution is reaffirmed and that, whatever happens, Malta will always stick to what the constitution dictates: that the country can only take part in military action if approved by the UN Security Council.
Photo: Lazar Gugleta