As Maltese civil society is engaged in a struggle to restore rule-of-law, it has missed out on very important ongoing debates and changes that nation-states are going through in response to the changing world around them. In the past three years, the changes that took place throughout the world were unprecedented in their magnitude and Malta has so far remained complacent. The world has changed and Malta has only gotten worse.
I have written at length about the economic challenges that Malta is facing. Our economy has become overtly dependent on the government’s current expenditure, and no strategic changes were made to ensure that our economy becomes more resilient. Then there is the energy sector which has also been neglected for reasons of corruption and criminal cover-ups. Basically, Malta is sleep-walking into its economic challenges.
The other major aspect that has so far been neglected at a great cost to our society is our national security, and this aspect too has been mainly neglected due to incompetence and corruption. Malta’s stance of neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a very convenient mode of appeasement to the Russians whom we allowed to buy Maltese citizenship on a wide scale, not to mention the money laundering aspect. It is probably the first time in Maltese history that our neutrality has been conveniently used to consolidate the corrupt edifice of murky relationships between the Labour government and Russian oligarchs. Still, today Malta along with Greece is the most uncooperative country in pursuing Russian assets.
Originally, the concept of neutrality was used by the Labour Party as a foreign policy tool of economic and geo-strategic leverage, and it worked perfectly well in this regard. After the Second World War, Malta had to choose its future and there was a very long process of debate and political action before the Labour Party arrived at its position of neutrality. Initially, the first option was to join the Western world in full with Integration with Britain, but Mintoff wanted the British to buy Malta’s union rather the other way around. After the failure of Labour’s Integration proposal, the preferred foreign policy of the Labour Party changed into Non-Alignment and neutrality because it gave Labour the most leverage in negotiating a price for Malta’s defence facilities. The Labour government successfully got a good deal in 1972 and Britain and NATO stopped using Malta’s defence facilities altogether in 1979.
This is a story well told, even in my books (shamelessly self-promoting). However, the discussion on our national security and our foreign policy was never brought up again after the 1980s when Malta enshrined its neutrality in the constitution. By then, the concept of neutrality for Labour had become an ideological and political principle which took an anti-Western turn. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the principle of neutrality never remained an issue of national security because in principle it was meant to avoid participating in a nuclear conflict. The Cold War had ended, and the risk of nuclear war had diminished greatly, but our neutrality remained. We remained neutral to a conflict that no longer existed.
Today, nation-states across the world are reconsidering their national security and their alliances in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s reaction to it. And the current global realignment is very clear. Rogue states are consolidating their ties together. Dictatorships and authoritarian states are getting increasingly closer together whilst militarising even further. On the other hand, nation-states in the West are seeking to expand their militaries and collaborate even further on energy and industrial security. Eastern Europe is taking a steadfast, and assertive push to the West as it ramps up its militaries. Central Asian states like Kazakhstan are beginning to flit with the West whilst slowly abandoning Russia. For the first time in many years, Ireland is debating its neutrality and NATO membership after Russian ships were seen harassing its coast at the same time that Russia made threats to cut off the West’s internet cables. Switzerland too is finally dropping its opposition to weapons transfer to Ukraine through its borders.
Then we have China which is increasingly getting closer to Saudi Arabia and Russia. Russia gets even closer to Iran and Bashar Al-Assad of Syria is being rehabilitated across the Arab world. Corrupt governments like South Africa’s ANC-lead are taking a pro-Russian stance, while India is trying to play it neutral out of short-term opportunism (energy-sales) only to remember about its warm friendship with the US when push comes to shove on China. This is hardly a multi-polar world. It’s still a world divided into two major camps, the West which has rule-of-law, and the opposing side which is composed of mostly brutal and authoritarian dictatorships.
Malta, a country where most of its intellectuals have fled their homeland, is stuck with old and outdated political concepts that by now have become dogma to its purveyors. Today, the Labour Party isn’t even discussing local politics, let alone its foreign policy. As a criminal organisation, neutrality benefits the Labour Party so that it may opt to wiggle out of international and coordinated efforts against the money laundering of rogue states. Yet, all the while, we risk losing our national security as the world around us becomes undeniably more dangerous. At a time when China threatens to start a war against Taiwan, Malta isn’t even thinking about the risks of having our national electric grid literally owned by the Chinese government. This is not “neutrality” which comes from a reasoned and strategic position, but just outright recklessness and incompetence and also a product of the cover-up of corruption.
The Labour Party is literally not giving any thought to our national security. The first thing that Evarist Bartolo did as Foreign Minister was to wash his hands over the Libyan maritime border with Malta and hand over its security to the Turkish navy. The Turkish government didn’t say no to this free gift and it also explains why there has been an increased friendship between Malta and Turkey in the past years. Turkey is interested in taking over the security of Libya’s maritime border with Malta due to its gas and oil interests. There is nothing “neutral” in Malta’s abdication of its maritime borders, but only a colonial mindset by those who pretend that they are “anti-imperialists”. It is no coincidence that Evarist Bartolo has apologised for Russian imperialism while harping about “neutrality”. Those who preach about the “neutrality” of yesteryear have become the imperialist-chauvinists of today by abdicating global politics to warmongering imperialists.
Malta has to revisit its concept of “neutrality” because it doesn’t mean anything today and it isn’t relevant to our national security. Our national security can be threatened irrespective of whether we are neutral or not, and the dangers of today are very different from the dangers of the 1970s. And a nuclear war would devastate us even if we are not a party to the conflict. It’s about time that in an ever-increasingly dangerous world, we take a deep reflection on what constitutes our national security of today whilst revising the dogmas of the past.