The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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40 years of neutral Malta

Friday, 31 January 2020, 08:29 Last update: about 5 years ago

Dinah Seguna

An anniversary that cannot go unnoticed is 40 years of Neutral Malta. A concept and a status which up to date still generates debate surrounding its relevance, functions and implementation as well as revision and definition. Besides, in international fora, the concept and status of neutrality is often looked upon with scepticism. Taking for example the World War II scenario, countries such as Switzerland, which has been known for years for its neutrality, which can be dated back to Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna, were even accused of not serving their duty and fight the enemy. However, the very core foundations of neutrality were established prior to World War I through The Hague Convention, a concept and status which I like to refer to as the preamble of the League of Nations, and aspiring into today’s United Nations Organizations.

Back to neutral Malta, history has shown time and time again the sense of imposition of fortress economy through various colonizers. For years, Malta’s geo-strategic location and natural harbours captured the attention of Great Empires resulting in an economy generated through military activity. It was subject to imperialistic interests and served proudly as a safe haven in crucial times for the Mediterranean as well as the future of Europe. It goes back to the 1970s when whilst struggling to close decades old British military and naval bases there was already an idea of what should come later; the inception of a neutral Malta which started to develop and bolstered by the Maltese Government of that time led by Dom Mintoff.

It was a time when the world was at the peak of the Cold War, with the two superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., at each other’s throat, separated by the famous Iron Curtain. Both sides wanted to establish better presence in the Mediterranean, in particular as a means to control better naval activity. In the middle of the Mediterranean, the nation-state of Malta was yet determined to take hold of its own destiny, which was denied for centuries and decades. Malta could have played it safe by literally ‘giving itself’ to one of the superpowers as a way to generate some kind of economic activity. It took a bold step and chose not to do so.

For such a small State, still yet to get back on its feet financially, economically and socially, choosing neutrality was a brave move to be applauded. A year after the HMS London left the Grand Harbour on the 31st March 1979, when we waved goodbye to a colonizing past, Malta declared its neutrality status. However, it did not stop there. It needed reassurance and a guarantee. This was not an easy task. From its very inception, Malta sought to build bridges with its established wartime enemy Italy, and one of its closest neighbours, Libya, in return for financial aid. However, the original plan was for a 4-power multilateral guarantee with financial aid from France, Algeria Italy and Libya, according to the MLP 1976 electoral manifesto. The French government of the time commented that neutrality doesn’t come with a price. Yet it does.

With Italy being the only country that formally signed the military guarantee agreement, and Libya the friendship agreement in 1984, Algeria similarly declared its recognition, welcome and support for Neutral Malta, though appreciably much before, indeed before the 31st of March 1979. In this way, Malta started its own distinctive trail of neutrality that distinguishes it from EU neutral states.

Through the neutrality status, Malta would later even extend the EU’s philosophy of stability in the region by again serving as a bridge between the two continents, Europe and Africa. It was vociferous on the need for stability in the Mediterranean through the famously Helsinki Final Act 1975, declaring that stability in Europe is impossible without stability in the Mediterranean. Also, quite recently, it stood tall wearing the crown of the ‘Nurse of the Mediterranean’ during the Libyan crisis as well as still offering the possibility to act as an honest-broker in conflicts within the region, i.e the Libyan conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our small nation is again at the door of re-writing its own destiny and where it wants to go. This is being examined through the ongoing Constitutional Committee preparing for the Constitutional Convention. In view of this, the neutrality status should stay. It holds the very spirit of what Malta stood for, for years and beyond; a nation-state seeking stability, peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean region.

This very status that was formulated by our founding fathers should serve us for another 40 years. It retains its relevance for such a small state that seeks ways of peacekeeping, ‘actively pursuing peace, stability and social progress among all nations by adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in a military alliance’ (Constitution of Malta Article 1 (3)].

Despite our size, our voice made its high notes in international fora. The status of neutrality should be further developed in terms of mechanisms and local institutions aimed at peace-making and peace keeping in our region by means of equipping our diplomats, enhancing our mediating approaches and strengthening negotiating powers where necessary.

For the next 40 years, neutral Malta will not stop at just hosting big leaders, nor just exposing its heart of gold in times of crisis, but, if done now, it has the capacity to show how far it can go in bringing about the much needed stability in an enclosed sea like the Mediterranean.

 

Dinah Seguna is a Diplomacy and IR Masters degree student

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