Libya mission ends, but NATO’s direction still up in the air
By GEOFF ZIEZULEWICZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 28, 2011
NAPLES, Italy — NATO officially announced Friday that the alliance’s seven-month mission in Libya will end Monday.
The confirmation came a day after the U.N. Security Council voted to end authorization of the no-fly zone and arms embargo in Libya, established in March to stop the Moammar Ghadafi’s forces from crushing a nascent rebel movement that, with the help of NATO airpower, removed the former leader from power.
In a statement Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen lauded the efforts of alliance members and other partners.
“Our military job is now done,” he said.
This a victory for the people of Libya, Rasmussen said, and they can now take their future into their own hands.
NATO stands ready to assist with reform of security and defense institutions if asked by the new Libyan government, he said.
Rasmussen and other officials have hailed the mission as one of the alliance’s most agile and successful operations ever, and as one that showcases NATO’s relevancy in a post-Cold War world.
But while the mission was deemed successful, it has also shaken up the internal dynamics among members states.
Chiefly, the U.S. held back, and Britain and France took the lead in Operation Unified Protector, a turnabout from the idea that America must by nature of its military might always be out front.
“It’s a shot in the arm for the alliance,” said Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank focusing on trans-Atlantic relations and international security. “Libya’s an operation that shows our allies can step up and take a leadership role in military operations.”
However, Wilson said, the mission was still heavily dependent on U.S. assets.
John Kriendler, a professor of NATO and European security at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany agreed, arguing that the mission would have failed without U.S. participation in the form of surveillance, air-to-air refueling and unmanned drones, assets other members don’t have.
“None of the air operations could have been accomplished successfully if it hadn’t been for a variety of enablers the U.S. provided,” Kriendler said.
Still, the success of the mission that had Europeans in the lead will strengthen U.S. President Barack Obama’s vision of NATO as a more balanced alliance, according to Dana Allin, a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy and trans-Atlantic affairs at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“In political terms, it shows that it’s not an illusion to think the United States can count on NATO allies to take the lead,” Allin said.
On the diplomatic side, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy acted fast to push a resolution authorizing the NATO operation through the U.N. in March, Wilson said. That resolution established a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as an arms embargo, and authorized U.N. member nations to “take all necessary measures” bar a foreign occupation force to protect civilians in Libya, paving the way for the NATO action.
Not all NATO members were supportive of the operation. Germany did not participate, which Wilson described as “egregious” for a major alliance stakeholder eyeing a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
“It’s no longer acceptable for Germany to take a pass,” he said.
But Allin said that such disagreements within the 28-member alliance are to be expected.
“NATO was created against the Soviet threat,” he said. “Everyone agreed on that, so there was no problem. If you’re going to have a standing peacetime alliance that is ready to do things as things come up, you have to expect a situation where everybody’s not going to agree.”