STUTTGART, Germany — NATO leadership gathered in Brussels on Friday for an emergency meeting on the unrest in Libya, where clashes between opposition forces and Moammar Gadhafi’s regime have some demanding that the international community get more involved in the unfolding crisis.

As NATO wrestles to define its role, one of the issues that could emerge in the days ahead is whether the allies should come together for the purpose of enforcing a no-fly zone over the country — a measure that Libya’s own deputy ambassador to the United Nations says is needed to protect civilians from aerial assaults.

During a visit to Budapest, Hungary, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the allies would be looking at ways NATO could lend support to Libya.

“It’s a crisis in our immediate neighborhood. It affects the lives and safety of Libyan civilians and those of thousands of citizens from NATO member states,” said Rasmussen shortly before boarding a plane back to Brussels for his emergency meeting with the alliance’s North Atlantic Council.

Rasmussen stopped short of offering specifics, but said “it’s well known that NATO has assets that can be used in a situation like this and NATO can act as an enabler and coordinator, if and when, individual member states want to take action.”

While no final decisions were expected during the meeting in Brussels, the session provided the first opportunity for members to discuss the unfolding situation in Libya. The alliance has a history of coordinating no-fly zones in places such as Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia.

However, opinions are divided on the strategic and humanitarian benefits of instituting no-fly zone in Libya and whether the U.S. Naval presence in Italy should be drawn into the fray.

“Rather than turn a deaf ear, Obama should take action: First, he should order U.S. fighter jets based in Sicily and on Mediterranean aircraft carriers to enforce a no-fly zone over northern Libya. Not only would this prevent Libyan planes from again strafing civilians, but it would also enable safer evacuation of non-Libyans,” wrote American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin in a USA Today Op-Ed.

Meanwhile, others take note that some Libyan pilots have refused attack their own people and opted to eject themselves from their jets rather than open fire.

“The Obama administration needs to do more, but I would not go as far as some who advocate having U.S. forces impose a no-fly zone,” wrote Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy. “I share their outrage at the way Qaddafi had his Air Force strafe defenseless citizens, but involving the U.S. military in this way would constitute a major escalation and it would be hard to walk back if the situation further unraveled.”

So far, the Pentagon hasn’t appeared too eager to add a no-fly zone in Libya to its to-do list.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a Tuesday interview with the Weekly Standard, suggested that French, Italian or British forces could respond in Libya more quickly than the U.S. military. And Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, during a stop in Bahrain on Thursday, said, “Right now it’s very difficult to know what’s going to happen. So what we do is provide the president options, and I want them to be as comprehensive and robust and as far-ranging as we can think at this point and time as this situation unfolds. And it’s unfolding almost hourly.”

The White House on Thursday didn’t offer much more detail about what is next for the Obama administration in Libya and whether a no-fly zone or other military options are on the table.

“I’m not going to get into specific options that are under consideration or not under consideration,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney during a Thursday press briefing. “I would again point out that we want to work with our international partners because we think the most effective action in many cases can be when the international community speaks with one voice and acts in a united way. I’m not — again, I’m not ruling out bilateral options, but I’m just saying that that is a focus right now.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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