NATO Is In Crisis

April 14, 2011 Topic: Defense Region: United States Blog Brand: Jacob Heilbrunn

NATO Is In Crisis


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Berlin to tell the Europeans that America is really with them in Libya. This is something of a turnabout. In Afghanistan, it's America that's usually begging the Europeans to tell us that they're going to continue to fight rather than bail out. With President Obama moving to limit his commitment to action in Libya, or at least creating the appearance of limiting it, the allies are squabbling with each other.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the recent meeting in Doha, Qatar between NATO, the United Nations, and the African Union didn't really go anywhere. Italy wants to arm the rebels. France and Britain want more airstrikes. But the bottom line appears to be that only America can make anything happen in Libya, and it's not even clear that military intervention, absent the insertion of grounds troops, something that is anathema to Obama, can succeed in ousting Col. Qaddafi and his sons from power. So lots of meetings are taking place, including one by the Arab League in Cairo today.


What this episode may ending up revealing is the fragility of NATO. Oh, NATO can continue as a talking shop. It can hold meetings, issue declarations, and the like. But is there really such a thing as a coherent NATO that can effectively enforce its will or mandate? Libya suggests that national interests continue to predominate. The Libya venture is a Franco-British one. Germany, the strongest economic power on the continent, went AWOL as soon as Operation Odyssey Dawn was announced. As Dr. Theo Sommer observed in the Atlantic Times,


the very name, coined--perhaps unwittingly--by a poetic soul in the Pentagon, suggests a venture with a very uncertain outcome. An odyssey, in Webster's definition is "a series of adventurous journeys, usually marked by many changes of fortune."


Germany has had enough adventures. It's already eager to leave Afghanistan. In fact it was never all that eager to enter it. The result is that NATO is riven by various factions. It's starting to resemble the old joke about the Holy Roman empire, which is that it was neither holy nor Roman.

Still, the death of NATO has been repeatedly been predicted almost since it was born. The alliance, such as it is, has proven hardier than many of its detractors assumed. But it may now be up to Qaddafi to rescue NATO from its own bickering. If he steps down, then NATO will proclaim a great success and the allies will maintain that they had it right all along.