BY ALI DURKIN
Less than a year since the completion of NATO’s successful but still controversial Libya mission, the Chicago summit may serve as a venue to discuss both its accomplishments and shortcomings and what they mean for the future of the alliance.
“It is clear that Libya is a precedent for how missions will be carried out in the future and how NATO defines its role as a military organization,” said Graham Paul, the French Consul in Chicago. “We are living in an interconnected era, one in which no country or group of countries is equipped to tackle ever-evolving security threats without input and collaboration from other members of the international community.”
Operation Unified Protector began in March 2011 after a UN Security Council recommended that action be taken against Libya’s long time ruler, Muammar Gaddafi.
NATO troops helped enforce an arms embargo and a no-fly zone over Libya, and also carried out bombing campaigns against Libya’s armed forces.
The NATO mission ended October 31, after only 222 days. The alliance’s mission weakened Gaddafi’s military and prevented his forces from attacking civilians. Gaddafi was captured and killed by Libyan rebels shortly before the mission ended.
“NATO was able to revert what, in my own view, would have been the slaughter of thousands of people in Benghazi, help the rebels topple an oppressive regime and they were able to show their support for the democratic movements taking place across the region,” said Christopher Chivvis, political scientist with the RAND Corporation.
Experts, however, also emphasize that despite the results of the Libya mission, the country likely has a long road ahead of it. “We can declare victory in Libya but we cannot declare success,” said Richard Longworth, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs “Just getting rid of a dictatorship doesn’t mean that democracy blossoms immediately.”
The Libya mission once again raised questions about NATO’s role in the international community.
From its inception in 1949 until its involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO’s role was that of a security framework and a deterrent to Soviet aggression.
But in 1994, the alliance took on a new role, military intervention on humanitarian grounds, and with this adopted what is called “the responsibility to protect.”
The three requirements for “the responsibility to protect”—that a population is being harmed, that there are allies and partners in the mission, and that there is a legal basis for the intervention—were all met, justifying military intervention in Libya, said J.D. Bindenagel, a former U.S. ambassador and career diplomat.
The mission in Libya also highlights the evolution of NATO into a more global role over the past 20 years. Today, nearly all of the current NATO missions are being carried out outside of the Euro-Atlantic area.
“After the cold war there is still a need for NATO to find a rationale for what it does,” said Fabrizio Tassinari, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. “In a sense, that rationale in today’s world cannot be confined by geographic coordinates,” he said.
Some argue that the Libya mission may create a precedent for how NATO missions are carried out in the future. Paul says Operation Unified Protector “could be considered a game changer.”
“For the first time a NATO military operation was led by two European countries, with the support of U.S. military capability,” he said. “France and the UK took the political and military risks of launching an operation to protect the Libyan people and to uphold the responsibility to protect.”
For this same reason, however, the mission also highlighted many holes in the capabilities of America’s NATO allies, Chivvis said. “The U.S. chose to minimize its role and as a result the gaps of many of our key allies were exposed.”
The Libya mission shed light on the European allies’ limited ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities, Paul said, forcing the U.S. to provide assistance in these areas.
As the allies look towards the 2012 Summit, leaders hope to address how to fill these gaps through smart defense.
But what might be the most significant take away from the mission is what it means in terms of NATO’s future. Chivvis argues that the Libya mission can be seen as a middle ground between missions within Europe and a mission like Afghanistan that was much farther away.
“What you see in Libya is European allies taking ownership of a problem that is outside of Europe’s immediate territory but right there on the periphery,” he said.
“It may try to prove to be the kind of balance that NATO strives for as it looks ahead in the next 10 years.”