The West’s defensive capabilities are exposed by the war in Libya. The Americans are losing patience, the EU is assuming control of from NATO – Could this signal the beginning of the end for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? Asks Luke Cahill.
As the conflict in Libya drags on, what was hoped to be Cameron’s and Sarkozy’s Falkland’s – something that would get wide political support and lead to a quick victory – has become a typical Euro muddle. There are serious operational questions to be asked as to whether NATO can survive much longer, or will she rest in peace?
The involvement of the United States has been minimal, at least by the Obama administration, portrayed. This is partly due to an eye to next year’s presidential election, and partly due to the desire by the administration not to get heavily involved in a “half war” as Senator John Cornyn (Republican, Texas) put it. There is however a significant US military presence in the region; with two destroyers, two nuclear attack submarines in addition to a cruise missile submarine and ground attack aircraft and F-15 and F-16 fighters.
As one White House staffer put it, America would be “leading from behind”. It would be naïve for anyone to think that this military presence would simply go unused by Britain and France. President Obama has come under heavy criticism, from both his own party but also Republicans for using US forces so willingly in Libya. Jerrold Nadler (Democrat, New York) said that Obama was becoming “an absolute monarch”, an insult even the Ancient Romans thought twice about before using on their opponents.
The House has signalled their displeasure by debating whether to cut funding for the operations, as they are constitutionally empowered to do. Going on past practice however, such an action has historically been a rarity. President Obama has brushed off the threats as a “fuss”, with further support coming from noted legal academic, John Yoo who castigates the Republicans for falling “victim to the siren song of short-term political gain”.
Across the Pond, many claimed that unencumbered by America, the EU would prove itself able to take care of its own backyard. Many hoped that it would put to rest the ghosts of 1995, when US forces under the aegis of NATO ceased the forced slaughter of innocent civilians to cease in Serbia under Slobodan Milošević. Baroness Ashton warned at the beginning of the conflict that a no fly zone would pose risks to civilians as well as its questioning general efficacy.
Just weeks later however she proclaimed Gaddafi “must go”. The driver of EU integration and the creator of Baroness Ashton’s job, Germany, abstained from UN resolution 1973 that gave sanction to the action that both Britain and France demanded when Benghazi was in real danger of being razed to the ground by Gaddafi’s forces. In attempting to explain the abstention Merkel gave the most pathetic of answers, saying the mission involved “significant dangers and risks”. It is bizarre to contemplate that the arbiter of all morality in the international sphere approved the Libya action and still Germany sits on the sidelines.
Where does this leave NATO? The alliance that stood against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War is now a shadow of its former self. In theory all 28 alliance members must spend 2% of GDP on defence. However, as of 2010 spending, only Albania, France Greece, UK and the US spend at least the required amount or more.
In his last speech to NATO members, recently retired US Secretary of Defence Bob Gates, warned starkly that:
“In the past, I’ve worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance: Between members who specialize in ’soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks, and those conducting the ‘hard’ combat missions. Between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership – be they security guarantees or headquarters billets – but don’t want to share the risks and the costs. This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable”.
Crucially he continued his caution: “If current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost”.
When the next international crisis calls, will the European continent have taken heed of Secretary Gates’ warning? Will the United States have to come to the rescue? Will it be able to? Bob Kagan in Paradise and Power said that “EU foreign policy is probably the most anaemic of all the products of European integration”.
Is it so weak that it could take NATO with it?