The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Exercises in Futility

March 13, 2011

Four days ago I suggested that time is running out in Libya. With news that Brega has now fallen to pro-Gaddafi forces, it seems more likely than not that the end is nigh for the rebels. And yet France and the UK are still trying to build support for a no-fly zone, now with a major assist by the Arab League.

The problem: a no-fly zone isn’t going to save the rebellion. An air campaign against Libyan forces, combined with indirect assistance to the rebels might be enough. But that would be a heck of a lots less “sanitary” than advocates of a no-fly zone are hoping for.

This makes all of the “big picture” questions surrounding external intervention rather urgent. It also throws a continuing reality of the contemporary world order into stark relief: the US is still the only player in town when it comes to world-wide power projection. If anything, Europe’s defense cutbacks have exacerbated its dependency on US security provision.

Consider that the United States is currently engaged in two major military operations and yet it has significant forces converging on the Libyan coast and on Japan. Puts John Quiggin’s insistence that the US is now one of a number of major powers into perspective, but not necessary in a way that speaks well of current US budget priorities.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.