Qaddafi has lost his contest with Hussein and Bin Laden for hiding the longest from US/Allied/Local searches. Lots of folks will make much of this event, as they should. I have already seen a great tweet/blogpost by Spencer Ackerman predicting everyone’s responses.
What would my readers predict of me? Woohoo? Well, sure. That NATO made a difference despite being hamstrung by the dynamics of coalitional bargaining within and between countries? Indeed. That much of the effort and all of the sacrifices (except for tax $$) were paid by Libyans? Yes.
What does Libya teach us about NATO that we didn’t know before? Given that I have spent a few years on NATO at war in Afghanistan, the Libyan experience more confirms my beliefs (confirmation bias alert!) than teaches me anything new. And experts on Kosovo might say that Afghanistan just made things clearer.
We did see how xenophobia can cause even a fragile coalition government to become more enthusiastic about a military mission–Italy’s increased assertiveness as 2011 went on. We also saw that an absence of government (Belgium on day 4xx of caretaker government) means that no veto points means assertive efforts, at least here.
Once again, the fear that NATO might fail re-energized efforts and commitment so that NATO would not fail (with lots of help from the Libyan rebels). I ended up making a claim yesterday in class that none of the places NATO has spent heaps of dollars, lives and time really matter that much intrinsically. Bosnia became a NATO mission not because the US cared about Bosnia but that it cared about NATO. Folks kept on the Kosovo mission for fear of NATO failure. Every NATO member showed up to some degree in Afghanistan not because they cared about Afghanistan but because they cared about NATO. Libya shows that NATO matters in that countries needed NATO legitimacy to participate. And the US wavering efforts from beginning to end really hinged on how much the US cared about the alliance more so than the lives of folks in Libya. Which does distinguish Libya, where NATO became relevant, from Syria and Yemen. Once NATO countries got involved in Libya, the stakes for the US and lots of other countries changed. France and the UK forced others to get involved via NATO.
And, yes, NATO also matters because the doing of seven or eight months of patrols and strikes and refueling and intel sharing and all the rest requires heaps of military interoperability. Political interoperability may vary across the alliance, but the practice of coalition warfare requires, well, heaps of practice. NATO for sixty years has meant that the militaries are more or less in tune with each other. As we have seen yet again with no stories of mid-air refueling mishaps, for example.
Qaddafi is gone, raising questions about Libya’s future. I am actually pretty confident that NATO’s future will be … more of the same.