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What Libya Reveals About NATO

So, I was wrong – sort of.  In an earlier post on the subject of NATO, I suggested that it was possible (though not certain) that Afghanistan could be NATO’s last big joint operation if the alliance did not undertake some form of mission revision.  My reasoning was simple: if NATO could not maintain to conclusion a joint mission officially authorized under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty following an attack against the preeminent partner on its own soil, it was hard to imagine much enthusiasm for another potentially-open-ended mission anytime soon.  In light of the Libya campaign, I am starting to rethink what the Afghanistan case means as far as NATO is concerned.

What Libya Reveals About NATO


Upon reflection, I believe I underestimated the degree to which some of the larger European allies would still be willing to initiate combat to secure their interests in spite of their Afghanistan war fatigue and the fact that they are ratcheting down their military spending.  In a remarkable interview on Meet the Press on March 27, Secretary of State Clinton intimated something illuminating:

You know, we asked our allies, our NATO allies, to go into Afghanistan with us 10 years ago.  They have been there, and a lot of them have been there despite the fact they were not attacked.  The attack came on us as we all tragically remember.  They stuck with us.

When it comes to Libya, we started hearing from the UK, France, Italy, other of our NATO allies.  This was in their vital national interest.  The UK and France were the ones who went to the Security Council and said, “We have to act because otherwise we’re seeing a really violent upheaval with a man who has a history of unpredictable violent acts right on our doorstep.”

In other words, Clinton is suggesting that some NATO allies primarily went into Afghanistan to defend the integrity of the U.S.-led alliance and now are soliciting help from the U.S. in return on a matter they care about more.  A lot can be read into Clinton’s words, but for our purposes here, it is enough to say that NATO will not necessarily be deterred from future action because of war fatigue from Afghanistan; rather, the members of the alliance continue to be prepared to intervene in situations when enough common interest can be drummed up among the members even without further mission revision.



Ryan Haddad

Ryan Haddad is the Senior Blogger for U.S. Foreign Policy at FPA. A foreign affairs and national security analyst based in Washington, D.C., he worked in European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Bush Administration and is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Providence College. He can be followed on Twitter at @RIHaddad.