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Published on October 26th, 2011 | by Dave Rublin
Image © [caption id="attachment_4928" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Can NATO Keep Flying High?"][/caption] In Libya, an increasingly obsolescent patchwork of alliance showed the dangers of internal divides for its long-term future. But I’m not referring to the erstwhile Qaddafi regime--I’m talking about NATO. Although the Libyan intervention successfully averted the costs in blood and treasure which have marked NATO’s operations in Afghanistan, NATO’s Libyan campaign has underscored the alliance’s post-Cold War schisms. As outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates pointedly noted in his final policy speech in June, a disjuncture persists between NATO’s top tier of military spenders and the nations who commit little to collective defence out of financial and political considerations. The divide within the NATO heavyweights only exacerbates NATO’s existential crisis. US military expenditures far outpace its European counterparts, creating a gap in technology and capabilities which even NATO’s Secretary-General acknowledges poses a grave threat to NATO’s long-term viability unless European governments "step up to the plate". However, the trajectory of NATO’s Libyan mission amidst the continuing global economic downturn inspires little confidence that NATO’s European members can or will shoulder the burden of defence. Despite US efforts to let their European counterparts handle the brunt of NATO’s military offensive, American technology and expertise were indispensable for aerial resupply, reconnaissance, and targeting, the backbone of any modern military campaign. Moreover, the spending cuts and austerity measures transpiring across NATO member countries compound European reluctance to spend the money necessary to bridge the capabilities gap, fuelling resentment from an American government seeking to reduce its own military spending. Now, with Qaddafi deposed and another chapter closing in Libya and NATO’s history, both Libyans and NATO policymakers face a question which will define their respective futures for decades to come: Where do we go from here?

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Requiem for a Treaty? Libya and the Decline of NATO

Can NATO Keep Flying High?

In Libya, an increasingly obsolescent patchwork of alliance showed the dangers of internal divides for its long-term future. But I’m not referring to the erstwhile Qaddafi regime–I’m talking about NATO. Although the Libyan intervention successfully averted the costs in blood and treasure which have marked NATO’s operations in Afghanistan, NATO’s Libyan campaign has underscored the alliance’s post-Cold War schisms. As outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates pointedly noted in his final policy speech in June, a disjuncture persists between NATO’s top tier of military spenders and the nations who commit little to collective defence out of financial and political considerations.

The divide within the NATO heavyweights only exacerbates NATO’s existential crisis. US military expenditures far outpace its European counterparts, creating a gap in technology and capabilities which even NATO’s Secretary-General acknowledges poses a grave threat to NATO’s long-term viability unless European governments “step up to the plate”. However, the trajectory of NATO’s Libyan mission amidst the continuing global economic downturn inspires little confidence that NATO’s European members can or will shoulder the burden of defence. Despite US efforts to let their European counterparts handle the brunt of NATO’s military offensive, American technology and expertise were indispensable for aerial resupply, reconnaissance, and targeting, the backbone of any modern military campaign. Moreover, the spending cuts and austerity measures transpiring across NATO member countries compound European reluctance to spend the money necessary to bridge the capabilities gap, fuelling resentment from an American government seeking to reduce its own military spending. Now, with Qaddafi deposed and another chapter closing in Libya and NATO’s history, both Libyans and NATO policymakers face a question which will define their respective futures for decades to come: Where do we go from here?

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About the Author

Dave is a recent graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he received his MSc in Comparative Politics -- Conflict Studies stream.



  • Colijn CV

    Thank Harper government 3 for pulling their weight within NATO on this mission, especially with Germany bailing on it. A Canadian general led the NATO bombing campaign and it gave an “international“ face to the mission both within NATO and for interviews with the press. He wasn`t European but at least he wasn`t American; General Bouchard was Canadian and a Quebecois no less.

  • IVP

    Well, the real problem for NATO is that they dont have a single enemy to fight – like the Warsaw Pact. It's hard to be a rebel with no cause and convince member states to spend. Also, I can't imagine Germany or France ever sending troops to the amount that the U.S. and UK do – just can't imagine who that enemy would be.

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