Did NATO shut down its Libya operation too soon?

It’s no secret that NATO was determined to shut down its Libya operations and declare success as quickly as possible. The operation ended formally on October 31, just days after Moammar Gaddafi met his end. The alliance had multiple and overlapping reasons to rush for the exits: the intervention was controversial within the alliance; NATO ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

It's no secret that NATO was determined to shut down its Libya operations and declare success as quickly as possible. The operation ended formally on October 31, just days after Moammar Gaddafi met his end. The alliance had multiple and overlapping reasons to rush for the exits: the intervention was controversial within the alliance; NATO has its hands full with the Afghanistan operation; and European militaries were taxed by the tempo of air operations.

It’s no secret that NATO was determined to shut down its Libya operations and declare success as quickly as possible. The operation ended formally on October 31, just days after Moammar Gaddafi met his end. The alliance had multiple and overlapping reasons to rush for the exits: the intervention was controversial within the alliance; NATO has its hands full with the Afghanistan operation; and European militaries were taxed by the tempo of air operations.

But it seems clear that there was another reason: there was no appetite in the alliance for post-conflict operations in Libya. By terminating the original operation, NATO ensured that responding to post-Gaddafi fighting would involve getting the consent of all alliance members for a new operation and, perhaps, securing a new mandate from the U.N. Security Council. Very much by design, NATO has made it tough to play a significant role in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Meanwhile, there is growing danger of prolonged internal conflict:

Militias from the town of Zawiya and the tribal area of Warshefana, both in the vicinity of Tripoli, have clashed for the past four days – the longest sustained fighting since Mr. Qaddafi’s fall last month. At least six people were killed, the Associated Press reports. In Tripoli, where the police force does not yet have control of the whole city, brigades from different tribes and regions remain in control of sections of the city, according to the Washington Post.

It’s quite possible that civilians in Libya may soon be threatened not by marauding Gaddafi loyalists but by warring militias. If that threat does materialize, NATO will face a difficult choice: involve itself on the ground or demonstrate the narrowness of its interpretation of the responsibility to protect. 

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

Tag: NATO

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