From Vladimir Socor, the New Atlanticist: NATO had expected to fight for a few weeks; it set a three-month deadline for the combat and post-combat phases ; it had to prolong the combat operation by three more months; and is now facing the distinct possibility of a further prolongation of combat operations by September. The situation is not a complete stalemate (as is usually described), but a piecemeal movement of the front lines on the ground in the general direction of Tripoli over time.
The resulting perception is that NATO has been held in check by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s third-rate troops for all these months. Along with the costly failure in Afghanistan, another failure in Libya would make NATO look irrelevant to American and West-European publics, exposing it to even more debilitating budget cuts after those it has already incurred. At this point, the public and government in Western belligerent countries are running low on patience and resources for the Libya operation.
If NATO fails again, not in a distant expeditionary operation as in Afghanistan, but this time in its own immediate neighborhood, then proposals to dilute NATO into some “common European security architecture” with Russia would gain traction. According to an authorized exponent of that Russian concept, “if the alliance admits to being unable to do away with Gaddafi, whom everyone at NATO took for a clown, it will be possible to sell NATO for scrap. Who is going to treat NATO seriously after that?” (Russia Profile, July 29).
Coalition leaders’ overemphasis on “doing away with Gaddafi” has turned this into the main criterion for the operation’s success, certainly in public eyes. The coalition is finding it difficult to backtrack on this demand at this stage.
Vladimir Socor is a contributing editor for the Atlantic Council, and senior fellow and long-time senior analyst with the Jamestown Foundation. This piece was originally published by the Jamestown Foundation.