What Next in Libya?

Libyan rebel near Ajdabiya, Libya, April 14, 2011.

From Derek Reveron, the New AtlanticistTo be clear, NATO is assuming risk today by attempting to achieve particular desired ends without the available means.

Thus, when leaders meet to consider Libyan operations beyond 180 days, NATO can adjust the ends—reconcile what it wants to achieve in Libya with what it is able and willing to achieve. NATO can adjust the ways—evaluate the 180-day old air campaign, compare it to previous air campaigns, and adjust accordingly. Finally, NATO can adjust the means: if air and maritime efforts alone cannot achieve the means, consider ground options.  

In thinking about what comes next, previous conflicts are instructive. In the case of Kosovo, it appeared that air power alone could not achieve the ends, so ground planning began in earnest in late spring 1999. Had Milosevic not sued for peace, NATO appeared to be ready to adjust the means by introducing ground forces. . . .

Libya represents a new challenge for the Alliance. Undoubtedly, some will question NATO’s credibility if it remains satisfied with marginally effective no-fly zones and a maritime-enforced arms embargo. However, NATO leaders also need to understand the opportunity cost to the Alliance if the air campaign continues indefinitely or leads to a ground intervention. With declining defense budgets, economic crisis, and other commitments, the future of NATO and Libya cannot be discussed in isolation from other Alliance commitments to include Afghanistan.

Derek S. Reveron, an Atlantic Council contributing editor, is assigned to NTM-A; he is the author of Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military. He is currently on leave from the Naval War College. Photo credit: MYWEKU.

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