Atlantic Update 3/23/11: Transatlantic Perspectives Toward Libya


The United States, France, and the United Kingdom have led the diplomatic and coalition effort against forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. However, wider coalition support and participation of the Arab League and the broader transatlantic community is essential for the Obama administration, which is keen on avoiding comparisons to the diplomatic rift caused by the Iraq intervention in 2003.

The decision to intervene militarily has gained important support from key European countries that chose not to participate in the Iraq war, but has also provoked dissent or ambivalence from traditionally staunch allies in Central Europe.

The list below demonstrates the various positions of important allies and partners of the United States within the transatlantic community regarding coalition intervention in Libya.

Active Participants:

  • Italy: Italy has threatened to take back the bases it has offered to coalition forces unless NATO is in command of the operation.
  • Canada: Canada has sent a frigate and F-18 fighter jets which have seen action, as of March 21, escorting coalition bombing runs.
  • Belgium: Belgium has sent a contingent of F-16 fighters who saw their first action on March 21.
  • Norway: Six Norwegian F-16s are en route to bases in the Mediterranean; they will not contribute to the operation until the command structure is “clarified.”
  • Spain: Spain has offered six fighter jets, a tanker aircraft, a frigate, and submarine as well as the use of several bases to the coalition. They have entered combat situations as of March 22.
  • U.A.E: Assistance to be confined to humanitarian operations.
  • Qatar: Qatar is expected to send six fighter jets and one C-130.

Against the Current:

Despite the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the international community is far from unanimous in regards to military intervention over Libya. With Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Germany abstaining from the 10-0 vote, they join numerous other countries and the previously supportive, and now ambiguous, Arab League who are skeptical over international and in particular “Western” involvement in the crisis.


Germany has been staunchly against international military intervention since the beginning of the crisis in Libya. On March 17, German Foreign Minister Westerwelle made clear “we have no wish and we cannot take sides in a North African civil war,” a perspective put in actions as the country abstained during the vote on UNSC Resolution 1973. This has stirred up fierce criticism from the German public and media.

  • March 23: Germany to withdraw its forces from NATO command in Mediterranean
  • March 22: German and French representatives “storm out” of NATO meeting
  • March 20: Germany offers to send AWACS to Afghanistan to free American aircraft for missions over Libya.
  • March 17: German abstains from voting on Resolution 1973 in the UN Security Council


Historically averse to international intervention in a state’s domestic affairs, Russia, as well as China, was expected by many to block any UN proposals for a no-fly zone. Instead opting to abstain from the voting, Russia remains opposed to the military operation.

  • March 22: In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Russian Minister of Defense Serdyukov calls for an immediate cease-fire.
  • March 21: Prime Minister Putin calls UNSC Resolution 1973 “defective and flawed,” evoking imagery of a modern crusades. President Medvedev later criticized Putin for the use of the word ‘crusade.’
  • March 15: Russia argues a no-fly zone would be ineffective if not counter productive


A member of NATO, Poland has stood with Germany in stringent opposition to any intervention into Libya. Clearly coming out against a no-fly zone on March 3rd, the Polish Prime Minister stated on March 20th that there is no Polish or NATO security interest at stake in Libya.

On the Fence:


NATO members have disagreed over the role the Alliance should play in command and control and political direction within coalition operations in Libya. The United States, the UK, and Italy are keen on handing command over to NATO, while France, Turkey, and Germany all opposed a larger NATO role for different reasons. While NATO has agreed to take on the mission to enforce the UN arms embargo in Libya, debate continues within the Alliance over the proper role for the Alliance in taking command of the no-fly-zone. Allies are moving toward an agreement that would give NATO a ‘key’ role in coordinating military action, with a political coordinating group that would incorporate non-NATO partners from the Arab world.

  • March 23: NATO beings its new mission to enforce the arms embargo against Libya ordered by UNSC 1973.
  • March 22: Romania to contribute frigate for NATO arms embargo enforcement
  • March 22: NATO agrees to enforce UN arms embargo
  • March 21: Romania will only act under the NATO umbrella
  • March 21: Bulgarian Prime Minster denounces strikes in Libya
  • March 21: Czech Foreign Minister calls for NATO supervision of military actions in Libya.
  • March 21: Arab League against NATO lead in Libya
  • March 21: The Netherlands will not act in Libya without NATO
  • March 17: NATO Secretary General Rasmussen says it is not too late for intervention
  • March 7: NATO establishes 24 hour AWACS surveillance


Turkey’s position has evolved considerably over the last several weeks, as Ankara at first opposed any Western intervention in Libya’s affairs, but has now agreed to take on a limited role in NATO and coalition efforts.

  • March 23: Turkey to contribute submarine and warships to NATO arms embargo enforcement
  • March 22: Turkey’s role will be confined to humanitarian operations
  • March 21: Turkey criticizes image of France as enforcer of UNSC Resolution 1973
  • March 21: Turkey blocks NATO military involvement in Libya as counter productive
  • March 20: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan says Gaddafi should “respect his people’s will”
  • March 19: Turkish Foreign Ministry announces Turkey would make necessary contributions to implementing the UN no-fly zone and measures to protect citizens.

Klee Aiken is an intern with the Council’s International Security Program.

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