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Libya – A NATO Success Story

Ambassador Ivo Daalder, US Permanent Representative to NATO
Prepared Remarks

Atlantic Council
November 7, 2011
9:30am – 10:45am

Thanks, Fred, for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here today.

I am back in Washington for only a few hours, to accompany Secretary General Rasmussen when he visits President Obama at the White House later today

There, they’ll talk about Afghanistan and the next NATO Summit, which will be held in Chicago next May.

They’ll also talk about NATO’s incredibly successful operation in Libya, which was concluded just a week ago today. And it is about that extraordinary success that I want to talk to you this morning.

Today, of course, Libya is being reborn.  In eight short months, a dictator of 42 years has fallen.  An interim governing authority is taking shape.  And the Libyan people are seizing the opportunity to decide their future. 

With the fast pace of events, there are naturally a lot of questions about what just unfolded.

So today, I’d like to offer some perspective on NATO’s Libya operation.  I’ll break my remarks into three parts.

First, I’ll talk about how we got our Allies to agree for NATO to act – and how American leadership set up this operation for success.

Second, I’ll talk about how Operation Unified Protector was truly an Alliance effort.  Every Ally contributed in some way.

But make no mistake – this operation was underpinned by critical military capabilities that only the United States can provide.  I’ll talk about that too.

And third, I’ll talk about what I see as some of the lessons of Libya – and what these takeaways mean for NATO’s continuing transformation into a 21st century Alliance. A transformation, by the way, that will be further cemented in Chicago next May. 

Laying the Groundwork for a new NATO

The best starting point for discussing NATO’s recent mission in Libya is probably not one you would expect.

It isn’t the Arab Spring, that was after all the foundation for what happened in Libya this year. It goes back further, to last November, when we were prepping for the Lisbon Summit.

I’ll be honest – I don’t know anyone who was thinking much about Qadhafi in those days.  

In fact, I am doubtful that anyone was thinking Qadhafi would be gone from power within a year.  And that includes NATO’s Leaders, who were gathering in Lisbon to chart NATO’s role in the twenty-first century.

What NATO’s Leaders did know, however, was that today’s world is complex, and that the security threats we face are global. 

They knew that as the world’s pre-eminent military Alliance, NATO needs to be ready for a wide range of contingencies – and one of those contingencies might be instability abroad that affects the security of NATO members at home. 

And they knew that while NATO can act alone, there are few circumstances when NATO would want to.  Instead, NATO wants to work with partners.  And vice versa – that many countries around the globe want to work with NATO.

That’s why, in Lisbon, NATO’s Leaders adopted a new Strategic Concept – one that recognizes that the Alliance “remains an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world.”

What they didn’t know, though, is that their vision for the Alliance would be put to the test just three months later. 

American Leadership and the Decision to Act

So, fast forward from Lisbon in November last year to Libya in the new year.

The Arab Awakening was starting to reach into places like Brega and Benghazi … and towns like Zlitan and Zawiya.

For over 40 years, the Libyan people had been suppressed by a brutal dictator.  But enough was enough.  The people in Libya – like their neighbors in Tunisia and Egypt – were ready to decide their own future.

Instead of responding to their aspirations, Qadhafi said he would show no mercy.  He said he would send his forces to go house to house to get what he called  “the rats" – the ordinary citizens of his own country.

The international community was appalled.  The United States was appalled. 

Everyone knew Qadhafi had no qualms about using mass violence to quell the voices for change.

So the United States went to work.
Our response was swift and decisive. 

With our European Allies, the United States led the international community to isolate Qadhafi and his regime. 

It started at the United Nations, where a few years before the Leaders of the World recognized the fundamental principle that states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens — and when states fail to do so, then it is the responsibility of the international community to offer such protection.

The United States and key Allies therefore pushed for – and got – a resolution, passed unanimously by the Security Council, that imposed sanctions, froze regime assets, and referred those responsible for crimes against humanity to The Hague. 

This leadership then paved the way for Libya to be expelled from the UN’s Human Rights Council through a unanimous vote in the General Assembly. 

When you can unite the General Assembly, you know that something real is happening.

The United States froze $32 billion in Libyan assets so Qadhafi couldn’t fund his campaign of violence against civilians. 

Many countries followed suit.

Qadhafi, however, was undeterred.  He insisted that he would continue his brutality.  The people of Libya bore the brunt of his wrath.

Calls for military action to stop Qadhafi’s carnage quickly followed – including from the Arab League, which in a noteworthy act called for a no-fly zone against one of its own.

While many supported the call for a no-fly zone, the Obama Administration realized it wouldn’t be enough. 

The international community had imposed a no-fly zone in Bosnia for three years, and in Iraq for a decade. 

Those no-fly zones turned out to be stopgaps, not solutions.

So President Obama decided to reject what he considered to be a false choice – a choice between doing nothing, and doing something that wouldn’t be enough and might drag on for years.

Instead, the United States pushed for a UN Security Council resolution that would go beyond simply enforcing a no-fly zone. 

The United States wanted a resolution that would make a difference for the people of Libya – and that meant calling for member states and regional organizations to not just patrol Libya’s skies, but to protect civilians. 

Forty-eight hours later, after some impeccable diplomacy in New York and bilaterally with key Security Council members, the resolution passed.

And forty-eight hours after that, a US-led coalition was in full swing, stopping Qadhafi’s advance to Benghazi and taking down his integrated air defense system.

Within 72 hours, Benghazi was saved.  A no-fly zone could start, and civilians could be protected from the air.  The arms embargo was coming together. 

But big questions loomed large.  With Libya’s air defenses now ineffective, who would lead the next phase of the operation? 

Should America continue to command and control an ad hoc coalition of only a handful of countries? Should it hand-off to a French-British led coalition of the willing, as Paris seemed to favor?

Or, with the conditions now right for success, should it transition command and control to the one multi-national Alliance capable of carrying out such a complex mission? 

NATO Picks up the Baton

NATO, after all, has an integrated command structure capable of planning and executing complicated military operations.  Indeed, it had prudently been planning for a wide variety of military options in Libya for several weeks already.

It has a long and proven history of quickly integrating European, Arab, and other partners from around the globe into its operation.

It has commonly funded capabilities – like AWACS aircraft – that support and enable the contributions of many nations.

And it has standards for interoperability that mean when forces from different nations show up, their radios can talk to each other, refueling nozzles on their planes fit together, and in some cases, they have the ability to share or sell spare parts and even munitions to one another.

It’s also no secret that our Allies had questions that needed answers, and offered thoughtful insights that deserved discussion. 

And it’s no secret that diplomatic dialogue – to be frank, real debate – was necessary before NATO could decide to act. 

This is exactly as it should be.  When 28 democracies are trying to reach consensus about a decision of enormous consequence, we should expect – and encourage – weighty and thoughtful deliberation.

But while the discussion was intense, and often went on for many hours, what was amazing – at the time as well as in retrospect – was that it took just 10 days after UNSCR 1973 was passed for NATO to agree to take responsibility for implementing all the military aspects of that resolution.

And by March 31st, NATO assumed command of this extremely complex operation.

Contrast that to Bosnia – where it took NATO more than three years to drop a single bomb. 

Or Kosovo, where NATO took over a year to decide to act. 

For Libya, NATO took just 10 days to reach that decision.  And a few days later, NATO was commanding and controlling the forces of more than a dozen contributing nations at sea and in the air. 

That’s the power of Lisbon, and the power of a twenty-first century NATO. 

America’s Critical Contributions

President Obama then faced a fundamental question:  With NATO firmly in the lead, what should America’s contribution be? 

Should America do as it usually does, and bear the brunt of this burden? 

Or should the United States ask its European Allies and regional partners to contribute their fair share?

President Obama chose the better path.  He made room for our Allies to be Allies. 

This is the new NATO at work – a NATO where American leadership is essential, where the American military is indispensable, but where America doesn’t have to do it all.

To ensure all participants could contribute effectively, the United States focused on providing the critical enablers for others to participate and act.

No country in the world can do what America can – especially when it comes to capabilities like intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance … aerial refueling … jamming … and targeting. 

If Libya was to be successful, the United States had to do what only the United States could do. 

And the United States needed to welcome the contributions of those capable of participating. 

After all, we’ve invested in European defense for precisely this reason – that when the time came, our Allies and partners would have the right capabilities to contribute to the cause.

The President also made clear that as far as the United States was concerned, any military action would be limited strictly to the protection of civilians. 

He did not include the forcible ouster of Qadhafi as a military goal. 

Protecting people, yes; Regime change via military means, no.

The critics went into a frenzy.  “This wasn’t leadership,” they said.  This was abdication, they argued.

But they were wrong. 

The President didn’t abdicate America’s responsibility.  He didn’t lead from behind. 

Instead, the President mobilized the international community.  He set priorities.  He put our Allies and partners on notice that he expected them to provide their fair share.

And as they stepped up to his challenge, he ensured they would succeed.

When more ISR was needed, we provided it.

When armed Predators were required to go after some critical targets without causing collateral damage, we deployed them.

And when some panicked that the effort wasn’t producing results, we counseled patience and perseverance – In the full knowledge that NATO would stay united and time was on our side.

This is leadership – real leadership. 

Granted, it’s not the kind of leadership where America does everything and then lets everyone else show up for the pictures. 

Instead, it’s the kind of leadership where shared security is a shared burden. 

And it’s the kind of leadership that when you say, “let’s go,” others take their positions on the field instead of watching from the sidelines.

It’s also the kind of leadership that is fiscally prudent.

During the past seven months, the Libya operation cost the U.S. approximately $1.2 billion. 

This is a fraction of the overall international contribution to Libya, and less than a week’s worth of the cost of operations in Afghanistan or Iraq. 

Numbers like these prove ‘burden-sharing’ is much more than a slogan. 

It’s a reality – but only if you make smart choices, and only if you make room for your Allies and partners to do their share.

An Alliance Effort

And I’m proud to report our Allies and partners did step up – and in spades.

When we look at Libya, it isn’t just a few in NATO who did what needed to be done.  All of NATO took on this operation.

To be sure, some Allies did not participate directly.  But even those who didn’t were helpful in particular ways.

We all know the case of Germany, which did not contribute national forces to the operation. 

Germany did, however, quickly arrange for its crews to man NATO AWACS in Afghanistan.  That way, non-German crews could man NATO AWACS over Libya. 

And it deployed 80 officers capable of the difficult job of finding targets in Libya. 

Countries like Iceland, Luxembourg, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Albania, and the three Baltic states had neither the naval capacity nor the modern air forces necessary to be able to participate in a campaign like this.

But look at their contributions to other Alliance operations and programs.  You’ll find them to be substantial.

In the end, 14 allies and four partners provided the naval and air forces necessary for the operation in Libya. 

Together they flew over 26,000 sorties, including over 9,600 strike sorties. 

They hailed over 3,700 ships and boarded about ten percent. 

They denied passage for 11 ships. 

Their bombs destroyed nearly 6,000 targets, from command and control bunkers to tanks … from surface-to-air missile sites and SCUD launchers to ammunition dumps. 

They did this with great precision, and with virtually no collateral damage.

As for the United States, we flew more sorties than any country, a quarter in all. 

France and the United Kingdom together accounted for a third. 

Forty percent were flown by other countries, like Italy, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, and our four European and regional partners.

Greece provided access to air bases and it deployed vessels to enforce the arms embargo, as did Romania and Bulgaria.

And more contributions kept coming.

France and the United Kingdom led the way in striking critical targets, together accounting for more than 40 percent of all strikes. 

And they deployed attack helicopters on naval platforms at sea, a capability that proved to be especially critical in the later stages of the conflict.

Italy flew not only a large number of sorties and bombed many targets, but also provided the bulk of the air bases from which aircraft were flown. 

Denmark and Norway together destroyed as many targets in Libya as the United Kingdom. 

Denmark, Norway, and Belgium together destroyed as many targets as France.

NATO’s partners also contributed in big ways. 

Our Arab partners, the UAE, Qatar, and Jordan flew their own sorties, contributing F-16s and Mirages to the operation. Morocco opened up its airspace and critical political support. 

Sweden contributed a fleet of Grippens, flying tactical reconnaissance missions and patrolling the NFZ.

The Libya operation did what, frankly, only NATO could do:  execute a complex mission quickly, effectively, and with partners from Europe, the region, and beyond. 

The Lessons of Libya

That’s not to say all was completely rosy.  There are real lessons to learn here – both good and bad.

I’ve mentioned some of the good lessons – including the agility and speed with which the Alliance can and does act and the solidarity of 28 Allies sticking together throughout the entire operation.

So let me focus on the lessons that require us to change things and do more.

Frankly, our Allies don’t stock enough precision-guided munitions.  The re-supply process worked, but only because Uncle Sam proved to be a seller of first resort.

Given that the need for military action can arise suddenly in this unpredictable world, Allies  need to keep more munitions on hand.

Our Allies are also dependent on the United States for aerial refueling.  Seventy-five percent of the tankers flying over the Mediterranean were flown by American air forces.

Without tankers, you can’t fly long-range bombing runs. Or keep a combat air patrol going for very long.

NATO is also critically short of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. 

The United States supplied 70 to 80 percent of the total ISR, including all Predator and Global Hawk drones. 

Without ISR, you can’t acquire targets. … Without acquiring targets, you can’t bomb. …  And without bombing, you can’t stop the killing in Libya.

Libya shows that the new NATO works well … but it’s not perfect.  NATO has serious capability shortfalls that, as its Leaders agreed in Lisbon last year, need to be addressed.

Wrap up

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of Libya – at least from my perspective, as the person responsible for representing the United States in the North Atlantic Alliance.

It’s a story of American leadership that mobilized the international community to action.

It’s a story of America’s unique capabilities enabling our Allies to step up and take responsibility for critical aspects of a military operation.

And it’s a story of the Atlantic Alliance pulling together and everyone bearing their fair share of the security burden.

With that background, I’m happy to take a few questions.

Prepared remarks courtesy of US Mission to NATO.