Learning from Libya: The right lessons for NATO

“While NATO’s ‘Operation Unified Protector’ has revealed strains within the Alliance and foreshadows future challenges, the Libya operation is a great success.” 

That is the conclusion of Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson in his Strategic Advisors Group issue brief, released as leaders of the Transitional National Council meet today in Paris with leading diplomats from around the world to discuss a post-Qaddafi Libya.

Wilson’s brief, entitled “Learning from Libya: The Right Lessons for NATO,” makes the case that the Alliance’s accomplishment of its objectives in Libya at such a low cost is a testament to NATO’s unique strengths, even as it spotlights growing concerns about falling European defense spending and ambivalent US leadership within the Alliance. 

Wilson’s brief caps a flurry of events, media appearances, and publications from Atlantic Council staff on Libya that have integrated the range of regional and functional expertise with the Council’s various programs and centers. 

The Council responded quickly to the fall of Tripoli by hosting a conference call for its members with US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz on Monday, August 22. Days later, on Friday, August 26, the Council hosted a collaborative, televised event among the Program on International Security, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, and the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center entitled, “To the Shores of Tripoli: What Qaddafi’s Demise Means for Libya, NATO, and the Arab Awakening .” Other events related to the “Arab Spring” are listed below.


  • July 28, 2011 – Planning for a Post-Qaddafi Libya: Conversations with Libyan Transitional Leaders
  • June 1, 2011 – Uncertain Forecast in North Africa: Preventing the “Arab Spring” from becoming the “Season of Discontent”
  • May 25, 2011 – Strategy Session with General Stephane Abrial on Libya and Transformation
  • May 3, 2011 – How Should the Transatlantic Community Respond to the Arab Spring?
  • April 28, 2011 – New Atlanticist Roundtable: NATO in Libya
  • April 1, 2011 – Libya from a French Perspective: Conference Call with Gérard Araud, French Ambassador to UN
  • March 22, 2011 – Discussion on Arab World Turmoil with Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

Council publications in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Tripoli include the following blog posts and analysis from Council staff and associated fellows:

  • “Libya Exposes Transatlantic Contradictions” by James Joyner for CNN.com
  • “With the Storming of Libya’s Bastille, the Arab Revolutions Begin a New Phase” by Michelle Dunne for the New Atlanticist
  • “Libya and Africa: The Reset” by J. Peter Pham for the New Atlanticist
  • “Libya’s Oil after Gaddafi” by Boyko Nitzov for the New Atlanticist
  • “Libya Not Vindication for NATO but a Wake-Up Call” by James Joyner for the National Interest
  • “Why Libya Skeptics Were Proved Badly Wrong” by Board Director Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Financial Times
  • “Lessons Learned from the ‘Splendid Little War’ in Libya” by Jeff Lightfoot for CNN.com
  • “NATO Proves Critics Wrong” by Barry Pavel for the New Atlanticist
  • “Libya not NATO Comeback” by Atlantic Council Senior Advisor Kurt Volker for Foreign Policy
  • “Libya, Egypt, and Syria: ‘The LES Countries’” by Atlantic Council Senior Advisor Harlan Ullman for UPI
  • “Libya: Implementing the Peace” by SAG member Julian Lindley-French for the New Atlanticist
  • “Libya: Carpe Diem Europe!” by SAG member Julian Lindley-French for the New Atlanticist
  • “What percent of NATO Strikes were carried out by the United States?” by Jorge Benitez for CNN.com

Over the course of the operation, our New Atlanticist policy blog published 19 posts on the decision to intervene in Libya, 47 pieces on the conduct of Operation Unified Protector, and 16 pieces on the prospects for Libya after Gaddafi. A complete, hyperlinked listing can be found here. These pieces complemented the important efforts of NATO Source Director Jorge Benitez in tracking the latest news and analysis on NATO from national and international media throughout the conflict. 

The Council’s growing status as the go-to institution on NATO analysis was also highlighted by an array of interviews of Council staff and fellows on the BBC, Voice of America, al Jazeera, CSPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC News Radio, Bloomberg, Reuters, NPR’s All Things Considered, The Washington Post, and other outlets.

Related Experts: Damon Wilson and Harlan Ullman

Image: rasmussensteps.jpg