Home / Robert Farley / On Alliances, and Burdens…

On Alliances, and Burdens…


Old now, but a couple of interesting links on burden-sharing and Libya from Spencer, and Phil Ewing:

The Libya operation is an example of one of those lessons that Washington chooses not to learn: In recent history, Europe and NATO have never proven the kind of decisive actors that any White House might have hoped they’d be, but they did provide a crucial short-term political victory for the Obama administration: Libya is off the front pages, doesn’t lead the TV news casts and is no longer the top agenda item for many top Pentagon decision-makers. The crucial question now is whether the straining alliance could cause it to become a big enough liability that it pop back up.

Wha would a unilateral mission in Libya would have looked like? Given the course of the intervention thus far, the image of US Marines storming ashore near Tripoli, quickly crushing Gaddafi’s forces, and either killing the leadership or driving it underground seems has its attractions. However, it’s important to point out that this is pure fantasy. The Pentagon opposed even the measured war that has been conducted thus far, and it’s highly unlikely that such a vigorous assault would have won much support from either the GOP or Obama’s Democratic base. A unilateral intervention would effectively have granted the United States ownership of Libya for an indeterminate amount of time, which is not supported by either an elite or a popular consensus. We can safely dispose of the idea that there was some “unilateral” option in this case; it was either NATO and the UN, or nothing at all.

In this context, I’m not sure that it’s correct to argue that the multilateral nature of the Libya war represents a lesson that Washington has “failed to learn.”  From an economy of force perspective, the extent of US involvement in the intervention thus far has been pretty much ideal. No American blood has been lost, minimal (relative to other military operations) treasure has been spent, and the US is not primarily identified with the conflict (main responsibility seems to have fallen to France). Now, in some sense this is an outcome that makes almost everyone unhappy. If you’re anti-intervention (either case specific or more generally) or uncomfortable with the exercise of US military power, at least the multilateral nature has limited US exposure. Neocons are perhaps the most perturbed, largely because they’re more concerned with the “muscular exercise” of US power than they are with the strategic logic of any particular intervention. Shackling US power to NATO and the UN misses the entire point of US hegemony…



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