If the war in Libya has proven anything, it is how militarily weak the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries are without American help. And more importantly for those members involved in the Libyan conflict, it is this revealed weakness that, in the end, may allow Gaddafi to survive.
Less than a week after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates criticised NATO members at a meeting in Brussels for “serious capability gaps and other institutional shortcomings laid bare by the Libyan operation,” Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Britain’s naval chief, warned that the Royal Navy would be able to sustain operations in Libya for only another three months.
“Beyond that, we might have to request the Government to make some challenging decisions about priorities,” said Stanhope. Although the British navy has only four ships operating off Libya, it has been called “a key contributor to the Libya mission.”
After his candid statement, retired British admirals said Stanhope did not go far enough in his comments, saying the British navy was in “shambles” and could not sustain “a ‘tinpot’ operation” like Libya let alone take back the Falkland Islands if they were seized by Argentina again. The current crisis in British military capability is mostly due to government cutbacks that saw the navy’s last aircraft carrier and its harrier jets taken out of service. British naval fliers will now use a French aircraft carrier and will learn French to do so.
“If we had the tools for the job, I think Gaddafi would be out of power by now,” stated Rear Admiral Chris Parry.
At the Brussels meeting last Friday, Gates, in his last policy speech before his retirement, expressed his displeasure with America’s allies about their military shortcomings. Gates noted that after only 11 weeks against “a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country,” coalition states of the “mightiest alliance in history” have already run short of munitions, which America had to make good. Gates also took alliance members to task for their lack of will and cutbacks to their military budgets, which have shrunk $45 billion the past two years, a shortfall that puts pressure on American taxpayers to spend more for defense.
“Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there,” Gates said.
Ironically, on the same day Gates was making his final policy speech as Secretary of Defense, the first cracks began to appear in NATO’s anti-Gaddafi coalition. Norway said on Friday it is going to withdraw its six F-16 fighters on August 1, while the Dutch said their warplanes would fly no more bombing missions.
In the United States, political problems are arising about America’s involvement in Libya. On Wednesday, Republican House leader John Boehner gave President Obama an ultimatum regarding US forces in the Libyan conflict. Boehner wants Obama to justify this troop commitment by Friday and get authorization from Congress for it or be declared in violation of the War Powers Resolution. A constitutional showdown about the commitment’s legality now appears in the making.
These notes of discord from the NATO camp must be sweet music to Gaddafi’s ears. Despite recent talk of the Libyan leader stepping down and going into exile, Gaddafi vowed in a speech on state television a week ago to stay on and fight to the death. The fact he and his sons are under indictment by the International Criminal Court has probably strongly influenced his decision to remain as Libyan leader. He is most likely afraid any asylum offer may be voided once he is outside Libya, after which he would then be turned over to the court.
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