The result is that NATO is riven by various factions. It’s starting to resemble the old joke about the Holy Roman empire, which is that it was neither holy nor Roman. ~Jacob Heilbrunn

One could say that it began resembling that joke as soon as it started expanding eastwards. When an Atlantic alliance starts debating the merits of incorporating countries that border on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, something has already gone awry, but once an alliance organized for collective defense started attacking other countries over their internal affairs it became the opposite of what it was supposed to be. This didn’t start with Libya, but began in the Balkans sixteen years ago. As long as the Balkan interventions were isolated cases, and interventions were limited to Europe, the strains within the alliance might have been more manageable. Now that NATO is being saddled with an African war started by some of its more over-eager members, those strains are becoming impossible to conceal.

When we talk about the effects of Libya on NATO, it is important to remember that NATO has been seriously divided over major questions in the past, and the result was a similar political paralysis. The proposed next round of NATO expansion exposed similar rifts, except that France and Germany were both skeptical about continued expansion and the U.S., Britain, and Poland were strongly in favor of it. In that case, failure to reach consensus meant that NATO avoided making an unwise commitment to bring in new members in 2008, and that may have saved itself from risking a major international war or a major humiliation. Despite the lack of consensus on Libya, NATO has been stuck with a small international war while still risking major humiliation.