Libya defines unnecessary conflict. ~Doug Bandow

I agree with just about everything in Bandow’s call for dissolving NATO and his description of the Libyan war, and I have made the same arguments in past. Previously, I have argued that NATO’s main function now is as an enabler of U.S. interventionism, and that’s partly true, but the Libyan war has actually shown how Bandow and I overstate this. NATO didn’t enable the U.S. to intervene in Libya. It provided belated cover for a decision that had already been made. It’s true that most of NATO isn’t involved in the fighting in Libya, and very few NATO members wanted to intervene, but this is why the claim that Libya is a NATO operation is something of a political fiction promoted by war supporters. After the Security Council passed UNSCR 1973, Britain, France, and the U.S. were going to attack Libya no matter what any other NATO governments decided. By abusing the principle of allied solidarity, these three governments dragged the alliance into a war that served no collective security purpose.

Making the war into a NATO mission did allow Italy to provide bases that it would have otherwise withheld, and it permitted the administration to promote the absurd idea that the U.S. was no longer vital to continuing the war. Both of these are significant, but the intervention could have happened anyway. It is easy to imagine the three main intervening governments attacking Libya without being able to use NATO as an umbrella. That might have made things harder for the administration at home when it wanted to claim that the U.S. was not at war, but that is a different question. Such a war might be be having even less success than the one that is currently going on, but I imagine that it would still be happening. While appeals to NATO “credibility” have been an important part of war rhetoric in 1999 and again this year, it is obvious that most members of the alliance don’t really believe them this time (if anyone ever did). It is because they value the alliance for other reasons that the majority has not wished to create a larger rupture over some of the major allies’ abuse of the alliance.

A major reason why so few capable governments (e.g., Germany, Poland, Turkey) are participating directly in the bombing campaign is that they correctly see this as having nothing to do with the alliance’s mission. There’s no question that many of the newer alliance members cannot participate in Libya because they do not have the means, which is confirmation that they had no business being brought into the alliance. Many of the same members that are not involved in the Libyan war were among the first to offer mostly token forces to support the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but this was not really a sign of their belief in allied solidarity. That was an obsequious gesture of tribute from satellites to their great power patron. After the Iraq debacle and the drain of Afghanistan, there is naturally greater reluctance on the part of European allies to contribute to wars that have nothing to do with them.

Bandow is absolutely right that the alliance has no reason to exist, which is why its more aggressive members keep trying to find something for it to do. The alliance’s formal mission is an obsolete holdover from the Cold War, and the alliance is a relic of a time when western Europe feared Soviet power and the danger of a resurgent Germany. The Soviets are no more, and Germany is united and at peace with its neighbors. If anything, many Europeans seem to be worried that Germany has become too averse to using military force abroad. NATO was a massive success whose time has long since passed. It is the alliance’s inherent obsolescence that makes it fit to be dismantled. Perhaps if NATO did not exist, and a few of its members could not use it as political cover for their own wars, it would be slightly more difficult for those governments to take military action, but NATO is ultimately just the vehicle that interventionists have chosen to use rather than the reason why there are interventions. Oddly enough, it is the same governments that cannot or will not indulge in an unnecessary war in Libya that will fight most strenuously to preserve the relic of the alliance.