There was no NATO discussion of the operation, no debate, no vote, no joint planning. Technically, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization operates only in the wake of an attack on a NATO member. The war in Afghanistan followed such an attack and was, in the beginning, widely perceived as a war against a common enemy. Libya is different: There was no attack, there is no common enemy, and now there is no consensus.
Two very important NATO members, Germany and Turkey, openly oppose the Libya mission and are refusing to play any operational role. A number of smaller members have made their objections known behind the scenes and aren’t sending anything much beyond the odd crate of food. The NATO secretary general has spent the past several days calling around Europe’s secondary capitals, asking for planes. More than once, he has been refused.
Even those who support the mission aren’t doing much about it. With a certain flourish, the Swedish parliament approved the deployment of Swedish planes abroad for first time in more than 40 years. Alas, the Swedish jets are allowed only to enforce the no-fly zone: That means they can shoot down Libyan government planes but cannot bomb ground targets. Since there aren’t any more Libyan government planes, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
But then, Dutch planes operate under the same restrictions. Norwegian planes, meanwhile, are apparently allowed to bomb air bases but nothing else. Italy’s planes have flown more than 100 missions but have not yet dropped a single bomb. The Canadians are doing a bit more, it is true — though Canadian politicians are bending over backward to avoid talking too much about it.
As for the United States, one could be forgiven for thinking that the American military is no longer a part of NATO at all. It has been odd and somewhat eerie to hear American officials refer to “NATO” the past few days as if it were something alien and foreign. The American president made it clear that “NATO” will now be in control of the Libyan operation — which, to him, means that the U.S. military is out of the picture. “It is not going to be our planes maintaining the no-fly zone,” President Obama said at the beginning of the bombing campaign and, indeed, American planes stopped flying several days ago. Which is extraordinary, given that, until last week, most people assumed NATO was an American-led alliance.