Last night, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the organisation would be taking control of all military operations in Libya with “immediate effect”. However, the reality of the situation on the ground and the political wranglings needed to gain endorsement of such a takeover suggest that this will not actually occur for some days to come.
As an excellent piece in today’s Guardian has highlighted,
while NATO has appointed a Canadian General, Charles Bouchard, to command the air strikes, there seems to be a delay in handing command of them over to NATO. This cannot be fully explained by the official line that the lengthy handover period will ensure that it is smooth, as General Bouchard has been controlling the ‘No Fly Zone’ part of Operation Unified Protector since Friday. The real reason is likely to be the problems in establishing consensus for NATO operations within the alliance.
Firstly, it can be argued that the current coalition air strikes in Libya are pushing the boundary of the intent of UN Security Resolution 1973 by continuing to attack Gaddafi’s forces in areas where they may actually enjoy popular support from Libyan citizens, such as Sirte. This being the case, some NATO member states, most notably Germany and Turkey, have probably used their influence to restrict the rules of engagement for NATO air strikes once the organisation takes command of this aspect of military operations. Such restricted rules of engagement will probably curtail NATO forces from striking any forces that are not attacking civilians, therefore barring it from attacking Gaddafi’s defensive lines.
Secondly, given the rebels quick run of successes in capturing the strategically important towns of Brega and Ros Lanuf yesterday, the more bullish members of the coalition (read Britain and France) are keen to continue prosecuting their air-strikes while the rebels have momentum. They will now be hoping for a quick advance all the way to Tripoli that will ultimately unseat Gaddafi and deliver them the majority of the victor’s prestige. They understand that the air strikes have been vital in giving the rebels their momentum and have therefore managed to retain the possibility of strikes against Gaddafi’s forces for a few more days.
Finally, where does this leave NATO? Despite the overt diplomatic manoeuvring by members, the Alliance responded relatively quickly to the Libyan crisis, and prevented the high probability of a massacre of Benghazi’s citizens last week. Even if this response was relatively ad hoc, and whatever the ultimate outcome, the organisation has proved it stands alone in terms of capability and willingness to act.
But, like Britain and France, it too will be looking for a quick victory that can boost the perception of an organisation that has been damaged by involvement in Afghanistan.
The trick in an intervention such as this, therefore, is knowing when to stop. And as the history of conflict over the last half century tells us, this is the hardest trick to learn.
Defence and security expert with comprehensive media experience, coupled with specialist knowledge of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan and military operations past and present.
London-based security analyst, Patrick has worked for NATO as an analyst and is a former Captain in the British army's Royal Irish Regiment. He is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute, studying the reform of the U.K's Army Reserve, cohesion and logistics. Patrick has appeared on international, UK and Irish television and radio to discuss security matters, and has written for leading broadsheets. His latest appearances were as an expert contributor to National Geographic's 'Nazi Mega Weapons' series, where he contributed to four episodes, including on the Atlantic Wall, the Wolf's Lair, the SS, and the Siegfried Line. He has specialist knowledge on the conflict in Afghanistan, having served in Sangin in 2008 and he has provided security research and analysis for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He also has expert knowledge of the current security situation in Libya and comments on wider security issues, including strategy, current military operations, military history, the role of the media in war, and ethics in war.
He has written for The Irish Times, The Guardian and The Independent, and has appeared on The National Geographic Channel/Channel 4, Sky News, BBC News, BBC News HardTalk, BBC Radio 4 Today programme, BBC File on 4, BBC Radio 5, and numerous Irish national TV and radio programmes.
His memoir, 'Callsign Hades', (Simon and Schuster 2010) has been called "the first great book of the Afghan war" and describes his experiences serving with Irish soldiers in the last Irish line regiment of the British army in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous places. It has since been incorporated onto the syllabus at Sandhurst, and excerpts from his work are also taught to Australian officer cadets.
Patrick was educated at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and King's College, London, where he studied Intelligence and International Security before attending the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He was awarded the Trust Medal for Overall Academic Performance, The John Pimlott Prize for War Studies and the Defence and International Affairs Prize during his time there.
He has commanded soldiers on operations in Afghanistan and deployed to Cyprus, Kenya, Malawi and Malaysia.
He has also published in military and ethics journals and on defence issues on political blogsites. He has spoken at numerous universities and military command courses on security and ethics issues. He is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Royal United Services Institute, the Irish Military History Society, the Military Ethics Education Network, and former member of an IED and Radicalisation project funded by the US Office of Naval Research and Hull University. A full list of Patrick's publications are listed in the links section below.