Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Building Partnership Capacity

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Building Partnership Capacity

Article excerpt

Operation Harmattan and Beyond

The Air Force Association is planning a remarkable panel discussion-Close Cooperation among Allies- as part of its National Convention and Air and Space Conference near Washington, DC, in September. The association has invited Gen Denis Mercier, the Armée de l'air (French air force) (FAF) chief of staff, and Air Chief Marshal Stephen Dalton, the Royal Air Force (RAF) chief of air staff, to join Gen Mark Welsh, the new US Air Force chief of staff, on stage.1 This joint invitation is in step with the US Department of Defense's effort known as building partnership capacity.2 According Building Partnership Capacity: QDR Execution Roadmap (2006), the nation cannot attain its strategic objectives without a unified approach among capable partners at home and with key friends and allies abroad.3 At the same time, the French and British have national ambitions that drive a deeper partnership with each other and closer ties with the United States. Within this geopolitical backdrop, the three chiefs developed their vision to better integrate the three air forces.4 But let us be clear from the start: this rapprochement is not a matter of starry-eyed idealism or naïveté but of straightforward pragmatism fueled by austerity. As physicist Ernest Rutherford, a Nobel laureate, once said, "We haven't the money, so we've got to think."5 As this article shows, the close cooperation among allies during the Libya operation affirmed this new "thinking."

The article has a twofold purpose. The first, in essence, is pedagogic, presenting what the FAF brings to the fight through the lens of the military action in Libya, code-named Operation Harmattan by the French for the hot, dry winds that blow through the Sahara between November and March. This aim is essential in and of itself- as American Airmen endeavor to build dynamic partnerships, we must begin by knowing the capabilities of individual air forces. Second, the article sets the contextual framework for the chiefs' initiative to "develop an increased level of interdependence" among the three air forces and addresses how Libya serves as a springboard for this endeavor.6 It is neither a comprehensive treatise on the operation in Libya nor a summary of "lessons learned." Moreover, it purposely avoids the larger strategic debates concerning the operation's implications for the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. Rather, the article highlights particular contributions of the FAF with regard to what the operation means for future cooperation among the three air forces. It explains why Harmattan was an important milestone for the FAF, validating 20 years of transformation and demonstrating the coherence and capability of its force. By design, the article singles out the French contribution but by no means intends to minimize that of the 14 other air forces and joint partners that participated.

This piece is both timely and necessary. Even as the world hails the historic elections that took place just eight months after the fall of Mu'ammar Gadhafi, one finds an overwhelmingly negative slant in the US press, running contrary to what Vice President Joe Biden declared immediately after the dictator's capture: "NATO got it right."7 "While the operation has revealed strains within the Alliance and foreshadows future challenges, the Libyan operation is a great success," agrees Damon Wilson, renowned NATO expert.8 However, one year later, in 2012, the Washington Post declared that "NATO's Lost Lessons from Libya" deal with the disputed number of civilian casualties rather than the success of the operation.9 "Libya hardly looks like a success story right now," comments international relations expert Stephen M. Walt after the NATO summit in Chicago.10 Meanwhile, the New York Times editorial board opines that the operation is "one more reminder that Europe is still not ready for prime time."11 Certainly, Libya displayed alliance shortcomings, but coalition members can- and should- be proud of what they achieved. …

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