Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO Burden-Sharing in Libya: Understanding the Contributions of Norway, Spain and Poland to the War Effort1

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO Burden-Sharing in Libya: Understanding the Contributions of Norway, Spain and Poland to the War Effort1

Article excerpt

NATO's intervention in Libya witnessed an alliance military operation that previously had been difficult to predict or imagine. Over the course of eight months in 2011, NATO's European allies carried out the majority of all military strikes on Libya. Such numbers stand in stark contrast to the United States' leading and dominant role in NATO's previous air operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, after which Pentagon military planners argued that "never again" would America use force in joint NATO operations.2 Moreover, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in Libya likely averted a humanitarian disaster in Benghazi, and after months of missile strikes, helped remove the Qaddafiregime from power. Certainly, by these standards, the operation was a success and a victory for the principle of alliance burden-sharing.

Yet by other measures, Operation Unified Protector raised major concerns regarding alliance military capabilities, and more broadly on the different national conceptualisations of what is in NATO's security interest. Only a handful of the 28 NATO allies willingly used force. In addition, the United States played a critical enabling role through its air refuelling and force protection missions, as well as in precision targeting strikes, all of which allowed the European allies to contribute militarily in ways that would have otherwise been impossible. While it is clear that a coalition of allies worked together to achieve NATO's objectives, it is equally evident that the military burden was not shared across the alliance, and in a number of cases was openly resisted by some members.

NATO's military performance in Libya raises important questions over which allies are willing to use force in NATO operations, and more broadly, over the principle of military burden-sharing, which has received extensive treatment from scholars. Using a structured and focused case study approach, this paper examines three of Europe's NATO allies-Norway, Spain and Poland-all of whom played widely different roles in Operation Unified Protector. Using previous research on burden-sharing as well as literature more specific to NATO military operations, we examine three variables across these three NATO allies -public and governmental support for the strikes, national strategic culture, and perceived member benefits for the use of force-all in an effort to evaluate the conditions when a European ally may be willing to act militarily. These research findings speak to NATO's ability to meet future security challenges, the role of European militaries in American foreign policy and, hopefully, will provide broader insights on the conditions that foster burden-sharing in alliance military operations.

Literature Review and Methodology

Among the scholarly study of international relations is the theory of collective action. Mancur Olson maintains that states will cooperate because they can achieve results they are unable to acquire individually. These desired results often take the form of public goods, which in the case of a military alliance, implies security for all of its members.3 One means of promoting security through cooperation is to form alliances. Typically alliances between states are formed in response to the shared perception of an external threat. Analysts have provided a number of explanations for the cohesion of an alliance, which may depend upon how alliance members evaluate the intensity of this threat, how effective the leadership of the largest state in the alliance is, or how flexible the alliance is in adapting to new challenges.4

In the case of NATO, which was formed largely in response to a perceived threat from the Soviet Union, this military alliance has evolved considerably since its inception. The organisation originally focused almost exclusively on the protection of members' borders from an external threat, yet has now become an organisation with a much wider range of security interests and operations. This transition has produced considerable political differences amongst its members, which include broader debates over the purpose of the alliance, NATO's relationship with the European Union, its affiliation with new "partner states," appropriate defence-spending levels for its members, as well as the appropriate role of the United States within the organisation. …

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