HOW NATO FOUND A NEW ROLE FOR ITSELF
At 12.00 hours, Libyan Time, Monday, October 31, 2011, NATO formally ended over seven months of military operations in that Maghreb country. The air war over Libya goes down in the annals of warfare, not just as one of the few cases where an alliance have mounted a successful military campaign without actually putting boots on the ground, but, it has marked the organization's fourth successive mission, following the end of the Cold War in the early 1990's.
After Libya's, NATO's biggest post-Cold War challenge remains; and that is Afghanistan, where the Organization's ground forces, air-power and navies, are partnering with a coalition made up of sixteen other countries to fight off an Al Qaeda-Taliban insurgency that is over a decade old. Two years before the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, NATO had fought a strictly air war in the Balkans, where it took the Alliance seventy-seven days to dislodge Serbian forces from Kosovo.
Before the Kosovo War, NATO undertook their first ever post-Cold War military mission in Bosnia in the early 1990's. like Libya and Kosovo, it was strictly an aerial campaign which succeeded in destroying most of the 310 heavy guns possessed by the Bosnian-Serb army, forcing the belligerent Bosnian-Serbs to agree to sign the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords which allowed for the creation of a confederacy between Bosnia's feuding Serb, Croat and Moslem communities.
There has been so much talk about how the people of Libya rose up with one voice and one mind to end more than four decades of oppressive rule by Colonel Muammar Gadhafi and his family. In years and decades to come, so much will be written and said about how Libyans fought the dictator's tanks and war-planes to a standstill, and dislodged his army and his mercenary fighters in just eight months.
But, one truism that no-one will ever be able to argue against has been the role of the American-led NATO alliance in the conflict to overthrow Gadhafi that eventually led to his death. The part played by the North Atlantic Alliance in bringing about the old regime's downfall has been decisive. It has been, and should be, one of the main talking-points of the Libya campaign.
How many people around the world will view it, at least for now, is that the United States of America, France and Britain, supported by others, brought their powerful influence to bear on the United Nations Security Council in March, 2011, as a result of which the resolution authorizing the bombing of Libya was passed. Perhaps, such a perception would trigger little need for debate, if at all.
The real story is that the recent military campaign in Libya was largely NATO's war. It marked the very first time, since its creation in 1949, that the Alliance has carried out any operation of any kind in Africa. That, too, hasn't necessarily turned out to be the 'big story'.
Rather, the conflict in Libya has brought to the fore one issue that many experts have struggled over the decades to analyze satisfactorily. It is the story of NATO's evolution. Analyzing how the Atlantic Alliance has been able to evolve into the complexion it is today won't be a day's job; nor an exhaustive discussion on how NATO's role in 1949 as become very different than NATO off the 2011 world.
This has to be rather interesting subject to pick on, as some critics or the organization have continually argued that the real reason, some would say the very essence, for the birth of NATO has long disappeared. Indeed, NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, came into existence more than sixty-two years ago. NATO's founding fathers were western (capitalist) leaders, who felt they and their allies in Europe needed a fitting response to the Warsaw pact. The whole idea, as they saw it, was to react correspondingly to what the former Soviet Union, the world's most powerful Communist empire, was doing with its allies in post-world war ii Europe.
Same year NATO was formed (1949), the defunct U.S.S.R. had responded to America's explosion of the first atom bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, with its own version of a nuclear device. It soon became a massive nuclear race between the world's two super-powers. It was only natural, and in the case of the Eastern European countries, a requirement, that European states 'located' on either side of the ideological divide received security guarantees from either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. NATO was more than just a product of the division of Europe along East-West lines. It would also be wrong for anyone to assume that NATO's founders intended it, primarily, as a weapon in the hands of the U.S-led capitalist West in their conflict with communism, which the Soviet empire and its Eastern European allies represented.
Instead, security was, and is believed to remain, the primary reason for the establishment of the Alliance. 'to combat the grave threat from Communism' was how President Harry Truman and his allies in London, Paris, Bonn, Brussels and Amsterdam characterized it. America and its allies probably had reason to feel threatened by the Eastern Bloc alliance. First, Josef Stalin, whose Red Army had liberated Eastern Europe from the Nazis, insisted on keeping Soviet forces in those countries long after world war ii was over in 1945. Soviet forces had taken over East Germany and made it a Communist state, alongside Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Rumania.
The speed at which the arms race between the two super-powers was developing caused many in the Western World a lot of concern. NATO , they argued, was not just a fitting counterweight to the Eastern Bloc, but, the alliance had to expand as well, especially by allowing more member-states to join its ranks and accede to the Treaty. Enlargement of the organization, two or three times since 1949, became a priority; a priority because by the 1950's and 1970's, the Warsaw pact was already enjoying a superiority in conventional forces. In strategic arms, the rival sides in the Cold War era were almost evenly matched. Like NATO, the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe had tens of thousands of nuclear warheads at the ready. Each of those nuclear bombs [high-calibre hydrogen weaponry] was hundreds of times more powerful than the ten-kilogram, 20,000-ton T.-and-T. atomic device dropped by a U.S. war-plane on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in the early hours of august 6, 1945.
Many in NATO will argue, as they have done for six decades now, that the economic and political stability recorded by most Alliance countries over the decades, in sharp contrast to the steady decline of a good number of the Warsaw Pact states, helped hasten the end of the Cold War between East and west. That's a point anyone will find hard to fault,. Indeed, America is by leaps and bounds NATO's most powerful and most important member-state. It has more or less carried the Alliance on its wings, militarily, as well, and it's no longer history that, over time, the U.S.S.R. could not keep up with both the pace and cost of the race of the super-powers.
How the U.S.S.R. collapsed, and with it the seven-nation Warsaw Pact, may be a topic for another day. How, on the other hand, the North Atlantic Alliance had expanded, from ten- to sixteen - to nineteen to twenty-nine member-states, has captured many people's imagination. It's in many ways an extraordinary period for NATO, namely, the period following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's.