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Italy rattles Libya coalition

June 27, 2011 at 1:41 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 27 (UPI) -- Italy has broken ranks with NATO allies participating in the bombing campaign against the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, speaking to a parliamentary committee in the aftermath of a NATO raid that accidentally killed civilians, called for an immediate halt to bombing to allow humanitarian aid to reach trapped civilians. He also called for continuing peace talks and "ever more detailed information on the results" of the campaign that's no closer to success than when it began in mid-March.

France and Britain, whose aircraft are heavily involved in daily sorties to degrade Gadhafi's military as well as eliminate Gadhafi himself, immediately rejected Frattini's suggestion.

"Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to play for time and to reorganize," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero responded.

The outright rejection of a pause in the bombing campaign is understandable. The international coalition against the Third World despot appears to be falling apart.

Germany withdrew its two frigates from NATO's Libya quarantine just days after the bombings began on March 17 in support of a U.N. Resolution calling for the protection of civilians who had caught "Arab Spring" fever and rebelled against the regime.

Norway, citing its inability to "maintain a large fighter jet contribution" for a prolonged period of time, announced this month it was withdrawing all its planes by Aug. 1.

Denmark, although still part of the combat coalition, is scrambling to obtain ordnance from other NATO members as it runs out of weaponry.

And France has indicated it will withdraw the carrier Charles de Gaulle from Operation Unified Protector despite the fact it is in the lead with Britain in military action.

If no carrier replaces the de Gaulle, all bombing sorties would have to be carried out from land bases in Europe, meaning more U.S. refueling flights for NATO aircraft since only the United States has the support capability.

The fissures in resolve and capability should be no surprise, European pride notwithstanding. Since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, it can be argued that NATO has steadily turned into a paper tiger. The alliance's focus and purpose – to deter and/or defeat any Soviet invasion of Western Europe – is gone. And the threat of communist troops pushing through the Fulda Gap was a very real one. Moscow was not shy in using force, as the crushing of the Hungarian revolution and the Prague Spring proved.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, the threat evaporated, and so did the impetus for higher military budgets and troop strength and preparedness.

In post-Soviet Europe, NATO has attempted to maintain relevance by bringing in more partners – former Soviet satellites. Members, to varying degrees, have has also engaged in military operations outside its traditional zone, such as Afghanistan and Iraq in recognition of terrorism's transnational threat. But it's still a shadow of itself, with just five of its 28 members meeting the organization's requirement of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending.

Although NATO membership was unanimous in voting to support the United Nations, less than half have participated in any way in the mission and less than a third have participated in combat strike operations, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted.

"In the past, I've worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance: Between members who specialize in "soft' humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks, and those conducting the 'hard' combat missions," he said, "between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership -- be they security guarantees or headquarters billets -- but don't want to share the risks and the costs.

"This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable."

U.S. Republican Sen. John McCain, an advocate for stronger NATO action against Libya, put the precarious situation NATO finds itself in with Libya this way: "If NATO cannot defeat a third-rate military power, then NATO is probably going to go out of business."

NATO action in Libya continues; rebel groups have not gained significant ground; Gadhafi remains in power; alliance shortcomings and fissures are likely to grow.

Maybe President George W. Bush's ad hoc "coalition of the willing," much derided by his opponents, is what lies ahead, with NATO, as a viable and credible organization, becoming a footnote in history.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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