Libya Not Vindication for NATO, It’s a Wake-up Call

My latest for The National Interest is posted under the somewhat misleading headline "NATO Fails in Libya."

My latest for The National Interest is posted under the somewhat misleading headline “NATO Fails in Libya.”  A key excerpt:

I’m an Atlanticist by conviction and profession, but the notion that helping take out Muammar Qaddafi after six months of heavy fighting proves much of anything is absurd.

According to the World Bank, Libya is sixty-third in the world in GDP. Twenty of NATO’s twenty-seven members are ranked ahead of it. Alliance members hold the top spot, six of the top ten and eleven of the top twenty-five largest economies on the planet. Romania has more than double Libya’s GDP; it’s the sixteenth-largest economy in NATO.

Moreover, the United States spends more than Libya’s entire GDP on just the “Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation” portion of its defense budget. There are three larger items in said budget, with the Operations and Maintenance portion accounting for three and a half Libyas. The total U.S. defense budget? Almost nine Libyas.

There are twenty-six other militaries in NATO. Fourteen spent more that Libya’s $1.5 billion on defense in 2010, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. France and the UK each spent forty times that.


I remain a NATO booster because there is no alternative vehicle for the Western powers to act together in concert. Despite the Keystone Kops routine we saw in March and April, it would have been impossible to coordinate the operation without the infrastructure, planning, training and shared procedures developed over six decades of working together.

But it would be a great mistake to take the defeat of a tinpot dictator as sign that all is well. The six-month road to this victory should instead be a wake-up call.

Much more at the link.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. It can be quite annoying what headline writers do to readers’ expectations of a piece.