After weeks of deadlock, NATO today agreed to help enforce the U.N. arms embargo against Libya, but it's still unclear whether the alliance will take a role in enforcing the no-fly zone. The main obstacle to NATO taking over a command role in the operation in Turkey, which says the coalition airstrikes have already gone beyond the framework of the U.N. resolution. On the other side is Italy, which has threatened to withdraw access to its airbases unless NATO takes a coordinating role:
"We want Nato to take control over the operation ... We have given
permission for our bases to be used and would not like to bear the
political responsibility for things done by others, without our
control," foreign minister Franco Frattini said during a press
conference in Brussels on Monday (21 March), after a meeting with
In Turin, Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi also insisted it was "important that the
command passes to Nato with a different coordination structure than
what we have now."
The issue of who exactly is taking command of the operation is becoming more urgent as President Obama has said that the United States will cede control of the operations within days. Newly hawkish France, which has led the international drive to war, opposes NATO control, instead proposing the establishment a "political steering body" of coalition foreign ministers.
Putting aside the various arguments for and against intervention, if NATO sits out a major U.N.-sanctioned military action in a country that's essentially on Europe's southern perimeter, it's not going to make a very convincing case for the organization's continued relevance.
The EU also seems to be split on Libya, with Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and Malta all saying they will play no role in military action. With the exception of Germany, these are all countries that have joined the union since 2000, providing something of a mirror image of the run-up to the Iraq war with "new Europe" this time opposed to military action and France beating the drums for war. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was quick played down the comparison:
"I don't accept that we're in a situation that is comparable to what
has happened in any other situation, particularly 2003," Ashton said,
referring to the EU rift over Iraq.
This also suggests that the UN Security Council isn't the only body whose continued expansion threatens its ability to coordinate action.
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