The NATO campaign in Libya is "not going as well as it should," says George Robertson, the former U.K. defense secretary who served as NATO's secretary general from 1999 until 2003. European countries lack the military capacity to bring the operation to a close and NATO has failed to mount an effective psychological campaign against members of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime -- to convince them their days are truly numbered.
All that means "it's taking longer to achieve than it should," he told Foreign Policy, ahead of a speech he will give tonight on the topic at Chatham House in London, where he is an outgoing president.
The NATO bombing campaign, now in its fourth month, has gone on longer than many leaders thought it would. Qaddafi is still in power. Government and rebel forces have fought each other to a standstill.
Yet, NATO officials insist the campaign is going well. "The noose is tightening around [Qaddafi], and there's very few places for him to go," Gen. Charles Bouchard, the Canadian head of the operations, told the Washington Post in late June.
Robertson notes that members of the alliance are committed to achieving their goals in Libya, but "don't express it regularly enough" and that populations are preoccupied with the more immediate concerns of the economic crisis, unemployment, and deficit reduction plans.
"I think the European allies -- especially those that are doing nothing at the moment -- need to do more," says Robertson. "And in the longer term, the European countries have got to achieve the capabilities that will allow them to do things in their own backyard without necessarily depending on the Americans."
Robertson echoes outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said on his farewell tour of Europe last month that not all countries were sharing the costs of the Libya operation.
"While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission," Gates said. "We have the spectacle of an air operations center designed to handle more than 300 sorties a day struggling to launch about 150."
Robertson tells FP:
I think Mr. Gates makes a fair point when he says this mighty alliance after only a few weeks against a pretty impoverished country finds itself out of ammunition. We don't have the right planes with precision bombing. We don't have enough deployable troops. We don't have the assets at sea that would allow the bombing campaign to take place. But we've pretended up to now that because the Europeans spend $300 billion a year in defense, that we must be well armed. We are. But it's the wrong stuff. It's for the Cold War not the next war.
Robertson says Libya has become a true turning point for the decades-old alliance. In a nutshell, the old contract between the Europeans and the United States -- that the U.S. would supply the hardware as long as Europeans provided political cover to the operations -- has ended.
"In Libya, the Americans did what I always suggested they might do -- which is to say, ‘It's your fight, please take the lead. You're big enough, you're brave enough, you're strong enough. You do it,'" says Robertson. "I think that's changed things forever. This is the wake up call. People have to realize they are not ready for the next problem that comes up."