What Does it Look Like When NATO Takes Over?

With the Libyan Operation under NATO command America’s share of the burden is likely to grow rapidly.

President Obama has put a lot of effort into attempting to convey the perception that “transferring” command of the Libyan conflict to NATO makes America a minor, supporting actor and makes someone else accountable for the heavy lifting.

To understand what it will likely mean for NATO to be in charge consider another, ongoing NATO operation, the war against Al Qaeda and The Taliban in Afghanistan.

Most Americans correctly perceive Afghanistan as an almost exclusively American effort, being run by an American Commander, General Petraeus.   Many Americans may not realize that in Afghanistan, The U.S. and 39 other nations are under the command of a NATO-led organization called The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).  As with the operation in Libya, NATO in Afghanistan operates under the authority of UN resolutions.  As the chart shows 70% of the troops in Afghanistan are American, even though 39 nations are involved.

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National Caveats

Many of the troops from other nations carry even less of the burden than their small numbers would suggest because of various “national caveats” or restrictions imposed by their governments.  Some countries prohibit their troops from engaging in combat except in self-defense.  Others restrict their troops to certain regions.  Before General Petraeus can order non-American NATO troops who are theoretically under his command to undertake any mission he must first review the fine print in their caveats.

Troops from some nations are even less useful because they don’t have NATO compatible equipment and therefore cannot function in concert with other NATO forces.

Fewer nations are participating in the Libyan operation and the number is likely to decline over time.  As of Wednesday, the immediate Commander is a Canadian General, but the superiors he reports to up the NATO chain of command are Americans.

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The bottom line

Based on previous experience we can assume that we’re seeing the maximum level of international participation in the Libyan exercise this week.  In the future, America’s share of the burden will grow as others reduce their contributions and begin to impose caveats.

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