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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Success of NATO Operations in Libya and the Vital Contributions of Partners Outside of NATO

Ivo Daalder
Permanent Representative to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) 

Washington, DC
November 7, 2011

Date: 11/07/2011 Description: Ambassador Ivo Daalder, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, briefs at the Washington Foreign Press Center on the success of NATO operations in Libya and the vital contributions of partners outside of NATO - State Dept Image

11:00 A.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Ambassador Ivo Daalder, United States Permanent Representative to NATO, who will deliver a media roundtable on the success of NATO operations in Libya and the vital contributions of partners outside of NATO.

Without further ado, here’s the ambassador.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Thanks all for coming. As you know, I just came from a speech that I gave at the Atlantic Council. So I won’t repeat what’s in there. It’s on their website, I guess. But let me highlight a few key points and then immediately open it up for Q&A.

On Libya, the operation ended less than a week ago, seven months in the making, and turned out to be one of the most successful military operations that NATO has ever undertaken. We had a very clear mandate, which was to enforce an arms embargo, establish a no-fly zone, and protect civilians. Through the seven months of operations, we were able to provide the protection to civilians through a historically quite unique, precision air campaign that was led largely by our NATO allies, who provided 90 percent of the bombs targeting the targets but was underpinned by strong American leadership.

It was the United States that pushed for a mandate by the United Nations to enable the protection of civilians rather than just the establishment of a no-fly zone. It was the United States that then acted upon that mandate to take down the integrated air defense system and lead the coalition in the initial strikes that defended and preserved – a taking down the air defense system and enabling the establishment of the no-fly zone. And at that point, it was decided – the decision by the United States – that we needed, first of all, to have the only capability that existed besides the United States to lead an operation like this, NATO, to take charge, and secondly, for the United States to provide those unique capabilities that would enable other countries to do their fair share in the operation.

So we provided the intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, the aerial refueling, the targeting special expertise that enabled a large number of other allies to conduct airstrikes led by France and the U.K., which did the bulk – about 40 percent of all the airstrikes, but also including Italy and Canada, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the UAE in bombing campaigns that were directed at the prevention of attacks on civilians.

The Alliance as such participated as a whole. This was not an operation in which only a few allies did a bulk of the work. This was an operation that required advanced military capabilities – airplanes and/or sea-going vessels– that not every ally has. Iceland doesn’t have an air force. Neither does Luxembourg. And the Baltic countries were explicitly told that it was a good idea for them not to acquire an air force. So it’s hard to criticize them for not providing capabilities that they don’t have. Even a country like Germany that had decided that it couldn’t participate, because it had not voted in favor of the resolution, did what it needed to do to make this operation possible and successful, including by taking over the crewing of the AWACS planes flying over Afghanistan so that the non-German crews could crew their planes flying over Libya.

So in a nutshell, this was a case in which the United States worked with its allies and partners to bring together a large, viable military coalition, strengthened and backed up by an even larger political coalition consisting of the Contact Group on Libya to, over time, bring pressure on the Qadhafi regime, within the first instance as a – with the goal of protecting civilians, and in the second instance, to providing the Libyans – people with the ability to decide their own future.

We achieved that essential goal by late last month, which is why we decided that the operation could and should now come to an end. It came to an end exactly seven months after it started, and I think we can look back at this as an operation that has done what it needed to do, which was to protect the Libyan people, and now has given the Libyan people the opportunity to decide their future.

NATO’s role has therefore come to an end. NATO is prepared, if requested by the new Libyan authorities, to consider ways in which it could help the Libyan authorities, particularly in the area of defense and security sector reform. But that is really something for the medium- to longer-term, not something that is happening in the next few days or weeks or even months, because the immediate situation is one that the Libyan authorities will have to tackle themselves with the assistance of, particularly, the UN and individual nations.

So, let me leave it at that and open up to questions and answers.

QUESTION: Sure. My name is Naoufal Enhari with Morocco’s news agency [Maghreb Arab Presse]. So with regard to the regional non-NATO partners, especially in the region, in the Maghreb of North Africa – so what was their contribution? How did they help NATO in that operation?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, first, Morocco was one of the five non-NATO countries that were partners in Operation Unified Protector. I should say I was just in Marrakesh and Fes, and what a wonderful country that you have. I wish in many ways that I was there again, given my schedule for today, because it was a lot more relaxing in Marrakesh.

Morocco’s biggest contribution was twofold. First, it opened up its airspace. And given the geography of where Morocco is, that was important in order to be able to monitor the no-fly zone and the arms embargo. And secondly, by being at the table, it was a North African country that participated and provided political support to the operation and was a central voice at our ambassadorial and ministerial meetings that we had of the 20 – of the 33 nations, the 28 NATO plus five non-NATO countries.

And having a country from North Africa – having an Arab country from North Africa being part of this organization – was important to demonstrate what we believed was essential: that we, as NATO, could not operate without the support of the region for that operation. And Morocco, as well as the Arab League – and the fact that we had three other Arab countries participating in the operation – provided us with that regional support that, in fact, underpinned the legal basis that we got within the UN. It would have been impossible without that regional support for the UN to have acted. It was, in fact, under a Lebanese chairmanship that we got the Resolution 1973.

So that’s where the Moroccan contribution – logistically, by opening up the airspace; politically, by being at the table and providing insight in the affairs in what was happening in Libya, which Morocco could because of its geographic and historical locations, but also its political support for the operation as such. And it was very welcome indeed.

QUESTION: Hi. Mathieu Rabechault from Agence France Presse. You mentioned a possible security role from NATO in Libya in the long-term future. Could you elaborate on that? What kind of support could it be?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, the role would, first of all, have to be at the request of the Libyan authorities. So NATO is not there to tell them what NATO can do. We are interested, if the Libyan authorities are interested, in a dialogue that would – where we would sit down and figure out – how NATO could help.

The most likely role would be in something that we have a lot of expertise, which is in the reform of the defense sector, training of an army, the – of helping to set up a defense ministry, and in the security sector reform more broadly. We have a lot of expertise. This is what NATO has been doing with countries in Central and Eastern Europe and, in fact, with partner countries around the globe. And that’s the kind of thing that NATO would be looking for, or that we would have available for Libya.

The other thing is we have a – what is called a Mediterranean Dialogue, which is a partnership with seven countries, including six Arab countries and Israel. That includes Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Jordan, and, as I said, Israel, but does not include Libya. So there is the prospect, if Libya is interested, and there’s certainly support within NATO for Libya to join the Mediterranean Dialogue, and as such, become a partner like Morocco is, and then on an individual basis, we will develop that partnership further. There are issues that we are discussing with Morocco on a one-to-one basis that if there are – and that we would also be able to discuss with Tunisia, with Libya, or Egypt.

That’s the kind of thing that we’re looking at. Not in terms of a military operation as such, but sort of the partnership activities that we’ve been developing since the end of the Cold War.

QUESTION: [Mathieu Rabechault, Agence France Presse] So, now there’s no NATO role in trying to secure the Libya national or --

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: No. Operation Unified Protector is over. What that means actually is that it’s completely disbanded. All the forces were used for this operation have now returned to national control. They are under the command and control of the nations. The headquarters that was set up specifically for this operation has been disbanded, there is a small cell that is looking at lessons learned, but that’s all it is doing.

So the operation has come to a close. So there’s no military role right now for NATO. And anything would require, one, a request; two, would have to be in support of other activities; and three, would require a new plan, a new mission, a new mandate, and a new decision, all of which – while we did that very quickly in the case of Libya to start off the operation – will take time.

QUESTION: [Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, Canada] Ambassador, I’d like to ask about AWACS, which in many ways are the – emblematic of NATO internal cooperation. We certainly had a situation where I think Germans were either the second or third largest contributor to AWAC --




QUESTION: [Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, Canada] And they’re not part of this mission now. There was a way to work around. It was an effective workaround because they crewed the aircraft that were assigned to Afghanistan. But does this raise questions about the whole concept of joint crewing of assets? We always recognized only AWACS and they’re looking at logistic C-17s. But at least when individual countries bring individual assets to the party, they can opt in or opt out, and it doesn’t sort of affect somebody else. But this was a pretty, I assume, difficult thing to manage. And were you prepared to talk about it?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Yeah. I think, actually, this proves the opposite in a very fundamental way. Germany voted to abstain on the resolution. The consequence of that decision was that it made a political decision that it would not participate in the operation, and said so. At the same time, it also made clear that it would not stand in the way of NATO being able to operate and being able to make a decision to operate in this operation, and indeed a joint consensus. From then on, while it was up to the point of UNSCR – actually was trying to slow down planning for the operation – once the decision was made that it was not going to be part of it, it also made the decision that we’re not going to do anything that stops you from doing what you need – what you think is necessary to do, up to and including providing the 28th vote. So they joined consensuses, as we would put it in our parlance.

The AWACS then became a particularly difficult issue because Germany had – for difficult reasons that I don’t want to go into, having to do with politics of Afghanistan – had not yet decided to use its crews for the Afghan operation. Since not all AWACS were involved in the Afghan operation, we could use non-German crews for the AWACS operation. There was a – already a movement that that would be changed sometime in the summer. But at the moment, it became clear that its decision not to participate in the Libya operation and not participate in the Afghan operation effectively meant that one of those two operations would have to come to an end. It moved within 72 hours to get a parliamentary approval which it needs for its peculiar – its particular history, for the deployment of troops abroad, to allow German crews to crew the NATO AWACS in Afghanistan, thus freeing the non-German crews up to do Libya.

So what this proved is that even an ally that in fact was against the operation went out of its way to make the operation possible, because that’s what allies do. It didn’t block the operation. It did what needed to be done in order to enable the operation, including the use of a common asset. It, of course, funded that common asset, it provided the common funding for it, and it provided – it kept its officers in – 400 of them – in the command structure, and therefore actively participated in the operation. The deputy – the chief of staff of allied command operations, which is SHAPE, is a four-star German. He wasn’t told by the Germans what to do. He worked within the NATO structure and he acted as a NATO officer, and therefore implemented the directives by the NAC, the North Atlantic Council, and as such.

So what it means to be an ally is something that goes beyond the particular issues of how you look at a particular issue – a particular situation. You are an ally. That means you have responsibilities that go beyond whether you like the operation or not. And this proves that in this case – and there are other cases I could mention in the past – that when you are an ally, you don’t stand in the way when the vast majority of allies want to do something you disagree with. And this is true even with common assets. I know that Canada has long had the view, rightly, that the decision to delay the deployment of AWACS into Afghanistan was a problem, and it was a problem. It never was a German problem; it was a funding problem.

And there is the issue that if you have common assets of funding, which needs to be voted on for each operation, then you subject that to a vote of 28 each and every time. But that’s the same with national assets, because those national assets of those countries that don’t want to provide those national assets wouldn’t provide those national assets. So I don’t think you resolve it by not being part of a commonly funded pool. And in this case, it was demonstrated that even a country that did not support the operation and explicitly did not want to participate in it allowed NATO to do its job even if that meant Germans had to be part of the equation.

QUESTION: Erkan Oezden, Danish Broadcasting. Now that the mission is over, there are still great challenges. What concerns you the most?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: I mean, one of the reasons that I thought it was important for NATO to end the operation is because we had a limited mandate, and that mandate was to protect the people. They were being challenged and attacked and killed by Qadhafi’s forces. Once it was clear that Qadhafi – the organized capacity of Qadhafi’s forces – had been eliminated, that operation ceased. And it is now up to the Libyan people to choose their own destiny and to decide their own destiny.

From a NATO perspective, and which is where I want to leave myself, our job’s done. There is – that doesn’t mean the job in Libya is done. It’s a large job that will be done, but it is really up for the Libyan people to decide that. I don’t have, as a U.S. Ambassador to NATO, more to say than I did in the previous question of how we could help them in the future to do what they needed to do. There are many challenges in Libya, and the U.S., as a government, is actively prepared to work with the Libyans to meet some of those challenges, including securing MANPADS, which is an issue that we are particularly focused on. But we don’t see a role, per se, for NATO in that activity. That’s a role for the United States and others to do bilaterally, and we will continue to focus on that, so let me leave it at there.

QUESTION: Matt Rabechault from AFP again. Lots of NATO allies suffered shortfalls during the campaign, especially ISR, aerial shooting, target, as you mentioned, and the lack of ammunition. Trying to do the fiscal constraint in nearly all the countries in Europe and also in the U.S., NATO is trying to implement a smart defense initiative. What states do you expect for the next Chicago Summit on that regard?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, I mean, clearly there are some lessons to be learned. There are shortfalls in the capacity of NATO. You mentioned them. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) is a big one. The U.S. provided between 70 and 80 percent of the overall ISR effect because we do have a large capability, including all Global Hawk and armed Predators.

We provided 75 percent of the refueling. As I mentioned in my speech, without refueling, there’s no way you could have done this operation, even though you were flying out of bases in Greece and Italy. You just can’t loiter long enough to find targets if you can’t be refueled. Targeting and the expertise to target, all of those are important. All of those are being addressed by programs that we are trying to get the alliance to fund.

One of the most important ones is the alliance ground surveillance system, which has five platforms – Global Hawk platforms with very advanced sensor capabilities that will provide a very high altitude overview of the battle space and then be able to track and provide guidance to and track other ISR capabilities to focus more in on those targets. Thirteen nations are purchasing – are prepared to purchase – those capabilities and put it at the permanent disposal of the Alliance, and we are seeking agreement by the Alliance to fund the operation and maintenance and infrastructure necessary for that (inaudible) 28.

We’re getting closer to an agreement. We see that getting that agreement is important because it demonstrates that we’re filling one – we’re learning the lesson from Libya, addressing it through a program like this, and doing it in the way that makes most sense. We are acquiring capabilities by the Alliance that the individual countries will find it very hard to afford on their own. But together, it is affordable, and if we all pitch in and sustain it, then it becomes affordable over the long run. I should also say when you have common funding for the basic operations in support of a system that is in service at all times, you avoid the problem of funding its use in a particular operation. You then – once you have an operation, you can deploy it, and you avoid the issue that I just addressed with our Canadian colleague here. So that’s one area where we’re looking at.

But in general, smart defense is based on the proposition that you can do more by doing more together. And the way that I like to put it is if you fund things in common, then 10 cents can get you a dollar’s worth of capability, because the 90 cents get paid for by other allies. If you try to buy that same capability yourself, 10 cents gets you 10 cents worth of capability, so you’re multiplying the effect by going together with other countries. And as each country faces the need to look at how are they going to spend reduced resources on defense, which we are doing and everybody else is doing, we’re looking towards pooling and sharing our multinational procurement – are the ways, frankly, in which you’re going to be able to address that fundamental dilemma.

You do that because you believe that the likelihood of you fighting in a war without the support of the countries from which you’re buying is close to zero. That’s why you have an alliance. It’s one of the reasons why the United States is willing to contribute, though not necessarily all of its assets within that structure, because we conceive of the possibility of needing to fight in ways where we’re not necessarily with our allies, because the needs are different and we have different priorities.

But if you are a country like Denmark or a country like the Netherlands or a country like Estonia and you have limited defense resources, using those resources to buy capabilities that either are niche capabilities or that are capabilities that allow you to buy forces that you cannot afford by yourself by doing it together with others makes a lot of sense. Denmark, for example, decided that it was never going to be in a conflict requiring submarine warfare without the Dutch or the Brits being part of that conflict. In which case, why have submarines when they can take care of it and use that money and reinvest in deployable ground forces, which they did? And therefore, that’s now the niche capability of the – one of the niche capabilities of the Danish military. So that’s how – that’s smart defense, and it means you are part of an alliance structure, and you think about funding in an alliance context.

QUESTION: Ambassador, Paul Koring – I’m sorry I didn’t properly identify myself the first time – with the Globe and Mail in Canada. I watched at least Roger Cohen’s version of the exchange about leading from behind --


QUESTION: -- with you, and I don’t want to get too much into those weeds. But I would like to ask about the feasibility of this operation in terms of United States force projections. And for decades, a big deck carrier has always sort of been emblematic of U.S. force protection. And there was a deck offshore, but it wasn’t one of the big deck carriers. Did that make it easier to manage, the imagery of American involvement outside of America? I mean, you’re dealing with the imagery of American involvement in Europe and in Middle East, and there wasn’t a huge carrier offshore. It wasn’t needed, but it could have been.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Sure, and the United States could have done this operation by itself, but we made the decision that our interests were not served by doing that for two very fundamental reasons. One is because we needed the resources that would be devoted to that elsewhere. We are in a war in Afghanistan. We’re – we still have 100,000 troops. We are still in Iraq. While we’re withdrawing from Iraq, we still throughout this period had 50-plus thousand troops, and their withdrawal required ISR capabilities. They were hired, and we would have normally, because we needed the ensured safety of the supply line. We are in a continuing battle with terrorists that require us to have the capabilities to go after them, so we know that they can’t hide.

We have requirements in Asia. We had a carrier, actually, not that far away, which was near the coast of Yemen, which at that point the situation was also looking like it might explode, and we might have to extract Americans from that place. So we have other requirements, and while we could have pooled some of those requirements and done the Libya operation by ourselves, we thought that Libya, in the totality of the mix, didn’t justify those decisions. But second, and more importantly, we also didn’t think it was necessary or even the right policy even if we could, because it would be – it was much better to use our capabilities that were unique to this operation to bring in, as I said in my speech -- to let allies be allies, to bring in countries that wanted to contribute, that could contribute, and to have them do -- take a leading part in this operation.

Now we’re still the glue. We’re still the indispensible country without which this could never have happened. But it is much better to have an operation in which 90 percent of the targets are destroyed by European and partner countries and Canadians – sorry – by allies and partners – than 10 percent, which is what we did, than the reserve, which is what happened in Kosovo. We did 90 percent of the destruction there and the allies did 10 percent. This – in this case, it was reversed and much better. Why? Because it becomes an operation that is more legitimate in the eyes of the people in Europe, in the eyes of regional actors, who, by the way, were participating in those bombing operations as well, which made that operation possible in the first place.

So my difference with Roger Cohen is a semantic one, not a policy one. I think Roger knows that. I don’t like the phrase “leading from behind.” I don’t. My argument is creating a coalition is not easy, and doing it in a way in which enables others to do what they need to do is leadership too. And if leadership is only defined as being the only player on the field while everybody else is on the sidelines, that’s not the kind of leadership – I grew up in a European culture where football was football, as opposed to what it is here.

QUESTION: Real football.

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Yeah, real football. In those circumstances, you were a team. And I grew up in Holland. I grew up in a place called Total Football, where 11 players played together, and who knew who the leaders – leader was at that time in that. And was it the goalkeeper or the guy in – it didn’t matter. It was the team as such. We all knew who the real leader was, because without Johan Cruyff, you could never have the teams in 1974 that you did, but – (laughter) – to take that analogy as far as you want to take it.

But that’s the reality. One guy, however good they are – Maradona may think he can win a World Cup by himself, but he needs 10 other guys like Maradona to make sure he wins. And, as a result, that’s the kind of leadership it is. And if that means you take a less visible role that also has benefits in terms of the legitimacy of the operation. And it is good that Morocco is willing and able to stand up and be part of that operation, and that Jordan and the UAE and Qatar are willing to be part and stand up in that operation. And frankly, Sweden, a non-NATO country, is willing and – to be able to stand up in that operation because it gives the operation the legitimacy it deserves.

QUESTION: [Mathieu Rabechault, Agence France Presse] Was it aware, also, to preserve some national (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: I’m sure that it gives enough room for many countries to bask in – well, put it this way: I mean, it gives enough room for countries to take justifiable pride in the contributions that they made. And it is not often that a country like Belgium can be proud about its military contribution, or a country like Denmark, which, as I said, its contribution in the military sense was quite extraordinary, quite extraordinary.

QUESTION: [Erkan Oezden, Danish Broadcasting] Yeah, you mentioned Denmark. It’s a very small country, about half a million people. I mean, what difference did that really make?

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: What difference does it make – is Denmark is a country that surely punched above its weight. That it, together with Norway, destroyed as many targets as the United Kingdom and together with Norway and Belgium destroyed as many targets as France. And of those three countries, the Danes operated at the highest tempo, the greatest effect per aircraft and per pilot of any country in this operation.

So it is a major – it’s a major contribution. Four aircraft – there were six deployed, but four were in the rotation at all times – did an extraordinary effort. But Denmark ran out of ammunition pretty quickly. Having F-16s, it made it a little easier to buy them because we sell them. So – (laughter) – but – which actually showed having countries with similar capabilities could pull both munitions, resources in terms of maintenance of the aircraft, et cetera, very good – shows that you can actually reduce costs by having those capabilities together. But the Danish contribution was quite, quite extraordinary.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more question, perhaps from someone who hasn’t asked one?


QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) I’ll ask one. [Paul Koring, Global & Mail, Canada] What do you say to the Syrians? I mean, you’re – I realize the ambassador, you represent its government, its sovereign decision. But there are Syrians saying: “Why not here?”

AMBASSADOR DAALDER: I’m sure there are Syrians in many other countries saying – there was a unique set of circumstances that led to this intervention. We very early on made the decision that for NATO to consider – to consider, let alone decide – any military operation in Libya required a demonstrable need, regional support, and a sound legal basis. In Libya, the demonstrable need became evident when forces were massing outside of Benghazi. The regional support was evident by the fact that not only the TNC called for intervention, but the Arab League did. And the sound legal basis was the UN Security Council 1973, which explicitly called for the use of all necessary means by member states and regional arrangements, a code word for NATO.

So, under those circumstances, and given the brutality of the particular regime, the circumstances allowed for the intervention. In the case of Syria, none of that applies. The demonstrable need is something we can debate and discuss, but there isn’t a massing of forces outside a city in the way that was happening with regard to Benghazi, although the situation on the ground is horrific and unacceptable, and the government has clearly lost its legitimacy. There is no regional – clear regional support. The opposition itself so far has made clear it doesn’t want foreign intervention, and neither has the Arab League called for any foreign intervention, and there is no sound legal basis so far. And indeed, the United Nations Security Council attempt to even pass a modest resolution that would have given any basis for intervention was vetoed.

So under those circumstances, NATO is not the appropriate instrument to deal with the situation on the ground. And NATO isn’t planning for any intervention, nor is it thinking about any intervention, because the circumstances are very different. And we can’t assume that what happens in one place therefore must necessarily happen in another place. Each case is unique and each case will be decided on a unique way. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.

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