DENVER – US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s recent prognosis of a “dim” and “dismal” future for NATO has triggered much debate, but it could well prove optimistic. June, it turns out, marks another milestone on the alliance’s uncertain path: its operation in Libya has now surpassed in length the one in Kosovo 12 years ago. After 78 days in 1999, Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic gave up, while Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has yet to get the message – and may in fact be getting the wrong message.
For those of us who were engaged in the Kosovo crisis, the Libya intervention seems like déjà vu. In the skies of Serbia and Kosovo, NATO warplanes attacked target after target, not to support the liberation of territory or in furtherance of a strategic bombing campaign, but rather to change Milosevic’s mind. To be sure, denying Milosevic the means to engage in “ethnic cleansing” was added as a rationale in the days after the campaign began, but the real purpose was to convince him that he had to allow NATO forces into Kosovo. It was a classic strategy/policy mismatch.