Wednesday, July 20, 2011


"Britain has asked the US to step up its support for the Nato mission in Libya, amid continuing doubts over how the conflict against Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s forces can be brought to an end.

Officials have told the Financial Times that Liam Fox, UK defence secretary, asked Leon Panetta, his new US counterpart, for more help with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and aerial refuelling. The two men spoke in a phone call last week.

The request leaves the Obama administration facing a choice between disappointing its ally’s call for help and potentially angering the US Congress, which is increasingly sceptical about the conflict.

The issue is coming to a head as western officials express concern about the endgame in Libya. Many defence officials doubt whether Libya’s rebels, who on Sunday were battling for control of the town of Brega, can push their way through to Tripoli. But Nato countries are limited in the additional aid they can provide both because of the terms of the United Nations resolution authorising force and constraints on their own resources.

After leading the initial assault on Libyan defences in March, the US has insisted on taking a supporting role in the operation, partly because of problems on Capitol Hill.

Neither house of Congress has endorsed the action. The administration argues that such authorisation is not necessary, and maintains that Washington’s current participation in the conflict falls far short of “hostilities”. An enhanced US role could further strain such arguments.

UK defence officials said that Mr Panetta gave no commitment during the conversation with Mr Fox and the UK is still waiting for an answer from the Pentagon.

Mr Fox appeared on British television on Sunday, accusing Nato members of not doing enough to support the organisation’s military missions, including that in Libya. He noticeably did not mention the US in a list of countries that were playing a prominent defence role, adding: “There are rather too many absentees, which is unfair on our defence forces....”

But the defence secretary is under pressure to ensure the UK is not over-committed in Libya, having taken the de facto lead in planning for what happens after the conflict ends. He will outline to the UK parliament further cuts to the size of the regular army on Monday as part of a settlement with the Treasury on the size and cost of the UK’s armed forces by 2020".

David Dombey & Kiran Stacey, "Britain urges US to step up Libyan support." The Financial Times. 17 July 2011, in

"To complete this survey, the present position of the United States must be summarised. At present they are trying to have it both ways. Either Europe is the messy, dangerous place that she imagines, and pooled security full of snags and alligators; in that case, it cannot logically be trusted with a toothless pact. Or Europe is not half so bad; in that case, American post-war policy will be hardly judged by the future historian. Already there is among instructed Americans some uneasiness lest their policy be compared with that of Dogberry and Verges....For the purposes of our enquiry, however America may largely be written off since, comprehensibly, she neither lives, nor desires to live, in touch with reality so long as filmland is open to her and she has a good spell of illusion still ahead."

Sir Robert Vansittart, "An Aspect of International Relations in 1930." 1 May 1930, in Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, Series Ia, Volume VII, (1975: Her Majesty's Stationary Office) pp. 848-849.

The perils of the Americans 'leading from behind', are fully laid out in the above referenced article in Monday's Financial Times. It is certainly quite clear by now, that sans greater American support, the entire NATO operation in Libyan will soon face the test of exhaustion of essential materials and support. With some news articles stating that if the conflict enters the month of October, that there will be very serious pressure put on British forces in particular. The fact of the matter is, that inasmuch as the Americans decided to endorse (admittedly belatedly) the Anglo-French push to oust the current regime in Libya back in late March, the Americans are part 'owners' of what is coming to be seen (perhaps erroneously) as a military stalemate. Au fond, if in fact the conflict were to enter the month of October, it would raise very serious questions about NATO's ability to operate militarily without the operation being almost entirely led, manned and thus controlled by the Americans military. And while the mere fact of a stalemate should not per se act as a sort of force majeure in terms of greater American involvement, one can see few plausible alternatives. Since if indeed NATO's prestige is dragged into the mud due to a near-debacle in the Libyan deserts, the USA's prestige will inevitably follow suit and surely be judged as the then Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office presciently judged that American entre deux guerre foreign policy would be judged by future historians: 'hardly'.


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