National Security Adviser Tom Donilon hailed the relevance of NATO as it prepares to wind down its mission in Libya, all the while touting the Obama administration's strategy to rely on its international partners to carry out the bulk of the air strikes against Muammar el-Qaddafi's ground forces and command-and-control centers.
"The speed and effectiveness of the operation would not have been possible if we had had to rely on an ad hoc coalition of the willing," Donilon wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday.
While Donilon maintained that the U.S. leadership role in the mission "remained decisive," by calling for a United Nations Security Council resolution that enabled the alliance to take action in Libya and setting up the no-fly zone, he also defended the administration's burden-sharing tactics. The U.S. flew just more than 10 percent of the strike missions, Donilon said, noting that it flew three-quarters of the surveillance and aerial refueling missions. "This operation shows that sharing the burden is more than a slogan — it means sharing the costs," Donilon wrote. "Our total contribution to the nearly eight months of operations in Libya will be approximately $1.2 billion — a fraction of the overall international contribution to Libya — and less than a week’s worth of the cost of operations in Afghanistan or Iraq."
The glowing op-ed comes months after this summer's warnings by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said NATO faces a "dim, if not dismal future" due to what he called “significant shortcomings" in the trans-Atlantic alliance's military capabilities and political will. Gates said NATO has become a “two-tiered alliance” between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who don't want to share in the risks and costs.
For his part, Donilon argued that the Libya operation demonstrated the value of maintaining "highly capable militaries that plan, train and equip together" even as he acknowledged a shortfall in allies' helicopters, transport aircraft, as well as advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
"They need to make greater investments in the precision munitions and unmanned systems that are critical on today’s battlefields and will be even more important in the future," Donilon said. "As President Obama prepares to host the next NATO summit in Chicago in May, he is asking the alliance to ensure that it has cutting-edge capabilities."