Thursday, September 1, 2011

NATO: The North African Treaty Organization?

It has been some time since NATO, founded by the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, had much to do regarding the north Atlantic. In an epic reversal of geopolitical tectonics that was trending westward for a millennium or two, the action has shifted to the south and east of the Cold War alliance boundaries.  A few news items caught my attention today and got me thinking about NATO again.  When I think about NATO, the starting point is usually the national interests of the major players, particularly the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy.  This time, what also comes to mind is the early 1980's hit by Toto, "Africa": I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become. As NATO faces yet another round of existential performance anxiety in Libya, the members are looking for advantages in post-Gaddafi Libya.

First was the Asia Times' always provocative Pepe Escobar, reviewing the possibilities for the new Libya:  A weak TNC puppet government; shock doctrine neo-liberal troops alienating many who were used to free education, free health services and free housing; a guerrilla force against foreign occupation; Salafi-jihadis from other Arab latitudes joining the fray; desert towns developing as guerrilla bases; pipelines from the southeastern desert being bombed; a replica of Baghdad from 2004 to 2007; a surge; a non-stop civil/tribal war scenario; and Afghanistan 2.0 with a twin guerrilla front - the Gaddafi group against the rebels/NATO, and the Salafis against NATO, because the West will never allow Libya to become an Islamic state. Gaddafi is actually gambling that the joint NATO/GCC ops will turn Libya into the new Iraq/Afghanistan. Arguably NATO itself may love the idea. It will force it to be even more entrenched in northern Africa.

Even after such a litany of possible scenarios to avoid, I am drawn most to the last two sentences.  One might say Pepe should not have said "arguably" and then fail to make the argument in detail, but given European (and Chinese) interests and influence in Libya and American assets in the Mediterranean, it's not such a provocative statement after all. When thinking about NATO, the picture is incomplete without factoring in the individual national interests of the tier one members. Air power and, more quietly, intelligence and special operations have been the stars of this show and are likely to continue as such in future challenges.  What is the future of NATO in Libya and Africa more broadly? In an (U.S.) Armed Forces Press Services news release, Karen Parrish reports on Special Ops in current wars and those to come. It's a press release that reflects the bolstered investments and momentum making special operations a comparative advantage for the United States to contribute (at will) to future NATO adventures in Africa.  The press release is also likely to bolster SOCOM's budget requests, especially in the technology sectors regarding communications, mobility and surveillance.  Included was the following quote from Michael D. Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict:  

Picture the great distances of Africa....And then consider what new technologies
be needed … to rapidly move and tactically maneuver.  Light and rugged ground vehicles 
and aircraft that can be used with existing systems are critical....Integrating new technologies 
with aviation support is a necessity to maintain our effectiveness in the current war and 
the small wars of tomorrow.

Before getting to the next "small" war, what's next for Libya?  Pepe Escobar's list of catastrophes is cautionary and all too realistic -- many of which bring us right back to our discussion of Neo-Medievalism.  However, there are mitigating factors that can turn the tide toward a fairly smooth transition to a new national political system, at least in the short term, such as the preparation and training invested in the Transitional National Council over the past several months.  In the very short term there are $10 billion in gold and 10 tons of mustard gas to track down and secure.  There's Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and jihadism to channel away from positions of power.  And much more to be done.

For the future, what case studies the Libyan campaign will make, and for a wide array of topics!  UN/NATO humanitarian intervention? Check. Regime change? Check. Fighter Envy -- French Rafales v. American Raptors v. British Tornadoes? Check (check the next big arms show, that is).  Energy war? Check. Inter-tribal war? Check.  Drones? Check. Inter-agency cooperation and Special Operations? Check.

If the fates of Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan can be avoided in Libya, NATO will take it as a success.  Will the model be used further in Africa?  That in large part depends on what happens in Libya -- if a post-Gaddafi guerilla movement arises on the model of a post-Saddam insurgency, the NATO powers will have to decide on their role in stabilizing the situation, i.e., in fighting another Neo-Medieval war with Clauswitizan strategic thinking.

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