Calls are intensifying for the United States, NATO and the Arab League to intervene to halt the bloodbath being perpetrated in Syria. Commentators on both the Left and Right are castigating the Obama Administration for its seeming hypocrisy in refusing to act in Syria having done so in Libya. The same arguments that were made to justify intervention in Libya apply in spades to the situation in Syria.
The White House’s reluctance to intervene in Syria is based on two simple facts. The first of these is that Syria is not Libya. As Pentagon leaders have pointed out, Syria deploys four times the air defenses that were available to Libya. Syria has a real Army. Access to Syrian airspace would pose a greater challenge than was the case in Libya, particularly if Turkey isn’t involved.
The second reason is that NATO would be only a limited player in such an operation. The limits of the Alliance’s ability to conduct air operations were demonstrated in Libya. NATO lacked a range of critical capabilities including targeteers, SEAD, electronic warfare, combat search and rescue, aerial refueling and unmanned aerial systems. Several allies ran out of precision munitions. To date, little has been done to remedy revealed gaps in capabilities.
The White House recognizes that a Syrian operation would not be just U.S.-led but U.S. dominated. The Obama Administration knows that it could not operate from behind because the Alliance could not lead.
NATO is struggling to respond to the lessons from the Libyan campaign. The Alliance is working on solutions to the shortfalls revealed by Libya within the context of proposals for implementing a strategy of “Smart Defense.” These solutions are supposed to be revealed at the upcoming Summit in Chicago this May. One metric for judging the adequacy of Smart Defense should be the requirements for a NATO-led operation on the scale of an intervention in Syria.
Find Archived Articles: