NATO's operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention. The alliance responded rapidly to a deteriorating situation that threatened hundreds of thousands of civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime. It succeeded in protecting those civilians and, ultimately, in providing the time and space necessary for local forces to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi. And it did so by involving partners in the region and sharing the burden among the alliance's members.
NATO's involvement in Libya demonstrated that the alliance remains an essential source of stability. But to preserve that role, NATO must solidify the political cohesion and shared capabilities that made the operation in Libya possible -- particularly as its leaders prepare for the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago this May.
When the people of Libya rose up against Qaddafi in February 2011, many hoped that the nonviolent protests would follow the successful path of similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. But rather than capitulate, as had Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, Qaddafi launched a brutal crackdown.
The international community responded swiftly. In late February, the UN Security Council placed sanctions, an arms embargo, and an asset freeze on Libya and referred Qaddafi's crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Shortly thereafter, the Arab League suspended Libya from its sessions and then called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone. On March 17, the Security Council granted that request, mandating "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.
The United States facilitated this rapid international reaction. In late February, Washington was the first country to cut off Qaddafi's funding, freezing $32 billion in Libyan assets and prompting other countries to follow suit. Washington also led the charge for the UN resolution that authorized the intervention, justifying the action as consistent with "the responsibility to protect,"
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