Europe relies on U.S. power again

NATO defenses unbalanced

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Even under NATO command, the U.S. military will do the bulk of the fighting in Libya — even as the Obama administration argues that this is Europe’s conflict to lead, not America’s.

The number of U.S. warplanes and ships deployed to fight Libya’s regime underscores that NATO’s other 27 members do not have the firepower and high-tech targeting capability to go solo or with little U.S. help.

Even though Europe pressed the White House to enter the war, it provided only a few of the 110 ship-launched cruise missiles fired in the first days and has flown only about 40 percent of all sorties. To some military analysts, the European performance is the result of two decades of cutting defense spending and relying on the United States to do the heavy lifting.

“The European countries have made a strategic-level decision to disarm essentially, particularly in their armies and air forces,” said James Russell, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

“Ten years from now, the European armies will cease to be able to perform the kind of policing operations now going on in Afghanistan. Even the British and the French will have a hard time getting forces any sort of distances and sustaining them on the ground.”

Smoke from explosions billows on the road between Ajdabiya and Brega in Libya as rebels clashed with troops loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday. U.S. military experts believe NATO will need to rely on the U.S. to handle the bulk of the fighting in Libya because of military cutbacks by the alliance's member nations. (Associated Press)

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Smoke from explosions billows on the road between Ajdabiya and Brega in ... more >

Mr. Russell just completed a book, “Innovation, Transformation, and War,” on counterinsurgency in Iraq. He is researching the coalition’s effort in Afghanistan and the contributions, or lack thereof, by Europeans.

NATO is just a headquarters staff at this point,” he said. “Look at what’s going on in Afghanistan. The Europeans are barely able to sustain battalion-level formations, with the exceptions of the British. But even the British, with recent defense cuts, are not going to be able to sustain this for very much longer.”

America’s might and European cuts add up to a U.S.-dominated mission in Libya.

“There are certain competencies … that only the Americans have,” said retired Gen. T. Michael Moseley, former Air Force chief of staff.

“And since the [1991] Gulf War a lot of our coalition partners have reduced their defense budgets to the extent that whatever capabilities they used to have they don’t necessarily have. And so it falls on primarily the U.S. Air Force to be able to maintain the bulk of the command and control, the [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance], overhead, etc., etc.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney said the U.S. has flown 60 percent of all sorties over Libya to date.

“The U.S. will have to carry the burden,” he said.

The Air Force has provided stealthy B-2 bombers, AWACs airborne control aircraft, F-15Es and F-16s strike aircraft, and lumbering AC-130s and A-10s with the principal role of gunning down ground troops and armor.

The U.S. domination is reminiscent of the 1999 U.S. war against Serbia to stop the Belgrade regime from slaughtering civilians in Kosovo and Bosnia. Although a NATO-run operation, as is Libya, and an action demanded by European leaders, the United States ended up flying more than 90 percent of airstrikes.

A U.N.-led coalition assembled before NATO took over showed itself unable to contain Serbian-led atrocities, even though the U.N. put troops on the ground to protect civilians.

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