Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 83–113 | Cite as

The US commitment to NATO in the post-Cold War period — a case study on Libya

  • Yanan SongEmail author


The recent history of the US commitment to NATO has been dominated by economic pressures, squabbles over NATO’s military performance in Afghanistan, and the apparent American preference for ‘leading from behind’ in Libya. The case study on Libya is especially important in exploring the Obama administration’s understanding of the purpose of NATO in the context of current economic pressures, domestic US debates about post-War on Terror interventions, and of increasing American preoccupation with Pacific (rather than European) security. In the case of Libya, the US apparently hesitated to unfold military operations against Libyan military targets. It seems to be the first time that the US followed rather than led its European allies to a campaign. The reason why the US was reluctant to intervene in Libya at the very beginning; why it changed its mind to join the operation later; and why it transferred the Libyan mission to NATO and adopted the strategy of ‘leading from behind’, reflected on not only the redefinition of American way of war’, but also the future of NATO.


US foreign policy Obama administration NATO Libya Syria 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. E. Abrams, ‘Mr. Gates Oversteps’, The Council on Foreign Relations, 31 March [online], 2011. (accessed March 13, 2013).Google Scholar
  2. J. Barnes, ‘US Wary Of Libya Role’, Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2011.Google Scholar
  3. J. Barnes, and Levinson, C. ‘US Drones Hit Targets in Libya’, Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2011.Google Scholar
  4. M. Boyle, ‘Obama: “Leading From Behind” on Libya’, The Guardian, 27 August [online], 2011. (accessed February 3, 2012).Google Scholar
  5. E. Bumiller, and T. Shanker, ‘2 Cabinet Officials Say US Isn’t Likely to Arm Libyans’, The New York Times, 31 March [online], 2011. (accessed March 16, 2013).Google Scholar
  6. M. Calabresi, ‘Susan Rice: A Voice for Intervention’, Time, 24 March [online], 2011.,9171,2061224,00.html (accessed March 24, 2012).Google Scholar
  7. H. Clinton, Hard Choices (London: Simon and Schuster, 2014).Google Scholar
  8. Clinton to Libya: End “Unacceptable Bloodshed”, 22 February [online], CNN, 2011. (accessed May 17, 2013).
  9. T. Cohen, J. Acosta, and K. Liptak, ‘Obama Outlines Foreign Policy Vision of “Might and Right”’, CNN, 29 May [online], 2014. (accessed June 10, 2014).Google Scholar
  10. H. Cooper and S. Myers, ‘Obama Takes Hard Line With Libya after Shift by Clinton’, The New York Times, 18 March [online], 2011. (accessed June 19, 2012).
  11. A. Cowell and S. Erlanger, ‘France Becomes First Country to Recognise Libyan Rebels’, The New York Times, 10 March [online], 2011. (accessed May 4, 2012).Google Scholar
  12. M. Crowley, ‘Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Rwanda and Libya’, Time, 24 March [online], 2011. (accessed February 20, 2012).Google Scholar
  13. I. Daalder and J. Stavridis, ‘NATO’s Success in Libya’, The New York Times, 30 October [online], 2011. (accessed January 4, 2012).Google Scholar
  14. I. Daalder and J. Stavridis, ‘NATO’s Victory in Libya: The Right Way to Run An Intervention’, Foreign Affairs [online], 2012. (accessed March 3, 2013).Google Scholar
  15. I. Daalder, and J. Stavridis, ‘NATO’s Victory in Libya’, Foreign Affairs [online], 2012. in-libya (accessed May 10, 2012).Google Scholar
  16. D. De Villepin, ‘Statement by Dominique de Villepin to the UNSC’, Foreign Policy, 14 February 2003 [online], 2003. (accessed November 13, 2012).Google Scholar
  17. D. Drezner, ‘Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy?: Why We Need Doctrines in Uncertain Times’, Foreign Affairs, July/August Issue, 2011.Google Scholar
  18. A. Entous and K. Johnson, ‘US Weights More Libya Moves’, Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2011.Google Scholar
  19. S. Erlanger, ‘France and Britain Lead Military Push on Libya’, The New York Times, 18 March [online], 2011. (accessed March 7, 2013).Google Scholar
  20. L. Gelb, ‘In Defence of Leading From Behind’, Foreign Policy, 29 April [online], 2013. (accessed August 5, 2013).
  21. D. Gergen, ‘What Is Obama’s Endgame in Libya?’, CNN, 21 March [online], 2011. (accessed March 12, 2013).Google Scholar
  22. F. Gray, ‘The Pacific President’, The Spectator, 19 January [online], 2013. (accessed May 7, 2013).Google Scholar
  23. Hillary: No ‘Formal’ Role for Bill [online], ABC News, 2007. (accessed December 31, 2007).
  24. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011, 2011.Google Scholar
  25. Indyk, M., K. Liberthal, and M. O’Hanlon, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2012).Google Scholar
  26. Interview with Newberg, Paula, the Marshall B. Coyne Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, 5 July 2012.Google Scholar
  27. Interview with Mezran, Karim, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, 9 July 2012.Google Scholar
  28. Interview with Litwak, Robert, Vice President for Scholars and Director of international Security Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center, 10 July 2012.Google Scholar
  29. Interview with Lindsay, James, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, 10 July 2012.Google Scholar
  30. Interview with Flanagan, Stephen, the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Diplomacy and National Security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 10 July 2012.Google Scholar
  31. Interview with Lieber, Robert, Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University, 11 July 2012.Google Scholar
  32. Interview with Heydemann, Steven, Senior Adviser for Middle East Initiatives at the United States Institute of Peace, 16 July 2012.Google Scholar
  33. Interview with Chivvis, Christopher, Senior Political Scientist at RAND, 16 July 2012.Google Scholar
  34. Interview with Bensahel, Nora, Deputy Director of Studies and Senior Fellow at the Center for A New American Security, 16 July 2012.Google Scholar
  35. Interview with Kupchan, Charles, Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, 17 July 2012.Google Scholar
  36. Interview with Ambassador Stephens, Kathleen, 18 July 2012.Google Scholar
  37. D. Jackson, ‘One Reason for Obama’s Decision on Libya: Rwanda’, The Oval [online], 2011. (accessed March 24, 2011).Google Scholar
  38. G. Joffe, ‘Middle East Symposium ‘One year on from the Arab Spring?’’, University of Birmingham, 24 February, 2012.Google Scholar
  39. C. Kupchan, ‘A Still-Strong Alliance’, Policy Review, No. 172 [online], 2012. (accessed August 12, 2012).Google Scholar
  40. Libya: Benghazi Clashes Deadly - Witnesses, 18 February [online], BBC News, 2011. (accessed October 21, 2011).
  41. Libya: Obama, ‘Cameron and Sarkozy Vow Gaddafi Must Go’, 15 April [online], BBC News, 2011. (accessed August 9, 2012).
  42. Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi Appears on State TV, 22 February [online], BBC News, 2011. (accessed May 15, 2012).
  43. J. Loschky, ‘Opinion Briefing: Libyans Eye New Relations With the West’, Gullup Politics, 13 August [online], 2012. (accessed May 7, 2014).Google Scholar
  44. J. Mann, The Obamians (New York: Viking Penguin, 2012).Google Scholar
  45. J. Miller, ‘Defence Secretary: Libya did not Pose Threat to US, was not “Vital National Interest” to Intervene’, ABC News [online], 2011. (accessed March 27, 2011).Google Scholar
  46. D. Miles, ‘NATO Members Re-evaluate Contributions to Libya’, US Fed News, 14 June, 2011.Google Scholar
  47. D. Moisi, ‘France Had a Duty to Intervene in Libya’, The Guardian, 23 March [online], 2011. (accessed March 11, 2012).Google Scholar
  48. NATO, ‘NATO Secretary General’s Statement on Libya No-Fly Zone’, 24 March [online], 2011. selectedLocale=en (accessed January 9, 2012).
  49. NATO, ‘NATO Transfer of Command is on Track’, 29 March [online]’, 2011. (accessed January 9, 2012).
  50. NATO, NATO to Maintain High Operational Tempo As Long As Necessary in Libya [online], 2011. (accessed April 14, 2011).
  51. NATO, ‘Financial and Economic Data Relating to NATO Defence’, February 24, 2014.Google Scholar
  52. B. Obama, ‘Obama’s Speech on Iraq’, Council on Foreign Relations, 19 March [online], 2008. (accessed September 9, 2013).Google Scholar
  53. B. Obama, ‘Obama’s Remarks on Iraq and Afghanistan’, The New York Times, 15 July [online], 2008. (accessed September 9, 2013).Google Scholar
  54. B. Obama, ‘Address to the Nation on the End of Combat Operations in Iraq’, 31 August [online], 2010. (accessed September 10, 2013).Google Scholar
  55. B. Obama, This Violence Must Stop [online], 2011. 23/president-obama-speaks-turmoil-libya-violence-must-stop (accessed February 23, 2011).Google Scholar
  56. B. Obama, Remarks by the President on the Situation in Libya, 18 March [online], 2011. (accessed January 12, 2012).Google Scholar
  57. B. Obama, Letter from the President Regarding the Commencement of Operations in Libya, 21 March [online], 2011. (accessed February 20, 2012).Google Scholar
  58. B. Obama, Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Libya, 28 March [online], 2011. (accessed February 12, 2012).Google Scholar
  59. B. Obama, Obama Libya Speech: US ‘Interests and Values’ at Risk, 28 March [online], 2011. (accessed February 12, 2012).Google Scholar
  60. B. Obama, Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa, 19 May [online], 2011. (accessed March 19, 2012).Google Scholar
  61. B. Obama, Remarks by the President on the Defence Strategic Review, 05 January [online], 2012. (accessed February 7, 2012).
  62. OSC Report GMP20110316950007, Libyan Army Announces Advance on Benghazi, 16 March, 2011.Google Scholar
  63. OSC Report GMP20110316950075 Statement on Libyan TV Says Gadhafi Forces Await ‘Zero Hour’ To Retake Benghazi, 16 March, 2011.Google Scholar
  64. OSC Report GMP20110317676005 Al-Gadhafi Asks Benghazi People To Abandon ‘Traitors’ Vows to ‘Confront’ NATO, 17 March, 2011.Google Scholar
  65. K. Parrish, ‘Gates: NATO’s Libya Plans to Include Military Options’, US Fed News, 10 March, 2011.Google Scholar
  66. E. Perez, ‘Brennan: US Wary of Terrorism in Libya’, The Wall Street Journal, 18 March [online], 2011. (accessed June 8, 2013).Google Scholar
  67. J. Rogin, ‘How Obama Turned on a Dime Toward War’, Foreign Policy, 18 March [online], 2011. l/03/18/how_obama_turned_on_a_dime_toward_war (accessed May 12, 2012).Google Scholar
  68. L. Saad, ‘Americans Resist a Major US Role in Libya’, Gallup Politics, 29 March [online], 2011. (accessed May 6, 2014).Google Scholar
  69. K. Schake, ‘US Retrenchment is Right And Overdue’, in All Alone? What US Retrenchment Means For Europe And NATO, ed. Tomas Valasek (Centre for European Reform, 2012).Google Scholar
  70. E. Schumacher, ‘The United States and Libya’, Foreign Affairs [online], 1986/87. (accessed February 4, 2012).Google Scholar
  71. Time to Focus on Nation Building Here at Home [online], ABC News, 2011. (accessed June 22, 2011).
  72. ‘Death Toll in Libya Protest “Hits 120”’, 19 February [online], Sky News, 2011. (accessed May 12, 2013).
  73. Spangdahlem Air Base, ‘US Forces in Poland Strengthen NATO Partnerships During Aviation Rotation’, 3 June, 2014.Google Scholar
  74. A. Speciale, ‘Berlusconi’s Libya Conundrum’, The Global Post, March, 22, 2011.Google Scholar
  75. A. Speciale, ‘Berlusconi’s Libya Conundrum’, Global Post, 22 March [online], 2011. (accessed May 5, 2012).
  76. L. Tardelli, ‘Obama’s Interventions: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya’, The United States After Unipolarity, LSE Ideas SR009 December 2011, 2011, 21–22.Google Scholar
  77. The Economist, NATO’s Sea of Troubles’, 31 March [online], 2012. (accessed April 15, 2014).
  78. The Economist, ‘The State of the Union: A House Divided’, 16 February [online], 2013. congress-will-not-fmd-much-favour (accessed February 20, 2013).
  79. The Economist, ‘Poland and America: Troops In’, June 7, 2014.Google Scholar
  80. The Guardian, ‘Gaddafi Son: “We Will Eradicate Them All”’, 21 February [online], 2011. (accessed March 20, 2011).
  81. The Guardian, ‘Libya on Brink as Protests Hit Tripoli’, 21 February [online], 2011. l/feb/20/libya-defiant-protesters-feared-dead (accessed March 20,2011).
  82. The Moscow Times, ‘Details Sought on Libya No-Fly Plan’, 16 March [online], 2011. 432615.html (accessed March 11, 2012).
  83. The Telegraph, ‘Barack Obama and What He Said on the Iraq War’, 14 December [online], 2011. and-what-he-said-on-the-Iraq-war.html (accessed September 9, 2013).
  84. I. Traynor, ‘Obama Pledges $1bn to Boost Military in Europe in Wake of Ukraine Crisis’, The Guardian, 03 June [online], 2014. pledge-military-europe-ukraine-crisis (accessed June 10, 2014).Google Scholar
  85. I. Traynor, ‘US Defence Chief Blasts Europe over NATO’, The Guardian, June 10, 2011.Google Scholar
  86. UN, A/HRC/S-15/1, ‘Report of the Human Rights Council on Its Fifteenth Special Session’, 25 February [online], 2011. HRC-S-15-l_AUV.pdf (accessed April 12, 2012).
  87. UN News Centre, ‘Security Council Authorises “All Necessary Measures” to Protect Civilians in Libya’, 17 March [online], 2011. 37808#U6Az9cZyGOA (accessed November 12, 2013).
  88. US Fed News, Democratic Leader Pelosi Issues Statement Following President Obama’s Remarks on Libya, March 18, 2011.Google Scholar
  89. US Fed NewsRep. Boehner Issues Statement on Libya, 20 March, 2011.Google Scholar
  90. USA Today, ‘Gates: No US Ground Troops in Libya on His Watch’, 31 March [online], 2011. (accessed April 7, 2012).
  91. US Fed News, DOD: US Continues Support Of NATO Operations In Libya, April 20, 2011.Google Scholar
  92. T. Weiss, ‘RtoP Alive and Well after Libya’, Ethics & International Affairs 25, no. 3 (2011): 287–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. N. Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. N. Wheeler, ‘A Victory for Common Humanity? The Responsibility to Protect after the 2005 World Summit’, Conference on ‘The UN at Sixty: Celebration or Wake?’, 2005, 6–7 October 2005.Google Scholar
  95. G. White, ‘BP’s Contracts in Libya “Still Valid” Despite Turmoil’, The Telegraph, 17 March [online], 2011. BPs-contracts-in-Libya-still-valid-despite-turmoil.html (accessed August 18, 2013).Google Scholar
  96. G. Whitlock, ‘NATO allies grapple with shrinking defence budgets’, Washington Post, January 13, 2012.Google Scholar
  97. White House, ‘Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defence’, 03 January [online], 2012. (accessed February 7, 2012).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Government and International AffairsDurham UniversityDurhamUK

Personalised recommendations