The World from Berlin: 'Airstrikes Alone Won't Topple Gadhafi'
During their summit in Berlin, NATO foreign ministers have failed to make much progress on how to proceed with its mission in Libya. German commentators warn that a lack of resolve against Moammar Gadhafi could reveal the alliance as an impotent Cold War relic.
A two-day NATO summit in Berlin this week has been hosted, in part, by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who awkwardly distinguished himself in the UN Security Council's vote last month on military aid for Libyan rebels by a surprise abstention. Accordingly, when NATO members met on Thursday to decide what to do next, Westerwelle had to choose his words carefully. "What unites us is the goal," he told his colleagues in Berlin. "We want a free and democratic Libya."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did stand together on a stage and announce that NATO would not be done with Libya until Moammar Gadhafi is toppled -- without specifying who would do the toppling. Meanwhile -- as NATO jets hit targets in Tripoli, and Libyan forces pounded the western city of Misrata, Gadhafi made sure he appeared on Libyan TV in a defiant mood, standing up through the sun roof of an SUV somewhere in Tripoli.
Britain and France have criticized the US for doing too little since it handed over leadership of the mission at the end of March. Washington let its European allies take the lead in airstrikes and retreated to a support role, which Clinton, in Berlin, gave no indication of wanting to change. So far, the NATO summit has produced no new commitments of firepower to the Libyan mission.
But German papers on Friday argue that the only way forward in Libya is to step up Western force against Gadhafi. The current UN mandate does not allow ground troops, but some commentators point out that a humanitarian mission to Libya -- in the form of aid convoys or a ceasefire enforcement -- would require at least some Western soldiers on the ground. Guido Westerwelle has told NATO, perhaps surprisingly, that Germany might contribute troops in that context.
The summit continues Friday, though the focus will shift to NATO's relationship with Russia and the controversial European missile shield.
German commentators on Friday meditated on the Libya campaign and the general state of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The dictator must go, that much everyone can agree on. What remains controversial is just how much military force is necessary, let alone permitted by the UN Security Council resolution. In concrete terms: Only seven of the 28 NATO member states have participated in airstrikes. That doesn't exactly look like solidarity within a military alliance. The summit's host, Guido Westerwelle, has found room to admonish the alliance that, when it comes to full solidarity over air attacks, Germany is not unique in its reluctance."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"With a certain show-business aptitude, the NATO representatives in Berlin have all tried to show a newfound unity."
"From the outset (of the summit), Germany did try to smooth the wrinkles away by promising military escorts for any humanitarian convoys that NATO might -- in an emergency -- send to Libya. The intended message was: Germany is looking for a way to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its allies again. Meanwhile, the old German attitude of I-told-you-so raises its head whenever Guido Westerwelle says -- with his penetrating instinct for a platitude -- that, in the end, there can only be a political solution. But who (in NATO) has ever said anything else?"
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung argues:
"Rarely has a conflict demonstrated the impotence of NATO more clearly than the current Libyan war. Afghanistan, by contrast, is a walk in the park. Western militaries can't behave just the way they please in Libya out of whatever political motivations they have at home. The politicians gathered for the summit in Berlin are helpless because the political solution in Libya is hard to figure out."
"Airstrikes alone won't topple the Gadhafi regime. Everyone knows this at NATO. The use of ground troops is illegal under the UN Security Council resolution. But there is a back door, which NATO planners are now preparing. Ground troops can protect any humanitarian aid convoys sent into Libya. It wouldn't technically be an invasion, but who would complain if one or two of Gadhafi's soldiers get killed?"
"Guido Westerwelle does not want to participate in a war in Libya, but he's promised German military support for any humanitarian mission. And if a humanitarian mission turned into an invasion? Then he would have to show whether he's ready to pull a second fast one on the alliance."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"There are two realistic options: Either NATO continues to ensure a stalemate by preventing Gadhafi's troop from advancing while the rebels entrench their positions. In this situation, the West can only hope that political momentum will develop and that Gadhafi will stand down under certain conditions."
"The other option is military escalation. Arming the rebels, more airstrikes, a larger group of participating governments, and perhaps in the end even ground troops. UN blue helmets might be necessary to enforce a ceasefire. France and Britain have argued for this option, and they don't seem to have the patience for a prolonged debate within NATO. And the member states know that they would have to be in it together -- because an open breach within NATO could bring irreparable damage to the alliance."
-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff
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