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Operation Odyssey Dawn comes under NATO command. Well almost…

The NATO flag had been hoisted at the start of the operation on the Charlottetown, the Canadian ship (credit: Canadian Forces)

(BRUSSELS2) Even if the French authorities do not want to admit it openly, we seem to be moving towards an agreement to allow almost total control of No Fly Zone operations and air strikes (“protection of civilians”) by the NATO? In any case, everything suggests it. Certainly the meetings have followed one another at NATO. Rather stormy judging by the various information that is emerging. The doors have been slammed in recent days. And, in turn, Germany, France and Turkey experienced “squalls” and “sweet words”. The Secretary General, AF Rasmussen, has spared no effort for several days to achieve his goals: putting the operation back in line with NATO. But the discussion was really anything but friendly. Besides, the discussions in the European Union could “almost appear courteous” says an expert familiar with the matter.

Strong pressure from all sides

The pressure was, in fact, very strong both from the countries involved in the military coalition and from those hostile to it for NATO to get involved. In summary…

On the side of the coalition, several countries have stressed that NATO constitutes the only possible framework for their involvement in the operation (Italy, Greece, Denmark, Norway, even Belgium, etc.), with Norway even going so far as to suspend its participation. until no “clear” command solution has been found. As for the Americans, they wish to disengage from the operation without leaving a coalition led by the Europeans (and the French). The British, allies of circumstance with the French, follow, they are determined above all to preserve their “privileged” link with the United States and to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance.

On the side of those reluctant to take military action, Turkey, which refuses any military strike on an Arab and Muslim country and a political solution, has blocked the NATO operation. But he plays other cards behind the scenes (see below). As for Germany, which does not want to be involved in any way in a military operation, and considers military strikes ineffective and counterproductive, does not oppose the referral to NATO. On the contrary, she demands it. According to our information, it did not oppose the operation plan (OpPlan) of the “No Fly zone” nor that on the control of the arms embargo, even if it took back command of all his ships in the Mediterranean.

France rather isolated

Result, France, in favor of maintaining the autonomy of the coalition's action for reasons both operational (not letting countries reluctant to strike take power) and political (avoid a Western “crusade” side to the operation) while avoiding the extension of NATO on the south bank, had to give in. We thus went from an operation in a few days “led in coalition“to an operation”conducted with NATO support under coalition control” then to an operation “where NATO will have a key role“. A shift which is not only semantic but also has political and operational consequences.

The NATO chain of command, a “NAC +” and/or a contact group

In fact, the NATO chain of command would thus be fully preserved: from SHAPE with Admiral Stravridis to the JFC in Naples which will serve as OHQ/FHQ — under the authority of Admiral … Lockwear (US), who commands already the operation carried out in coalition, and Ltt General Bouchard, his Canadian deputy. On the air side, it would be the center of Izmir (Turkey) which could be designated to structure the “No Fly zone”. Which would de facto be the integration of Turkey into the system.

Political management is the delicate point of the system. Some wanted NATO to take political control of the operation, France wants to maintain the strategic autonomy of the countries supporting the intervention (and its own). The solution of a NAC +, extended to external contributing countries (such as Qatar) was the solution recommended by the former. The solution of political management completely separate from NATO was France's preference. With the establishment of a “contact group” bringing together the countries participating in the operation (the first meeting takes place Tuesday in London). The liaison and the role of the NAC, in this hypothesis, must still be clarified.

* It should be noted that Operation “Odyssey Dawn/Harmattan” in fact brings together two operations with different objectives and legal bases: the No Fly Zone and the Protection of Civilians (which comply with two distinct chapters of UN Resolution 1973). Differentiated solutions can be found for each of these two operations. Not to mention pragmatic solutions which could allow France to maintain a certain autonomy of tactical action, in certain geographical areas or certain objectives (a sort of caveat Upside down).

* A senior French diplomat confirmed that we were moving towards this solution: a NAC+ for the “no fly zone” and a contact group for the “protection of civilians” operation. The two operations are in any case coordinated and centralized by NATO HQ in Naples, a sort of control tower for the sixty planes which will participate in the operation.

Behind this discussion…

Other hard and cold interests

Apart from the big geostrategic ideas, there are real interests, particularly on the side of the United States and the United Kingdom. Involving NATO also means ensuring that they will not be the only ones to pay but that all countries will contribute up to their commitment. On the side of the Secretary General, AF Rasmussen, this helps to hide the fact that the NATO budget will not be kept within as narrow budgetary margins as desired. An operation generating expenditure, it may be logical to vote for a budget extension, or at the very least to loosen the budgetary stranglehold.

The aftermath of the Lisbon summit

And, above all, there are the aftermath of the NATO Lisbon summit, with the commitment to reduce personnel, the number of bases, and a new distribution of commands. A decision should be made before June at the latest. The number of component headquarters must be reduced by half. We go from 6 to 3. If we know that on the maritime side Naples (Italy) and Northwood (United Kingdom) are in competition, that on the air side Ramstein (Germany) and Izmir (Turkey) are in “competition”, if we know that among the three commands of Brunssum (Netherlands), Naples (Italy) or Lisbon (Portugal – commanded by a Frenchman), one must also disappear, ... we understand certain positions better. Some are apparently tough but open to negotiation (Turkey), others reluctant to the operation at first but enthusiastic afterwards (Italy) or full of hesitation (Germany). In the end, Germany could have lost Ramstein and Italy secured one of the commands in Naples (for the JFC).

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(Updated 23 p.m., differentiated operation, and 1 a.m., senior diplomat)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).