NATO countries convened in Brussels on Monday to discuss the international response to the crisis in Libya but never discussed whether to impose a no-fly zone, according to the U.S. ambassador to the organization, Ivo Daalder. He seemed to play down the effectiveness of the measure, however, adding that a no-fly zone wouldn't protect most Libyans anyway.
Monday's meeting was held under the auspices of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's premier decision-making body. The discussions were focused on the humanitarian assistance efforts in Libya, and the United States raised a number of proposals on how to use NATO's military assets to speed food and medicine to the Libyan border areas. But neither the United States nor any other country brought up the idea of a no-fly zone, an idea that has attracted support from many in Congress.
"We're looking at the no-fly zone in a variety of different options. We haven't actually had a discussion yet. The military authorities haven't finalized that planning," said Daalder, in a conference call read out of the day's meetings.
But while Obama administration officials continue to insist the no-fly zone is on the table, Daalder expressed skepticism that such a move would be effective in stopping Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's crackdown on rebel forces. He noted that air attacks in Libya have declined since a peak late last week.
"[I]t's important to understand that no-fly zones...really have a limited effect against the helicopters or the kind of ground operations that we've seen, which is why a no-fly zone, even if it were to be established, isn't really going to impact what is happening there today," Daalder said. "And the kinds of capabilities that are being used to attack the rebel forces and, indeed, the population will be largely unaffected by a no-fly zone. "
But Daalder said that there would likely be enough information available to discuss the potential implementation of a no-fly zone by Thursday, when NATO defense ministers convene in Brussels. He also stated clearly that a new U.N. Security Council resolution would be needed to authorize a no-fly zone before one could be imposed, as far as the United States is concerned.
"Everyone would want a U.N. Security Council resolution. We would certainly seek one," he said. France and Britain are reportedly readying such a resolution now.
Back in Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney continued to downplay the idea that a no-fly zone was coming anytime soon. Referring to the outcome of the NATO meeting, he said, "I wouldn't characterize the likelihood of further options being pursued as greater now, but we have said from the beginning that those options were on the table, and none of them have been removed from the table."
The Feb. 26 U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya established an arms embargo on the country, which NATO countries have capabilities to support. But that didn't make it onto today's agenda in Brussels either, according to Daalder.
"On the issue of the arms embargo, we haven't yet had our first discussion of how NATO could help on this issue," he said.
NATO did decide on Monday to increase surveillance activities over Libya by its AWAC planes from 10 to 24 hours per day.