Norway looks to curtail Libya air strike role – other European NATO allies to follow?

Norway will scale down its role in NATO-orchestrated air strikes on Libya after its current three-month commitment ends on 24 June, Defence Minister Grete Faremo said on 9 May. Norway was one of the first European states to signal its willingness to implement a UN resolution aimed at protecting Libyan civilians and has six F-16s flying sorties.

"If NATO continues operations in Libya after June 24, a possible Norwegian contribution will be different and less comprehensive than the current one," Faremo told parliament. “There is no military solution to the situation in Libya,” she added. “It must be solved politically.”

The statement came after a junior ruling party, the Socialist Left (SV), demanded Norway pull out of the mission. The left-wing newspaper Klassekampen quoted what it called highly placed government sources as saying all three coalition parties are tired of seeing Norway fly more missions than they think are warranted for a country of its size.

According to the daily Aftenposten, Norwegian jets have flown a total of 315 sorties and dropped 289 bombs. Together with fellow Scandinavian NATO-member Denmark, it has the highest ratio of bombs dropped in relation to its population. Costs are estimated to have amounted to NOK 261 million (about $50 million) so far.

The intention to reduce or even withdraw Norway’s fighter jets may also encourage other European powers to do likewise. Last week the foreign ministers of both France (a major backer of the rebels) and Italy (which has been allowing NATO aircraft to use its bases for the Libyan mission) called for an end to the international military action in Libya as soon as possible. Instead, support appears to be growing for giving money to the Libyan rebels — presumably to buy arms, equipment and munitions with which to overthrow Gaddafi —as the appetite for a long air war fades.

NATO's official goals are the cessation of all attacks on civilians, the return to their bases of all forces threatening civilians, and a guarantee of unhindered humanitarian access to all Libyans in need. But those goals have yet to be achieved, and impatience among some NATO members regarding the military action in Libya appears to be setting in. Juppe, the French foreign minister, said last week that the military intervention must end "as rapidly as possible" and warned that sending in international ground troops would set the stage for a "quagmire".

And Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliamentarians last week that, while it was impossible to set a date for an end of the operations, the "political goal is for military action to cease as soon as possible". The Italian parliament subsequently voted to keep Italy in the NATO-led military operation but called for the Italian government and its allies to work out an endgame for military action. The lower house of parliament passed a motion 308-294 that calls for Italy and its allies to work out an endgame for the air strikes within a "certain timeframe". It also demands the government seek an immediate diplomatic solution to the conflict and rules out sending ground troops.