Last November, while attending the Lisbon Young Atlanticist Forum held on the sidelines of the NATO Summit, I was surprised to see how much emphasis was placed on crisis management in the new Strategic Concept. Indeed, together with Collective Defense and Cooperative Security, Crisis Management is acknowledged as one of NATO's top priorities in the coming decade.
Who would have thought that in just couple of months after adopting the new concept, the developments in North Africa, specifically in Libya, would provide the opportunity to test the Alliance's ability to implement those perfectly laid out plans of action. The way NATO reacts to the Libyan crisis - the ability to achieve the consensus among the Member States and its adherence to the new Strategic Concept - will be scrutinized by stakeholders and outsiders alike.
The reasons for engagement in Libya are evident and numerous: unprecedented violence inflicted by the Qadaffi regime on its own population; hundreds of civilians killed in fights and air strikes, and hundreds of thousands forced to become refugees; the threat of spreading instability to neighboring countries and southern frontiers of NATO; the threat of cutting Libyan oil supplies to the world markets. The latter too, is another highlight from the NATO Strategic Concept, which vows to work on ensuring energy security of the member states. Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced recently that the organization was considering all possible options for addressing the situation in Libya, which he described as "a humanitarian crisis on our door-step that concerns us all."
Based on the new Strategic Concept, it has been made clear, what tools NATO might have at its disposal. In particular, the document provides the detailed account of what mechanisms NATO can employ from military and political perspectives in order to deal with crises at any stage of their development, including prevention and post-conflict reconstruction.
There is no doubt that any intervention by NATO, especially by the military, will be highly risky due to the sensitivity of the region and current situation on the ground, in particular. This, however, should not preclude NATO from making decisive steps and establishing itself as a key player with the broad support of the international community, mainly from the UN and regional organizations. While reacting alone to the current dire situation in Libya would be extremely difficult for any country, bearing this burden of political and economic responsibility can be mitigated in case of NATO's engagement. As it was rightly underscored after the recent meeting of NATO Defense Ministers, the Alliance will seek the support of the regional powers and organizations, in particular, the Arab League and the African Union. Besides, NATO can use its already existing partnership, the Mediterranean Dialogue as well, which includes Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Mauritania and Morocco.
In the process of deciding on the course of action, which may range from providing humanitarian assistance or engaging in post-conflict reconstruction to enforcing a No-Fly Zone or to some other available options, NATO will need to demonstrate its strong leadership to halt the ongoing hostilities and support the principles of freedom and democracy. Within the context of its Strategic Concept NATO also has a different type of responsibility. Its response to the crisis has to be an unquestionable proof that the organization is capable of matching its declarations with deeds, thus achieving desired results in an effective, yet balanced way. This would be an important signal to all those countries for which the new Strategic Concept provided a glimpse of hope that, in the future, NATO may too play a role in resolving their conflicts.
The Libyan crisis will pose a challenge to NATO's strength and integrity, and achieving success will require refined diplomacy and superb coordination between the member and partner States of the Alliance, also international and regional organizations. Hopefully, from the Libyan crisis NATO will emerge stronger and enriched with unique experience in dealing with the very complex, multidimensional crisis.
Gvantsa Kvinikadze is a Manager of NATO PfP Trust Fund Project in Georgia.