Is this a preview of what a world without American military leadership looks like?
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, is keen to establish an Anglo-French command to run the military campaign. Britain is wary of the proposal, however, and is pushing hard for a clearly defined Nato operation, possibly along the lines of the International Security and Assistance Force which runs the campaign in Afghanistan.
“The French want to run this jointly with Britain,” said a senior Whitehall source. “That is their preference. It is not our preference. We want Nato to deal with this because Nato has the right experience in dealing with multi-national teams.”
The attempts to broker an agreement on the structure for the first major military action initiated under Obama’s presidency started in a scratchy way on Monday when Nato ambassadors in Brussels held what was described as a “truly awful” and “emotional” meeting.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, prompted a walkout by the French and German ambassadors after suggesting Paris was blocking the alliance and that Berlin was dragging its feet. One observer said: “There were a range of issues related to people’s egos.”
But Germany and Turkey — NATO members both — don’t like the idea of the alliance taking on any more than a supporting role, such as enforcing an arms embargo in the Mediterranean.