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Libya: Why Does It Have to be a US Aircraft Carrier?

February 24th, 2011

The Cavour, Italy's answer to the Enterprise

Writing in the Washington Times, Admiral James Lyons (USN, ret.) calls for regime change in Libya, the removal of Muammar Qaddafi, and the deployment of US forces to accomplish this task:

As a first order of business, we should reposition an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. The USS Enterprise and the USS Kearsarge, both in the Red Sea, and perhaps the USS Ponce as well, should be turned around to re-transit the Suez Canal and take a position off the coast of Libya.

J.E. Dyer at Contentions suggested that the absence of a US aircraft carrier int he Mediterranean was a problem. The suggestion of a no fly zone (see here and here) is necessarily a call for the deployment of a carrer. Meanwhile, Daniel Larison at the American Conservative argues against intervention and suggests it may be politically impossible.

One key question, however, is why does it have to be an American aircraft carrier?

The refugees streaming out of North Africa are headed for Europe, not the US. The vast majority of the First World nationals in need of evacuation are Europeans, not Americans. The whole regional crisis has demonstrated beyond a doubt that the principal security threats to the EU are from the south, not from the Russians to the east.

And the Europeans have the capability, in theory, to handle this themselves. The Italian navy has two aircraft carriers and several dozen helicopters; the French navy has three carriers, including two designed for helicopters and a nuclear-powered flagship; the Spanish fleet boasts two aircraft carriers, including one commissioned last September. How much of the combined European force is ready to be deployed is a separate issue, but the question is this: If the Europeans are unwilling to use their military power to handle Muammar Qaddafi when he is on the brink of collapse, killing civilians, and causing an international crisis (oil, refugees, etc.), then what exactly is the military for?

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