The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was originally created to "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down", at least according to the first NATO Secretary General. NATO was more a political association than a military organization. The in-fighting between European members and the US caused the French to pull out in 1966 and create their own nuclear deterrent.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and subsequently the Soviet Union, the relevance of NATO began to wane. The Balklands war in the mid 90s led NATO to involve itself in matters beyond the member nations. Former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Republics were allowed to join.
The Berlin Plus agreement is a comprehensive package of agreements made between NATO and the European Union on 16 December 2002. With this agreement the EU was given the possibility to use NATO assets in case it wanted to act independently in an international crisis, on the condition that NATO itself did not want to act—the so-called "right of first refusal"
The September 11 attacks caused NATO to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter for the first time in its history. The Article says that an attack on any member shall be considered to be an attack on all. The invocation was confirmed on 4 October 2001 when NATO determined that the attacks were indeed eligible under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty. In 2003, NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. For the first time in its history, NATO would take over a mission outside the NATO area of responsibility.
In 2009, NATO deployed warships in support of Operation Ocean Shield battling Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Given this history, it is no surprise the AFA Daily Digest had this report:
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Sunday that, effective immediately, the alliance would assume the lead role from the United States for all UN-sanctioned air and sea military operations in and around Libya. "This is a very significant step, which proves NATO's capability to take decisive action," said Rasmussen. This means the alliance will be in charge not only of the no-fly zone over northern Libya and the arms embargo, but also the air strikes meant to protect Libyan civilians from attack by Muammar Qaddafi's regime. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that, within the next week, the United States "will begin to diminish [its] commitment of resources" to the Libyan mission. "[T]he idea was that, over time, the coalition would assume a larger and larger proportion of the burden," he said. He added, "Our air power has significantly degraded [Qaddafi's] armor capabilities, his ability to use his armor against cities like Benghazi." As of March 25, US aircraft had flown 529 sorties, coalition aircraft 346, since the air campaign began on March 19.
NATO involvement in the Balklands, Afghanistan, Libya, the Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean seems to eerily parallel European colonialism. Coalition campaigns make it easier to get approval for military operations but the implications for recovery become complicated at the least. For example, if Gaddafi steps down there is no obvious follow-on leader as the colonel has successfully suppressed any opposition for nearly 40 years. A NATO backed government in Libya could set-off an even bigger conflict in the Middle East.