NATO avoided having to answer this existential question in the 1990s thanks to several in-area operations in the Balkans. In those wars as in Libya today, a reluctant United States was shamed into action by insistent European allies. And then as now, after an initial lead role during intense air operations, the United States handed over the long-term responsibility to the Europeans. It was the post-9/11 mission in Afghanistan, rather, that proved NATOs relevance beyond Europe. For the first time ever, NATO invoked Article 5, the linchpin of the alliance, which insisted that an armed attack on one member be treated as an attack on all. The Europeans stepped up to the plate, even after offers of help were initially brushed off by George W. Bushs administration. The glow faded in Afghanistan, however, as the mission of retaliating against those who had attacked a member state morphed into one of nation-building establishing democracy and stability in a country that has little progress to show for years of fighting and massive amounts of blood and treasure spent. Enthusiasm waned. Many allies have pulled their forces out entirely. Despite a commitment by NATOs member states at Novembers Lisbon summit to stay in Afghanistan through at least the end of 2014 and to address threats wherever in the world they might arise, most observers were deeply skeptical that NATO would ever again be able to operate outside Europes borders absent a direct threat. And yet, only months later, here we are. To be sure, this is not an unalloyed good. Many myself included were and are highly dubious of intervention in Libyas civil war. But its clear that the United States, Britain, and France were all inclined to intervene regardless. And once that decision was taken, using NATO as the platform was a no-brainer. Its true that anti-Qaddafi forces have been mistakenly killed by NATO forces. But thats a function of both the amateurism of the Libyan rebels and the constraints under which NATO must operate. As NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Spiegel, Qaddafi has changed his tactics. But that also points to our successes. Now that he has to hide his tanks and other heavy weapons, he can no longer use them as easily against civilians. The chief issue underlying most of NATOs problems in Libya is lack of consensus on the desired end state. Rasmussen insists that the fate of Qaddafi and what manner of government the country might have in the future are matters for Libyans to decide. But Qaddafi will survive unless NATO forces him out the ragtag rebels simply dont have the ability to do it, even with someone else knocking out the dictators airplanes and tanks. Having entered the fight in Libya, NATO is under serious pressure to end it with Qaddafi out of power and a stable, democratic government in his place. But the most powerful member, the United States, has receded into a supporting role and insists that it will put no boots on the ground. If the intervention goes badly, the blame will (rightly) go to national political leaders particularly Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy for committing to a war without the willingness to see the job through to its logical conclusion. The fact of the matter is that the Libya operation is, like any multilateral effort, subject to the constraints of the least enthusiastic member. By insisting on a U.N. Security Council resolution, the coalition members accepted a very narrow mandate in order to secure abstentions from Russia and China, council members that would have vetoed anything more robust than a civilian protection mandate. In short, the missions most serious limitations are not the fault of NATO but rather of the United Nations. The same problems would exist, and might well be worse, if the players had carried out Resolution 1973 without the alliance. NATO does, however, face one looming problem, one that long predates the Libya intervention but is bound to complicate it: the unwillingness of Europeans to adequately fund their own militaries, instead allowing the Americans shoulder the burden. Foreign Policy