NATO’s effect on the Libyan Civil War

As it’s starting to look like Ghadafi’s regime is crumbling before the rebel advance into Tripoli (note the equivocation there? don’t want to get ahead of myself…), we’re also seeing the debate over whether American/NATO intervention was “worth it” (some seeing vindication, others saying we should’ve made it even faster). As to whether it was a wise decision to intervene, the best way to judge that is to consider not what ultimately happens but what information decision makers had when the decision was made. Still, we can learn a lot from ex post judgments of costs and benefits—it’s one more data point that can inform us about the future—as long as we’re careful to neither blame the lottery player for losing powerball nor call her a genius for winning it.

So how are we to judge the NATO decision to protect civilians and, by extension, help the Libyan rebels in their advance towards Tripoli? First things first: by any standard, this was an exceedingly short civil war. The average one drags on for years, and 5/6 months is a rounding error compared to most of these things. The cost to the US, at least, is estimated at roughly $1.1 billion, so it seems to me that the way to go is to use what we know about civil war duration and the data for this particular case and see what we’d expect the duration of the war to be in the absence of NATO intervention…

…not, of course, that I’m going to run that model this morning, but, you know, it would be a good idea.

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