President Obama has touted his emphasis on multilateralism in the U.S. military intervention in Libya, but — for political, operational and legal reasons — his “coalition of the willing” is smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.

The Cable compiled a list of the countries that contributed at least some military assets to the five major military operations in which the United States participated in a coalition during the past 20 years: the 1991 Persian Gulf War (32 countries participating), the 1995 Bosnia mission (24 countries), the 1999 Kosovo mission (19 countries), the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan (48 countries) and the 2003 invasion of Iraq (40 countries), at the height of the size of each coalition.

As of today, only 15 countries, including the United States, have committed to a military contribution to the war in Libya.

Experts quickly point out that all of these military interventions happened in different contexts. However, they added that the reason Obama’s Libya war coalition has less international involvement than all the others was also because of his administration’s behavior in the lead-up to the war, its approach to multilateralism, the speed at which it was put together, and the justifications for the war itself.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the administration’s effort to build the coalition was hampered by its stated desire to hand off the leadership of the Libya intervention to NATO.

“Obama, in his deference to [getting out of the lead], has not only wanted other countries to do as much as they could, he has essentially forgone his responsibility to build the coalition,” he said.

The mission in Libya is, by definition, smaller in scale than those in Iraq or Afghanistan, and a no-fly zone doesn’t require as many countries as a full-on invasion, O’Hanlon pointed out. However, the relatively few Arab countries contributing military assets — three so far — could pose a problem for the mission’s legitimacy.

Although the Libya intervention was endorsed by the Arab League, the endorsement doesn’t require any Arab countries to contribute materially to the effort, said David Bosco, an assistant professor at American University.

“At a certain point, the administration is going to have to decide whether just to say this is a coalition of willing countries,” he said. “That’s not the end of the world.”

Bright idea

The State Department has found a way to save energy, save money and rehabilitate federal prisoners all in one fell swoop. Soon, a portion of the energy that keeps the lights on in Foggy Bottom will come from solar panels built by prison inmates in New Jersey.

“The Department of State had a signing ceremony that basically contracted the State Department with Baltimore’s Constellation Energy, to enter into an agreement to procure renewable electricity from Constellation Energy through the Federal Prison Industry’s contracting expertise,” said Marguerite Coffey, director of the State Department’s Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation. “It was a very, very well-attended event.”

Coffey, who is also executive secretary of the department’s Greening Council, said the goal was to advance President Obama’s pledge to reduce federal greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020.

Will Congress follow State’s cost-cutting, energy-saving example and start buying renewable power created through prison labor?

WTO battle

The government of Georgia is in a position to block Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, a top goal of the U.S.-Russia reset policy. The Georgians say they are willing to strike a deal with Russia — but only if Moscow abides by WTO rules on trade and customs policy, positions that would require Russian concessions in its conflict over the occupied territories, according the president of Georgia.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, President Mikheil Saakashvili said that, after a lot of stalling and hand-wringing, negotiations between Tbilisi and Moscow over the latter’s desire to join the WTO had begun. As a WTO member, Georgia has veto power over any additions to the organization. Saakashvili said it was too early to tell if the Russians were negotiating in good faith or willing to make real concessions.

“It’s up to the Russians to show that they can go to flexible and compromise solutions,” he said.