Archives: Financial costs of U.S. engagement in Libya

Originally published in March 2011
Simon Nguyen

After the passage of UN Resolution 1973 which authorizes the use of force to protect civilians in Libya, a no-fly zone was imposed over the North African country by the coalition of France, Great Britain and the United States. This marks the first time since the Iraq War that U.S. forces participate in a conflict of sizable scale. While the financial costs of U.S. engagement in Libya will be smaller than those of the Iraq War, they will nonetheless be expensive.

Even if no U.S. troop will be on the ground in Libya, the U.S. share of the cost to maintain a no-fly zone in the country is likely to be a staggering sum. In the first two days of U.S. engagement alone, 122 Tomahawk missiles were fired from U.S. warships. With the missiles estimated to cost a little more than $500,000 each, the U.S. military has already spent at least $61 million on the effort. This number does not even account for subsequent U.S. air operations, which should add millions more to the total. Moreover, Americans still do not have a concrete sense of the end goal of U.S. engagement. How long will the no-fly zone be in place? What are the U.S. military objectives?

The implementation of a no-fly zone has historically been a drawn-out operation. The no-fly zone imposed over Iraq by coalition forces, following the first Gulf War, lasted almost 12 years. Kosovo’s no-fly zone lasted only 78 days, but was aided by a heavy bombing campaign. With Colonel Gaddafi vowing to fight on and opposition forces too ill-equipped to mount an effective counteroffensive, we may be looking at a prolonged U.S. engagement in Libya. This could mean that the United States will likely have to spend billions of dollars on the intervention. In the event that the U.S. would have to deploy troops on the ground, the costs could even reach those of the Afghanistan War.

The financial toll from U.S. engagement in Libya will likely hit Americans’ pockets as well. With the Republican-controlled House unwilling to allow for more spending, the White House will have to finance U.S. military operations in Libya by seeking cuts in the budget. This could mean less money for government programs and substantial reductions in benefits. With the economy still reeling from the recession, economic consequences resulted from the U.S. intervention in Libya will be severe.

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