At midnight Monday, NATO will officially end its mission in Libya, leaving the job of protecting civilians to the country's new transitional government. Now, NATO member countries can not only walk away with a sense of victory after more than seven months of intervention; Facing economic struggles back home, these nations can also pull out of Libya with a sense of relief that the costs of the mission are largely behind them. [Read our fall update on the Arab Spring.]
With burgeoning concerns over government spending, cost had been a point of resistance among some members of Congress and the public over U.S. involvement in Libya. According to the Pentagon, from March—when U.S. airstrikes first initiated the NATO mission—through September, the U.S. Defense Department spent roughly $1.1 billion in Libya. And while that estimate doesn't account for money spent by the State Department or intelligence agencies, members of the administration have argued that the cost of unseating the now deceased leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi was relatively modest compared to the U.S. commitment in other wars like Afghanistan and Iraq. In comparison to Afghanistan and Iraq—which have cost thousands of U.S. lives and close to $500 billion and $1 trillion respectively—President Obama has also celebrated the fact that the mission was completed "without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground." [Check out our photo gallery on Muammar Qadhafi.]
Vice President Joe Biden, speaking on CNN earlier this month, emphasized that the United States shared the cost burden with other NATO countries. "The NATO alliance worked like it was designed to do, burden sharing. In total it cost us $2 billion, no American lives lost, we carried the burden a lot of other places where NATO is—the primary burden like in Afghanistan–and this was really burden sharing," he said.
The United Kingdom, which played a significant military role throughout the mission, has spent between 160 million and 300 million pounds ($257 million to $482 million) since the start of the mission, according to Ministry of Defense projections reported last week by BBC. Also, by the end of September, France, another major NATO player in Libya, spent between 300 million to 350 million euros ($415 million to $485 million) over its budget for overseas military operations, according to a top official in the French defense ministry.
According to a NATO official, individual contributing nations bore the costs of using of their national capabilities as part of the NATO mission in Libya. Therefore, the only common funds accounted allocated to the Libya mission were those used for NATO's Airborne Warning and Control System. The official says that the total cost of the "deployment, employment and maintenance" of these jointly-funded capabilities in Libya is estimated at 5.4 million euros/month ($7.4 million/month), which totals more than 37.8 euros ($52.3 million) for seven months. NATO also spent roughly 5.6 million euros ($7.8 million) for structural and personnel costs related to the operation, the official says. [Read: U.S. Role Continues in Libya after Qadhafi.]
As European nations struggle to avert crisis and keep their economies afloat, the financial costs of the Libyan intervention have certainly been noticeable. However, now that Qadhafi is gone and the operation is drawing to a close, NATO leaders can claim it's been worth it for the good of the Libyan people. "At midnight tonight, a successful chapter in NATO's history is coming to an end," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen from Libya. "But you have already started writing a new chapter in the history of Libya. A new Libya, based on freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and reconciliation."