Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) issued a press release statement today on the situation in Libya, specifically regarding implementation of a no-fly zone.
On Saturday, March 12, in a consensus decision, the Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone over Libya imposed by Western nations. What was not included in the Arab League’s decision was any commitment to provide resources for the costs of a no-fly zone. Any effective no-fly zone likely would require American participation and military assets. Such an operation could cost American taxpayers millions of dollars, or more, depending on the length of time it was imposed and the depth of American commitment. The United States already incurs billions of dollars in defense costs each year stemming from security requirements in the Persian Gulf region.
Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame, the strains on our military, and other factors, it is doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. If the Obama Administration is contemplating this step, however, it should begin by seeking a declaration of war against Libya that would allow for a full Congressional debate on the issue. In addition, it should ask Arab League governments and other governments advocating for a no-fly zone to pledge resources necessary to pay for such an operation.
This is not unprecedented. More than $50 billion in foreign contributions were received to offset U.S. costs in association with the first Gulf War in 1991. Much of this came from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Finally, given continuing upheaval in the Middle East, we should understand that the situation in Libya may not be the last to generate calls for American military operations. We need a broader public discussion about the goals and limits of the U.S. role in the Middle East, especially as it pertains to potential military intervention.
Lugar is Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.