20110321 libya military explosion 54
Smoke billows after a Libyan jet bomber crashed after being shut down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as Libya's rebel stronghold came under attack, with at least two air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sending thick smoke into the sky. - 

Kai Ryssdal: So the Europeans are nervous about their budgets and the Libya effect. What about costs for the United States?

From Washington, Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports continues our coverage of events in the Middle East.

John Dimsdale: The U.S. fleet is already in the Mediterranean and plenty of Italian, French and British aircraft are always based nearby. So enforcing a no-fly zone in a relatively small part of northern Libya shouldn't be all that expensive.

Gordon Adams: So far it's not going to break the bank.

Defense budget analyst Gordon Adams doesn't see it the way European analysts do. He says once the Libyan Air Force is incapacitated, policing the skies will be relatively cheap. He figures the cost of firepower to keep Muammar Gaddafi's planes and troops from terrorizing civilians at between $1 billion to $2 billion a month.

Adams: The things that will really drive this in terms of cost are how long it lasts, how intense it is, how much geography we intend to cover and what the strategy is.

And so far, he says, those goals and strategies are still unclear. If Libya becomes a ground war or a nation-building exercise, costs will escalate. At a press conference in Chile today, President Obama acknowledged that U.S. forces are already stretched thin, but he's expecting to hand off leadership of the coalition to allies.

Barack Obama: That's something we should actively seek and embrace because it relieves the burden on our military and it relieves the burden on U.S. taxpayers to fulfill what is an international mission and not simply a U.S. mission.

Even the Arab League is offering to share the financial and military burdens, just as it did when the western coalition patrolled a no-fly zone over Iraq after Gulf War number one.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.