The root cause of today’s geopolitical, security and social, economic and financial disruption can be traced to the 2003 Iraq war.
THE cost of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria has soared to US$4.4 trillion since 9/11, and has been estimated to rise to US$5.6 trillion in the coming years. President George W Bush and former UK premier Tony Blair have a lot to answer for.
A study by Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs has indicated that these costs are a massive burden on the US federal and state budgets and the economy: the estimates are almost three times higher than the Pentagon’s authorised US$1.52 trillion spending for Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria during the same period.
The reason for the wide difference, said the institute, is that its estimate includes other war-related costs; in particular, these are the costs of caring for a growing number of veterans and the rising requirements by Homeland Security to counter terrorism and cyber crime.
The latest report thus takes into consideration all related expenses before, during and after war occurs.
The authors of the report wrote: “Governments prepare for battle, wage wars and recover from armed conflict by replacing equipment, caring for the wounded and repairing infrastructure destroyed in the fighting.”
The Watson Institute’s study demands to be taken seriously, given that its research team comprises 35 scholars, legal experts, human-rights practitioners and physicians.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been the biggest expense. Key expense items in the breakdown are the costs of aircraft, bombs, rockets and military equipment totalling US$2.6 trillion; Homeland security cost US$783 billion, and veterans’ medical and disability, US$297 billion.
What the US and other governments tend to underestimate is the growth in numbers of military veterans; the number has already risen to 858,000.
The study finds that one of the largest portions of defence spending comes from the expansion of quality, quantity, availability and eligibility of disability benefits for military personnel and veterans. This has led to unprecedented growth in the budgets of the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defence. The benefits will go up further over the next 40 years to a projected US$1 trillion in the years to 2056, the report predicts.
Moreover, the study finds that – with the wars having been largely paid with borrowings – future interest charges can be projected to add more than US$1 trillion to the national debt by 2023.
“By 2056, a conservative estimate is that interest costs will be about US$7.9 trillion, unless the US changes the way it pays for the wars.”
The macro-economic implication for the US is that the nation’s budget slipped from a surplus into a deficit after 9/11, and has remained in deficit. Federal and state borrowing has surged.
In the past few years, the US Federal Reserve has financed the borrowing via its quantitative easing (QE) programme, but the burden will be on future generations.
The report estimates that the UK spent US$14 billion in Iraq from 2003 to 2011; it is projected to spend a further US$30 billion in Afghanistan by the time of complete withdrawal.
The Watson Institute also highlights the humanitarian consequences; it estimates that there have been well over 300,000 deaths of civilians, soldiers, police, contractors, aid workers and journalists over a period of 12 years. The number of wounded and individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress is estimated to be even larger than the number who died.
Millions of people have been displaced and are homeless. Buildings and infrastructure, including that of the public-health system, have been destroyed, leading to even more deaths and general misery. Hundreds of billions will have to be spent eventually to rectify these services.
Instability in the Middle East, currently Syria and Yemen, has also spawned in its wake terrorist groups such as Daesh.
© copyright Neil Behrmann
This article was first published in The Business Times, Singapore.
Neil is author of anti-war children’s novel Butterfly Battle- The Story of the Great Insect War. The updated 2015 Waterloo commemoration version of Butterfly Battle is on Kindle and e-books. Jack of Diamonds Neil’s thriller on global diamond mining and smuggling, will be published in coming weeks. It is the sequel to the thriller, Trader Jack, The Story of Jack Miner. Book reviews are on neilbehrmann.net and Amazon and more reviews are welcome. If the books are purchased direct on this site, a proportion of the proceeds will go to low cost charities.