Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

30 Jun, 2011

American Awakening Gains Traction: Brown Univ Study Pegs Costs of U.S. Wars at US$4 Trillion

In a study designed explicitly “to spur public debate about America at war,” the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University has released a comprehensive analysis of the total human, economic, social, and political cost of the U.S. War on Terror. This figure, which goes well beyond a mere military cost, is pegged at “nearly $4 trillion”, and does not include the costs of the “significant ripple effects on the U.S. economy, including job loss and interest rate increases.”

The group’s “Costs of War” project, which involved more than 20 economists, anthropologists, lawyers, humanitarian personnel, and political scientists, provides new estimates of the total war cost as well as other direct and indirect human and economic costs of the U.S. military response to the 9/11 attacks. According to Brown University, “the project is the first comprehensive analysis of all U.S., coalition, and civilian casualties, including U.S. contractors. It also assesses many of the wars’ hidden costs, such as interest on war-related debt and veterans’ benefits.”

A media release accompanying the June 28 announcement of the study and its website said, “The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed.” It added, “As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.”

The study (Click here for the Executive Summary) comes barely a fortnight after the U.S. Conference of Mayors ended with a resounding call for the U.S. administration to start redeploying badly needed funds from the battle-front to the home-front. With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just around the corner, the U.S. mired in a bruising budget battle and the start of the 2012 Presidential race, the study is bound to trigger some heavy duty soul-searching about whether the costs of America’s military adventures have been worth it and where is the end-game?

Said the media release, “The President of the United States has told the American people and the rest of the world that even as the U.S. withdraws some troops from Afghanistan and continues to withdraw from Iraq, the wars will continue for some years. The debate over why each war was begun and whether either or both should have been fought continues.

“What we do know, without debate, is that the wars begun ten years ago have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States, and economically costly as well. Each additional month and year of war will add to that toll. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive accounting of the costs of the United States’ wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars.”

The Eisenhower Research Project is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit, scholarly initiative that derives its purpose from President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address, in which he warned of the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex and appealed for an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” as the only force able to balance the often contrasting demands of security and liberty in the democratic state.

For this study, the Research Project assembled a team that includes economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician to do this analysis, which asked:

  • What have been the wars’ costs in human and economic terms?
  • How have these wars changed the social and political landscape of the United States and the countries where the wars have been waged?
  • What will be the long term legacy of these conflicts for veterans?
  • What is the long term economic effect of these wars likely to be?
  • Were and are there alternative less costly and more effective ways to prevent further terror attacks?

According to the release, these were some of the project’s findings:

  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6,000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
  • At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
  • Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • Pentagon bills account for half of the budgetary costs incurred and are a fraction of the full economic cost of the wars.
  • Because the war has been financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020.
  • Federal obligations to care for past and future veterans of these wars will likely total between $600-$950 billion. This number is not included in most analyses of the costs of war and will not peak until mid-century.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
  • As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
  • While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
  • Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.

Another release by Brown university said, “If the wars continue, they are on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020.”

Catherine Lutz, the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies at Brown University, co-directs the Eisenhower Research Project with Neta Crawford, a 1985 Brown graduate and professor of political science at Boston University.

Said Lutz, “This project’s accounting is important because information is vital for the public’s democratic deliberation on questions of foreign policy. Knowing the actual costs of war is essential as the public, Congress and the President weigh the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, and other areas including the deficit, security, public investments, and reconstruction.”

Added Crawford, “There are many costs and consequences of war that cannot be quantified, and the consequences of wars don’t end when the fighting stops. The Eisenhower study group has made a start at counting and estimating the costs in blood, treasure, and lost opportunities that are both immediately visible and those which are less visible and likely to grow even when the fighting winds down.”

  • Varini de Silva

    This study is long over due. The apathy of the American public is astounding considering the immense loss of lives in addition to the trillions of dollars spent. Why is it that there is a ‘mis-connect’, in the minds of the people, between the ‘wars’ and our dire economic state?!! Duh….!