The cost of war

Posted on March 23, 2011 by David Creech

It does not take a lot to imagine the connections between conflict and poverty.  I have always thought of the impacts in terms of deaths, loss of productivity, damages to infrastructure, crippling of foreign trade and investments, increased disease, and so on.

Two recent stories made me think about other ways in which hunger and poverty are exacerbated and perpetuated in conflict.  First, I learned a couple of weeks ago that the annual cost of a single soldier in Afghanistan is $1.2 million (see page 8 of this report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments).  In total, we will spend $159.3 in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other unspecified purposes (outlined on page 7 of the same report).  It is proposed that we  spend $739 billion in national defense in 2011, which, when adjusted for inflation, is the highest amount since WWII (page 13).  Second, in our initial assault on Libya, we launched 110+ Tomahawk missiles.  Each missile costs $569,000.  The total cost of this assault was “only” about $62 million.  There are fears, perhaps justified, that this initial act, while not formally a declaration of war, will lead to war.  And this will of course mean more money spent.

Here is the kicker for me.  We are spending these huge amounts on war (which leads to all the things I mentioned at the start of this post) as we are slashing foreign aid programs and domestic social service programs.  I know that Gadaffi is a ruthless dictator and caused widespread destruction, and we are regularly assured that Afghanistan is essential for our national security, but is this really the best way for us to spend our money?  Do we truly want to eliminate those programs that help people so that we can fund those that harm people?  How many teachers and schools could be maintained with one (or 1,000!) less soldier in Afghanistan?   How many social programs could be funded without a day of Tomahawk barrages?  What would our world look like if our highest priority was eliminating poverty instead of eliminating “threats”?

Agree or disagree, let me hear it!

David Creech