Power is an element in society that has woven humanity collectively as one. As with other elements in this universe, power serves a purpose that has been beneficial as well as detrimental to the fabric of society. Power throughout history is assessed by territorial conquests through warfare resulting in destruction and savagery. The progression of civilisation is followed by violent expressions of warfare. Before discussing the economics of war or warfare, it is pertinent that a working definition of war is established.
The ancient Roman philosopher Cicero defined war as a contention by force (1). In modern times as political systems have changed, we are accustomed to recognise unsettled agreements between states resulting in armed conflict as war. From ideological differences, territorial disputes and altercations for resources; the causes of modern warfare are plentiful. As we approach another Presidency with looming uncertainty, now more than ever, it is crucial that the cost of war is addressed before the United States is devoured by the military industrial complex; a formidable union of armed contractors and the armed forces as warned by President Eisenhower. Eisenhower, a retired 5 star General who led the allies on D-Day, made the remarks in his farewell speech from the White House. As part of a two-part article, the focus of this article shall not be on the causes of war, but rather the monetary costs of war, with emphasis on the ongoing and past wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The ghastly acts that transpired on 9/11, resulting in over three-thousand people dying on American soil, forced the American armed intervention in Afghanistan. The armed intervention of Afghanistan was justified as being necessary to capture Osama Bin Laden the self-confessed perpetrator behind 9/11.
On the contrary, the rationale behind "Operation Enduring Freedom," or commonly known as the Iraq war as articulated by Bush and the top brass of Bush's cabinet, was to prevent the usage of weapons of mass destruction by the Saddam regime. Conforming to the Democratic Peace Theory, another well-known explanation behind the Iraqi war was to usher in democracy in Iraq with hopes that democracy will spill over to other nations in the Middle East, thus resulting in greater stability within the region. Has stability been achieved in the Middle East? The answer from all sides of the spectrums would be an astounding no; the rise of Non-State actors such as ISIS/ISIL attests to this fact.
Every hour, taxpayers in the United States are paying an ostentatious $4 million for the war in Afghanistan (2). Is this cost justified in the current economic upheaval with the ever-widening economic inequality? Following the Government shutdown of 2013, the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment estimated that for every U.S troop serving in Afghanistan, it would cost a shattering $2.1 million (3). More than a decade later, the tally of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq stand at a conservative estimate of over $4 to $6 trillion including interests accrued from borrowing and taking into account the costs involved to look after all the wounded veterans involved in both wars (4).The biggest ongoing expense would be the medical care and disability benefits accrued for veterans of both conflicts. According to the Watson Institute for International Studies of Brown University, future obligations of Veterans through 2054 would cost an astounding
$1 trillion (5).
Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in a study published in 2006 researched that the Iraqi war alone would cost anywhere from a conservative estimate of $1 trillion to a moderate estimate of $2 trillion if all troops were pulled out of Iraq by 2010 (6). In actuality, the US military forces completed their withdrawal from Iraq on the 18th of December 2011 ahead of U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which expired at midnight on the 31st of December of that same year. It should be pointed out however that the figures presented by Stiglitz omit other defence and destruction costs associated with the Iraqi war. On the contrary, the costs associated with the war on terror in Afghanistan continues to mount as a projected 9800 troops will be stationed in Afghanistan in four locations: Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad, and Kandahar as a result of a shift in foreign policy.
It is often perceived that the United States is a war economy and as such wars and military spending are good for the economy; nevertheless, most models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses such as consumption and investment in other areas of the economy such as education thus slowing economic growth and rising unemployment. The Iraq war provided little stimulus to the US economy - as pointed out once again by Stiglitz. This is in stark contrast to the second World War, which capitalised on the total mobilisation of resources and increased government spending within the United States resulting in low unemployment. The Iraq war did, very much indeed, involve heavy Government spending. Nonetheless, most of the spending of the Iraqi War was in actuality diverted to a single commodity, namely oil. The volatility of the oil prices was primarily responsible for the enormous cost of the Iraqi War with very little contribution to the growth of the US economy. When the United States decided to go to war with Iraq in 2003, the price of a barrel of crude oil was $25. Nevertheless, due to instabilities created in the Middle East as a result of the war, the price of a barrel of crude oil shot up to $140 a barrel in 2008 (7).
Is America a great nation? To those who have found solitude in this wonderful place we call home, it undoubtedly is. To the many that gaze at its glory from lands far away; America truly is a beacon of hope. It is the duty of my generation to ensure that our future, and the future of generations, to come is not one filled with anguish and misery. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programmes of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom"-Martin Luther King Jr. The nation we have come to love and admire is slowly moving away from the ideals it was founded upon. Security is of utmost importance; nonetheless, so is education and healthcare - both of which are in dire need of funding. Divesting in arms and the military complex, while investing in education in healthcare, could make America prosperous once again - and that shall be the focus of the second part of my article.