The Costs of War

The war on terror is nearly 10 years old. Up to 225,000 lives have been lost and the wars will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion. But the story doesn't end there. This blog is about The Costs of War, a special report prepared by the Watson Institute's Eisenhower Research Project, a non-partisan, non-profit initiative.

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Quote of the Day: “Are the Costs of War estimates of civilian death low? Almost certainly.”

"Are the Costs of War estimates of civilian death low? Almost certainly." 

— Costs of War co-director Neta Crawford in a Q&A today on the social news website Reddit. You can read the whole Q&A here, but some highlights:

Q [danarchist]: The injured number looks a lot like the murdered number plus 10,000. People are just pulling these numbers out of their asses right? Didn’t the Lancet say about 4 times that were already dead five years ago?

A [Neta Crawford]: The numbers of injured in any of these wars is probably low. Many don’t get to hospitals or clinics.

Are the Costs of War estimates of civilian death low? Almost certainly.

The publicly documented violent death in Iraq from 2003 mid 2011 is about 125,000 people. Survey research during and after wars almost always uncovers more deaths that were not documented by morgues and newspapers. In addition many die as an indirect result of war - the destruction of water treatment plants, health care facilities, and the disruption of agriculture.

So, yes, our reliance on publicly documented reports of death is an undercount of both the direct killing and the indirect war related death. Others have made higher estimates - such as in the medical journal The Lancet in 2006. The Costs of War project could have made a much higher estimate of death in Iraq using that research - but we would have been extrapolating from what is now a 5 year old cluster sample survey that has been attacked on methodological grounds. We would have ended up arguing about the numbers and methods rather than focusing on the reality of civilian killing.

As the author of the civilian death estimates in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, I chose to use the most solid evidence, and acknowledge - as all those who use the publicly documented deaths to estimate killing - that the numbers are incomplete and thus an undercount. I also wanted to emphasize the fact of indirect killing in war. As many or in some conflicts many more civilians will die from disease, malnutrition, and lack of access to health care as will die from bombs and bullets. The indirect dying continues after the fighting stops.

Q [Nixons_BACK]: As one who well understands the cost of war, what criteria would you need to see satisfied before you’d support a war? What about a case of humanitarian intervention? Is the criteria of the just war theory (just cause, just conduct, just peace) viable in your eyes?

A [Neta Crawford]: In my view war may only be justified for self-defense or the defense of others - narrowly defined. In any case, it is also simply more effective to to achieve goals by other means. The just war tradition is a good start to asking questions about whether to go to war and how to fight once in it. But we need to think more carefully about alternatives to war at all stages of conflict.

Q [adopted_guy215]: In the past war has caused an economic surge after, as well as a tech surge during. Do you believe this war will reflect that after the conflict is complete? What are the economic penalties compared to WW2? (adjusting with inflation of course and including the occupation and rebuilding effort in Japan) Worse? Better? The Same?

A [Catherine Lutz]: The economic implications of the wars go beyond the US federal budgetary costs. Unlike other wars, the economic effects of these wars have much to do with the fact that they are being fought with borrowed money. This has raised interest rates, making home mortgages, for example, more costly.

The impact of military spending on jobs is usually positive. The fact that the military sector is less labor intensive than other sectors like home construction or education, however, means that fewer jobs are created by the same amount of spending for war than spending in other arenas of public need.

Fact of the Day: Caring for veterans will get more and more expensive for decades

Medical and disability spending for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 2001-2011When calculating the Costs of War, it’s all too easy to focus on the costs that are affecting us today. But let’s not forget that these costs are going to stretch far into the future, long after the presumed end to military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the first 10 years of war, we’ve spent more than $32 billion caring for veterans of the Afghan and Iraq wars, not including costs for those still in service. Certainly, our veterans deserve every bit of care they receive, but we cannot forget that by putting them in combat we open ourselves to prolonged spending so that that priority is met. Indeed, the Caring for US Veterans page of the Costs of War tells us, “The history of previous wars shows that the cost of caring for war veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years or more after a conflict.”

Read more of that introduction here, or read the whole section on healthcare by clicking here.

(Picture above: Medical and disability spending for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 2001-2011).

Marine KIA leaves a message for his family


With a backdrop of a blue Afghan sky, Farias told his family in the video that he “kind of took a look back at my life” in recent months and was taking on more responsibility in his life.

"I love ya’ll," he said. "Take care. Take care of each other. I’ll be home soon. "

U.S. won't leave Pakistan drone base


The U.S. declaration that drone operations in Pakistan will continue unabated is the latest twist in a fraught relationship between security authorities in Washington and Islamabad, which has been under increasing strain for months.