Friday, 23 November 2007

The price of war

‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, from those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.’

Never have Dwight D Eisenhower’s words been more apposite than they are today, as the world counts the cost of George Bush’s continuing ‘war on terror’.

Earlier this month, the US Congress joint economic committee put a figure on that cost: a cool $1.6 trillion (that’s $1.6 million million) for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone when factors such as interest on money borrowed and long-term health care for the wounded are added in.

That works out at around $21,000 for every family of four in the US, as the Democrat-controlled committee reported. Or, if you prefer, around $27,000 apiece for every man, woman and child in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republican critics of the report have disputed its figures, which its authors argue could double over the next decade. But it doesn’t take a congressional committee to work out how even a fraction of that sort of money invested in the labourers, scientists and children of Iraq and Afghanistan would have yielded a far better return against terrorism than spending it on bombing, invasion and occupation.

Nor does the price of US arms spending end there. This autumn the Senate agreed to a $459 billion budget for the Pentagon in 2008 – almost 10 per cent up on 2007. That’s another $6,000 or so from every family in the US. And it doesn’t include the projected $190 billion needed in 2008 for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (another $2,500-plus per family), which is already one third up on the original estimates.

We’re some way short of those gargantuan sums in the UK. But estimates in March put the cost of the Iraq war to the defence budget here at £5.3 billion. That’s about what Unicef estimates it would cost for a comprehensive worldwide immunisation programme for children.

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