We have always known that war is dirty and destructive, but now a US-led international team of researchers is revealing precisely how destructive and expensive several wars have been for the United States and the countries it invades – and how the ravages and costs of war could persist for generations after the fighting and bombing stop.
The Costs of War Project comprises 35 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners and physicians, and has been working since 2011 to document the full human, material, and political costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related violence in Pakistan and Syria – and to ask for an official accounting.
The project’s findings show that over the past 15 years, US conflicts have cost more than 600,000 military and civilian lives, resulted in more than seven million refugees and displaced people, and run-up perhaps nearly $13 trillion in financial costs over the lifetimes of the conflicts.
The project is coordinated by the Watson Institute for International Studies, at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Professor Catherine Lutz at the Watson Institute, a co-director along with Neta Crawford and Stephanie Savell, elaborated in an interview this week on the project’s aim to fully account for the cost of war in all dimensions, and in all the countries concerned.
“We conduct this research because we feel we must assess the full consequences of the wars we wage,” she said.
“By fostering a democratic discussion of these wars, by providing the fullest possible account of their human, economic and political costs, we hope informed public opinion would better understand how many people died and were injured, and continue to die. We are not anti-war on strategic or moral grounds as such, but we want the American public to be able to at least count the number of dead and injured, and ask what we accomplished, and if these wars were worth fighting, for the United States as well as for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.”
This week marks the 15th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan which the United States and allies launched in October 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. Six months later the US and its allies also launched a war in Iraq.
Over 600,000 military and civilian dead, more than seven million refugees and displaced people, and perhaps nearly $13 trillion in financial costs over the lifetimes of the conflicts.
The Costs of War Project’s research of the past 15 years of these wars includes the following key findings:
The project also points out the costs of war in terms of the “erosions in civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad”, noting that Iraq and Afghanistan still rank extremely low in global studies of political freedom, women in both countries are broadly excluded from political power, and they also suffer from high rates of unemployment and war widowhood.
Americans continue to serve in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the US has been regularly bombing targets in six Muslim-majority countries – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
So the costs of war will only continue to rise for Americans and those unfortunate lands where the US government decides to make war – without any serious reduction in the terror attacks that started this whole cycle in September 2001.
Rami G Khouri is a senior public policy fellow at the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut and a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard University Kennedy School.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.