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The real cost of Middle East wars

February 3, 2016 at 11:01 am

The world has been sucked into a whirlpool of wars since the beginning of the 21st century. Millions of Muslims have lost their lives in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and in fighting in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Thousands of women, children, elderly people, youngsters and other innocent people are being added to the list every day. As one part of the world dies, another produces reports praising the war machinery that it employs.

These wars have become a kind of convention for new weaponry. The US first used its new B2 bombers in the fighting in Afghanistan and Libya. The unmanned aerial vehicles known as drones were first used by the CIA in Pakistan. The $75-billion F22 Raptor aircraft had to wait for the Syrian civil war. F35 fighters, on which $400 billion has been spent to date out of a $1 trillion budget, are waiting their turn to rain down death and destruction.

Russia has not been slow to take part in this arms exhibition. It first put its Tupelov TU-160 warplanes, Raduga Kh-101 cruise missiles, new mechanised howitzer the MSTA-B and S 400 missile system on show in the Syrian civil war. France showcased its Rafale fighter aircraft in the Libyan and Syrian civil wars. Russia also launched its 3M-14 missiles with their 1,500 mile range at targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea.

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Each new weapon competes to cause greater killing and devastation. Success in the arms race is measured in the amount of innocent blood spilled. The reward for the winners is international praise and money to commit new slaughter. New weapons introduced by one side leads the other bloc to develop an even better one. While money is spent on developing a weapon, billions of dollars are also diverted to develop defence systems to counter it. The world’s resources are more than adequate to feed, house and provide pleasant lives for its 7 billion inhabitants, yet these countries spend their wealth, not on keeping people alive, but on the means to kill them.

The money spent on arms represents only a very small part of the total cost of wars. Several think-tanks have calculated the cost to the US economy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at $6 trillion. A large part of the cost represents expenditure not on the battlefield but on indirect costs. In addition to the $2 trillion it has already spent, the US will spend another $4 trillion over the next 30 years in loan interest, new arms purchases and lifetime health costs for injured veterans. One week before the start of the Iraq War, the then US Vice President Dick Cheney said that it would last only 2 years and would cost around $100 billion. However, the conflicts have never ended, and the cost has been at least 40-50 times higher.

The world is becoming an ever more dangerous place, with the side-effects of wars that cannot be measured in money. Billions of dollars are being spent on security alone. Instead of our old world fighting hunger, poverty and disease, huge efforts are being made to protect against threats from unknown directions.

In its peace report for 2014, the Institute for Economics and Peace revealed that 81 countries have gradually become more dangerous places, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Israel and Lebanon. The annual cost of the climate of violence in these six countries alone is $300 billion. The annual cost to the world due to violence is estimated at $10 trillion. Of that, $3 trillion represents the costs of obtaining arms, $3 trillion is related to crime and personal violence (murders, acts of violence in society, sex crimes and prison expenditure), $2.2 trillion for domestic security and $1.2 trillion for the cost of regional or global conflicts. Instead of this money being spent on preventing hunger, poverty and the deaths of homeless children, and raising prosperity across the world, it is being wasted on a dead-end from which there can be no winners.

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It would be wrong to measure the costs of war in monetary terms alone, though. The climate of conflict that peaked with the “War on Terror” programme has cost some 3 million lives. It is impossible to put a financial valuation on the right to life of innocent men, women, children and the elderly. This process has, to date, devastated eight countries. Hundreds of cities and tens of thousands of towns have to be rebuilt. Four million people have had to flee their countries, while another 8 million are displaced within them. Turkey alone is housing more than 2 million Syrian refugees. Hundreds of thousands are clamouring at the border of the EU, many of whom drown before they ever get there.

Another major effect of the wars in the Middle East that will persist for many long years is the way that they have distanced the peoples of the East and West from one another. Islam is equated with war and terror in many Western homes, while in the East, millions regard the people of the West as invaders and warmongers.

The greatest cost of these wars is the way that all sides lose their humanity. Official news agencies carry reports of how many bombs have been produced and how many targets have been struck every day, and portray their own countries as heroic. Yet it is unclear who is targeted or hit in these operations. Military spokespersons describe “successful” operations as things to be proud of, even though all such terminology in fact means more corpses, more destruction and more poverty. The material and psychological costs of this sort of scenario will grow even more terrible so long as mankind tries to solve disputes through war, instead of peace. The goal should be to act outside of this mindset and bring peace to the world. More war will never be the way to do this.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.