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The Cost Of The “War On Terror”

September 26, 2012 · Joey Carbonaro

Recently, I watched a series on the BBC called ‘Our War’. It showed the supposed coming-to-an-end of the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, but from the perspective of British service personnel, chiefly infantry on the ground.

After seeing a particularly disturbing episode and reading some statistics from government websites, I thought about what the real price of this war that still continues in the Middle East.

US national debt continues to rise. Joey Carbonaro says that operations in Afghanistan would be a good place to start making some savings.

One of the statistics I found was that the cost to the United States of the global war on terror, including operations in Afghanistan since 9/11, is at present almost $4 trillion. That’s just short of half of what the country has added in their own national debt since 2001.

So is it really worth it?

Those in government defence contracts might argue so, but the stark truth is that terrorism is a relatively small, and some argue, negligible threat to U.S. and U.K. national security. The exaggeration particularly of American national security threats seems to extend to the security of individual Americans.

What do I mean by that?

Again, let’s look at the economic approach.

Since 9/11, 238 American citizens have died from terrorist attacks. This is an average of 29 per annum. To put that into some perspective, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the “average” American is just as likely to be crushed to death by a television set or other piece of furniture, as they are to be killed by a terrorist.

Perhaps then Obama could declare war on televisions? It might boost his popularity amongst some of the southern states?

A recent study from Duke University found that, since that day in 2001, only eleven Muslim Americans were involved in terrorist activities in the United States, of which thirty-three Americans were killed.

Over that same time period, there have been nearly 150,000 murders and over 300,000 suicides on American soil. What’s more is that only six percent of all terrorist activity in both the U.S. and the U.K. was Islamist in nature.

The truth then is that the spectacular media imagery of the 9/11 attacks seemed to have blinded both U.S. and subsequently U.K. policy makers, immediately post September 11 into revenge, but through an equally spectacular show of dollar-imperialism, most of which bought into an ill-conceived foreign policy.

One might argue that America and the U.K. bar 7/7, have not been hit by a “spectacular” terrorist attack since. However, it hadn’t really been hit by a spectacular terrorist attack before. 9/11 was  — whatever your wider view of the incident — a “black swan” incident economically.

This means it was by its nature, high impact, and unprecedented. And the problem with black swan events is that very often they are never repeated, and so spending money to prevent future occurrences is, as some may argue, a waste of money and more importantly, a waste of life.

President Obama listens to a speech by President Karzai before signing a historic Strategic Partnership Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan on May 1 2012.
Photo: US Embassy, Kabul

Aside from the £12 million pounds per day spent by the taxpayer, the most important price of the war is the tragic loss of human life. So far the death toll for the war in Afghanistan stands at 380 British servicemen and women and more than 40,000 Innocent Afghan civilians.

I will also include other statistics in this paragraph for “loss of human life” by revealing that 30.8% of the worldwide population of refugees are Afghani, a statistic that is nothing less than truly staggering.

Whatever your views on the war on terror, my point is that it is coming at a huge cost for the western world, both monetarily and in human capital and one which may not be sustainable for much longer. With so many domestic problems that could be solved using the capital currently being spent on the war, pressure may be on politicians to keep the promise of withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, even though it looks far from over.

Thus it will be interesting to track this issue and see what the final cost of “peace” will be.

Joey Carbonaro
Joey is a former Chair of Robert Bakewell Hall.
Joey Carbonaro
Joey Carbonaro

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Posted by on September 26, 2012. Filed under Columnists,Joey Carbonaro.
  • Andrew Lawton

    I agree it’s very (probably too) expensive, but we don’t know how many deaths, causalities etc there would have be were we not doing a lot of hard work against terrorism. With the number of attacks being so low, you could argue that it’s money well spent?