The True Cost of War

by Abby Scher

Resist newsletter, July / August 1999


When Congress decided to spend $12 billion to pay for the bombing of Serbia, what did we get-and what didn't we get-for our tax dollars?

NATO's bombing of Serbia cost about $7.5 billion total on top of the usual military spending of allied countries. The U.S. share of the bill for just the first 71 days of bombing is an estimated $2 billion-and could be as high as $2.6 billion, according to rough calculations by Steven Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington D.C. That paid for 750 combat aircraft that flew some 21,000 missions, support aircraft, 24 Apache attack helicopters, 18 high-tech missile launchers and the 5,500 troops sent to nearby Albania.

The Army's deployment of the Apache helicopters alone cost as much as $140 million, says Kosiak.

* Navy ships launched perhaps 430 Tomahawk cruise missiles costing $1 million each. Air Force B-52 bombers launched about 90 cruise missiles, costing $2 million each.

* Resettling 2 million refugees will cost about $ 10 billion.

* Reconstructing Yugoslavia, both Serbia and Kosovo, may cost $ 13 billion.

* Between fighting the war, reconstructing Serbia and resettling the refugees, the United States will spend some $25 billion.


What could have been bought instead:

* $ 16 billion would provide debt relief to all 41 countries eligible under the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's current guidelines.

* $2 billion would hire 100,000 teachers to reduce class sizes across the country.

* $8.6 billion would enroll all eligible children in Head Start, the national education program for preschoolers living in poverty only one out of three of those eligible is now enrolled.

* The $25 billion would pay for almost half the $62 billion that the Republicans plan to cut from the federal budget for the year 2000 an 18% cut from 1999.


Economist Dean Baker estimates that for $95 billion only four times the cost of the war and its aftermath-the United States could provide all the public investment the country needs-in Head Start, mass transit, higher education, public schools, water and sewage systems, bridges, etc. Since the late 1970s, says Baker, "federal spending on public investment, measured as a share of total economic output, has fallen by more than a third, and it will fall another 35% over the next 10 years on the current spending path" devised by Congress in the 1997 balanced budget agreement.

Resources: Global Weekly Economic Monitor (Lehman Brothers, May 7,1999); "Cost of Allied Force Air Campaign: Day 71," (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, June 3,1999); Robert Greenstein, "The Republican Budget Proposals," Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (March 19, 1999); Dean Baker, "The Public Investment Deficit: Two Decades of Neglect Threaten 21st Century Economy," Economic Policy Institute (February 1998).


Reprinted with permission from Dollars & Sense, where Abby Scher is editor.

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