Brown University’s Watson Institute Assesses Full Cost of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Posted by Soren Sorensen

A group of academics from all over the United States, working alongside Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, have placed the full cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date at around $2.5 trillion dollars.  These military conflicts, the study concludes, will likely reach a price tag of between $3.2 to 4 trillion, significantly more than the estimate Harvard professor Linda Bilmes and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz put in their 2008 book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, and more of course than the $1 trillion approximation to which members of the Obama administration often allude.

The $4 trillion estimate doesn’t include future interest payments, which could put the cost closer to $5 trillion.

The recent tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks brought with it the customary commemorations befitting an event of its magnitude.  Alongside ceremonies around the country, most notably the opening of the 9/11 memorial in New York, were numerous stories in broadcast, print and online media which tried not only to remember the event but also to make sense of the aftermath and the consequences of the last ten years of the United States government’s continuing reaction.

Separating feelings, partisan bias and religious beliefs from facts and hard data during a time of national mourning can be challenging.  Since the Watson Institute is indeed a nonpartisan academic entity, the study’s participants took on a broad number of other issues, looking beyond the economic costs of these wars to human, social and political costs and potential benefits, hypothetical alternatives and recommendations.

Catherine Lutz, co-director of the study and anthropology professor at the Watson Institute, told the New England Post, “I’ve been studying the US military for years and [Boston University political science professor] Neta Crawford and I got together about a year ago and decided that we needed to try to put more full and accurate information out there about the wars in preparation for the tenth anniversary of 9/11.”

Lutz continued, “So we had about a year’s lead time, we put together a big team of 22 people and just tried to cover as many of the issues as we could.”

While the study is focused primarily on the American side of aforementioned war-related issues, Lutz emphasized that the team of researchers spent a lot of time trying to get accurate casualty statistics not only for Iraq and Afghanistan but also for Pakistan, a nation, Lutz was surprised to discover, that has been more effected by the US response to 9/11 than she had imagined.

The central findings of the study, Lutz told the New England Post, reveal many more deaths than have ever been reported.  “A quarter of a million people, at least, have died” Lutz said, “and this includes people in uniform, out of uniform, contractors, US citizens, Iraq and Afghanistan citizens.”

Lutz continued, “The bulk of the deaths have been civilians in Iraq.”

“That’s a minimum,” Lutz added, “because those are deaths by direct violence.  We estimate that multiples of that number may have died as a result of indirect effects of war.”

“The death toll,” Lutz said, “could be closer to a million.”

Lutz told the New England Post that, while issues related to 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can inspire political rancor, she thinks that the study’s findings speak for themselves.

“People need this information to be able to tell our politicians what they think about the wars, including future US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lutz said.  “Everybody should be starting conversations about the wars with accurate information.”

“I think the public should have more power,” Lutz told the New England Post, “and that’s what the information is.  The public should know what wars cost.”

To view the study’s findings, download full research papers and learn more about the participants and their continuing work, visit the Costs of War website at

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Posted by Soren Sorensen on Sep 21 2011. Filed under Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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