3:56pm

Wed June 29, 2011
The Two-Way

New Estimate For The Cost Of U.S. Wars: About $4 Trillion

A group of researchers at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies set out to answer a number of hard questions about the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Broadly, though, they spent a year trying to figure out the cost of war.

What they found was the the United States had spent somewhere around $3.2 to $4 trillion since the wars began 10 years ago. Of that, only $1.3 trillion is from Pentagon war appropriations. They report:

The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars' costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars' budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.

The researchers point out that the cost of paying veterans' care in the future will be a "sizable portion of the full cost of the war." The Washington Post details that part of the report:

Among other line items, the study's contributors — more than 20 economists, political scientists and other experts — estimate federal obligations to care for past and future veterans will eventually total $600 billion to $950 billion.

The estimates are based on reports from the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service and myriad other sources.

The researchers also estimate the wars have caused around 225,000 deaths. That number they say is a conservative estimate of civilian and military casualties.

As Reuters puts it, another way to look at this report is what the attacks of Sept. 11 have cost the United States:

What followed were three wars in which $50 billion amounts to a rounding error. For every person killed on September 11, another 73 have been killed since.

Was it worth it? That is a question many people want answered, said Catherine Lutz, head of the anthropology department at Brown and co-director of the study.

"We decided we needed to do this kind of rigorous assessment of what it cost to make those choices to go to war," she said. "Politicians, we assumed, were not going to do that kind of assessment."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.