The Costs of War project is assessing the total cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Findings thus far put the cost at more than 300,000 lives and $4 trillion. The project’s findings are continually updated. Catherine Lutz co-directs the Eisenhower Research Project, which produced the Costs of War report.

Catherine Lutz: The Thomas J. Watson Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies
Catherine Lutz The Thomas J. Watson Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies
The findings of the Costs of War research project headquartered Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies are again being used by journalists who are writing about the impact of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq waged in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

An international team of economists, political scientists, anthropologists, legal experts, and practitioners was brought together to assess the toll of war in human lives and in economic terms — in those two countries and in the United States, Pakistan, and Yemen. The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline the first comprehensive understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars and to continually update and expand the scope of the findings.

The research findings thus far include:

  • The death toll of the wars, conservatively estimated, is approximately 300,000 individuals, uniformed and civilian, as a direct result of violence. More than 180,000 are civilians.
  • The armed conflicts in Pakistan and Yemen have taken more lives than the conflict in Afghanistan.
  • Indirect deaths from the wars, including those related to malnutrition, damaged health infrastructure, and environmental degradation, may far outnumber deaths from combat. While these deaths are difficult to count due to factors such as lack of comparable baseline mortality figures, a reasonable estimate is a ratio of four indirect deaths to one direct death in contemporary conflicts. This would put the death toll at more than 1 million.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. As of March 2012, the number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7.4 million — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Oregon fleeing their homes.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • Some costs of the wars will not peak 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. The war bills already paid and obligated to be paid by the U.S. federal government as of fiscal year 2012 are $3.7 trillion in constant dollars. Interest on the debt incurred for the war is estimated by one reasonable scenario at another $1 trillion by 2020.
  • As with former U.S. wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • More than 6,500 U.S. soldiers have died in the wars, and levels of injury and illness among those who have returned are startling, with a quarter- million disability claims filed with the Veterans Administration. Many deaths and injuries among U.S.contractors have not been identified.
  • The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
  • While it was promised that the U.S. invasions would bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords wielding power in Afghanistan with U.S. support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.