A Persian Gulf War What Are the Costs of Conflict?

By Mark Sommer. Mark Sommer is a research associate of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program California, and the of two books on national and global security. | The Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 1990 | Go to article overview

A Persian Gulf War What Are the Costs of Conflict?


Mark Sommer. Mark Sommer is a research associate of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program California, and the of two books on national and global security., The Christian Science Monitor


AFTER months of fevered anticipation, the Persian Gulf crisis has entered an eerie state of suspense. American troops continue to flow into Saudi Arabia like actors silently taking their places on a darkened stage just before the lights come up. Meanwhile, the great majority of politicians and pundits speak not of whether but when Bush should move, not of whether the likely costs are proportionate to the crime but whether the deed can be done "quickly" and "surgically" enough to preserve public support. Seldom in American history has so momentous an act been conceived and prepared amid so little critical debate.

Yet this brief hiatus may be our last chance to come to our sense and step back from the precipice. Before committing ourselves to what some analysts believe would be the bloodiest war of its duration in human history, we would do well to count the costs of conflict and to consider the alternatives to it. Among the many questions we ought to be asking are these:

1. What are the true costs of the Persian Gulf deployment? What other priorities will be pinched as a result of Operation Desert Shield? Who will profit, who will lose? What will be its effects on the US economy as it sinks into recession? What will be the opportunity costs to US society of not applying the cold war's peace dividend to urgent domestic priorities but diverting them back into military spending?

2. What are the costs of an invasion of Kuwait and Iraq? (Estimates run about $1 billion a day for the US alone.) What would be the likely American casualties? (Estimates run between 20,000 deaths in four days to 45,000 in a month - near the toll of the entire 10-year Vietnam War.) How many would be wounded? How many Iraqi civilians would be killed by the projected US carpet bombing of industrial and military centers around Baghdad? Could Saddam's invasion of Kuwait justify such enormous losses of innocent human life?

3. What would be the likely effects of a US invasion on the world economy? If the Iraqis hit the vulnerable Saudi oilfields within range of their missiles, oil prices could rise to $80 a barrel, plunging Eastern Europe and developing nations into bankruptcy and an already shaky world financial system into collapse.

4. What are the intentions of the White House in placing such a large offensive military force in the Persian Gulf? Have the precedents of Grenada and Panama emboldened US policymakers to consider unilateral military intervention a legitimate and effective means of ridding themselves of regional tyrants (including those as in the cases of Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, were once allies)? …

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