Thursday, August 24, 2006

Reflections on the Middle East: The Tenth Imperative

I have been wanting to write something about the Middle East, but wondering if there was anything I could meaningfully add to the welter of words already out there. I often write about conflict in economic terms. This is not because the human dimension is not important, even fundamental. It is because appeals to our common humanity seem to carry so little weight in discussions, by political leaders, about what should and and should not be done.

After spending more than forty years puzzling over relationships between conflict terrorism and development; and after spending nearly twenty years writing one book, I have tried to summarize what I know in 10 lessons or “imperatives.” One seems particularly relevant to what is going on in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine-Israel. “The Tenth Imperative, with a brief elaboration, follows:

Do realistic, rigorous, opportunity-costs analyses of military options, versus equivalent expenditures for non military options, before proceeding down the slippery slope of ‘military solutions’ to complex development problems.

Political leaders often say they ‘had no choice’, as did U.S. President George W. Bush when he invaded Iraq. This is rarely true. There are always choices. The longer the time horizon, the greater the range of choices. Chapter 20 provided an estimate of funds that might have been expended on non violent options in Sri Lanka – like providing economically relevant non-discriminatory educational opportunities for Sri Lanka’s youth. Rarely, if ever, are military options contrasted with non military ones. Development professionals sometimes joke that development assistance budgets are denominated in millions, while military budgets are denominated in billions, but the joke is not funny.

If deadly conflict and terrorism are preventable, are there sufficient resources for the task? An analysis that focuses on opportunity costs provides a compelling affirmative answer. For Sri Lanka, this was given in Chapter 20.
But Being an American, I need not look to Sri Lanka for an answer to this question. There are lessons to be learned closer to home. Consider, from the vantage point of opportunity costs, the World Trade Centre bombing of September 11, 2001 and its consequences. Consider the subsequent expenditures in the U.S. on ‘homeland security.’ Consider the expenditures, so far, on the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and subsequent military operations in those nations.
Following the model of cost estimates for Sri Lanka’s civil wars, I could estimate primary secondary and tertiary costs of these conflicts, but some of this work has already been done by others. A very conservative order-of- magnitude cost estimate, would fall in the range of 300 to 500 billion. U.S. dollars.

In June 2002, an Associated Press news article assessed opportunity costs for the Iraq invasion and occupation, based solely on funds appropriated, so far, by the U.S. government, $119.4 billions. This sum, the article reported, would provide 748,495 four year scholarships to Harvard University and 2,806,506 scholarships to an average U.S. State University. It would provide each resident of Iraq with $4,776, a sum roughly equivalent to eight times Iraq’s per-capita income in 2003.
Given what we know about linkages between deadly conflict, terrorism and development, were there ways of expending $300 billion, prior to September 11, that could have prevented the formation of a strong resilient al Qu’eda ; that could have prevented the World Trade Centre Bombings; that could have forestalled the need to invade Afghanistan and Iraq? Sri Lanka’s civil wars teach us that the answer is yes.

(Colombo and Kandy: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2005)


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