Will economic crisis lessen war?
Over the next couple of years there will be many personal tragedies triggered by the current global economic crisis: jobs lost in Halifax, Edinburgh and London are just the start. Yet could the financial crash have a silver lining: fewer lives lost in taxpayer-funded wars?
The current crisis in the financial sector is certainly costing us plenty.
The big US mortgage lenders have already been given $85bn of American taxpayers' money. Now US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is lining up a Congressional Bill to pass a more general $700bn (£382bn) financial rescue package and is urging the UK and other countries to act in similar fashion.
The wider crisis is already costing the economy here, in the US and elsewhere countless billions. What will be the final bill for a crisis resulting from a previous regime of easy credit, short-term profit-taking and the actions of (in Alex Salmond's memorable term) the "spivs and speculators"? The truth is, no-one knows. But if hundreds of billions of dollars are going on the bail-out, that must have implications for other governmental spending choices.
Former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, quoted in the Guardian on the implications of a week of turmoil on Wall Street and in the Square Mile suggests:
"The crisis will weaken America's and our own authority. They and we will have less money to spend on defence or misguided wars."
The war in Iraq has so far cost US taxpayers a figure that will soon be $752bn. By the end of next year the figure will be over $1 trillion. Indeed, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz reckons the final cost of the Iraq war alone could be at least $3 trillion, a phenomenal sum.
That doesn't include the costs to the British taxpaper. As of 18 months ago the cost of the war in Iraq to taxpayers like me had reached £7.4bn and presumably is rather nearer £10bn by now.
However, whether or not the weakened economies of the US and UK will lead to less bellicose foreign policy in the years to come remains to be seen. Just as likely, spending priorities other than defence/defense could be hit, with less available for social programmes, for health and education.
Of course, it is up to taxpayers on both sides of the Atlantic to make sure that our politicians spend our money on our priorities. So, with the economic crisis forcing many of us to reassess our budgets, does our next billion or trillion go on missiles and unmanned drones, or on schools and hospitals?
And isn't this a human rights question as much as an economic one?
UPDATE: And here's a (pro-Obama) view from the States saying something similar: McCain's Foreign Policy Is As Bankrupt As Wall Street by Jacob Heilbrunn on Huffington Post.
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