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'Costs of War' project initiates research series to evaluate post-9/11 wars

Watson series to provide data, analysis of costs, consequences of ‘20 Years of War’

As federal spending on the post-9/11 wars has ballooned to $5.9 trillion, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs joined with the The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University to initiate a new “20 Years of War” research series this fall.

This research endeavor marks a new phase of the Watson’s larger Costs of War project, which has worked to provide data and analysis of the costs and consequences of the War on Terror.

The Costs of War project at the Watson was initiated in 2010 by Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and international studies, and Neta Crawford, professor and chair of the department of political science at Boston University. It has drawn over 50 researchers from around the world to produce over 70 papers thus far. The project aims to demonstrate the human, economic, social and political cost of the post-9/11 wars to policy makers and the public.

The new, two-year “20 Years of War” series will focus on producing new reports and adding to existing data to paint a more comprehensive picture of American spending on foreign wars. The “20 Years of War” series will cover regions such as Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

The aim of the project is to change the way people think about war, Lutz said. “We hope to be able to orient ourselves not just to these wars, but to the idea that the war paradigm itself is poorly understood,” she added. “So our goal is to also effect that way of thinking — about any war that any state engages in.”The new series received a $450,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and is supported by the Watson Institute and the Pardee Center.

According to the Costs of War project, the American expenditure on post-9/11 wars is not just monetarily expensive. It also carries great indirect costs on society and the environment. “We just had a paper comment on climate change in the ways that the War on Terror has contributed to greenhouse gas emissions, and the ways that (the) U.S. military, if it were a country, would be the 55th largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world,” said Stephanie Savell, the project director and a senior research associate of the Watson Institute. The project also includes research on other secondary costs, such as the refugee crisis, veteran welfare and lack of health infrastructure in war zones.

The Costs of War project has garnered public attention in recent years. Through a briefing on Capital Hill, the project gained “a lot of legitimacy ... within congress and (gave) us a lot of credibility in the eyes of the mainstream media,” Savell said. In one case, the Wall Street Journal wrote an extensive feature about the budgetary costs of war. The Guardian also published an op-ed by Savell on the cost of war in Somalia.

“The working relationship is good for both universities — raising awareness (for) what the other is doing,” said Heidi Peltier, project director of Costs of War at Boston University. The collaboration continues to foster conversations about the project’s focus. “What is happening in the US is that a lot of people forget that we are still at war,” she said. “Because we are paying for war out of debt … we don’t feel the immediate costs,” Peltier added.

Savell stresses that the project should be seen as a bipartisan resource. “The works that we do are to educate people and … promote this issue in the public debate,” she says. But “when you look at the data and the research that’s presented … it sort of speaks for itself in terms of what we need to do,” Peltier said.



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