Warring on the cheap

At the times of an economic crisis wars have to be fought fast, efficient, and on the cheap. Fighting wars costs money. The more sophisticated weapons one employs, the more it costs.

Somalia's Shabaab militants fight with AK-47s and drive around in battered pick-up trucks. Their war effort is cheap, but it's only cheap for them as a group. In relative terms it is very expensive for the already poor economy of the country.

At the other end of the spectrum, Israel employs state-of-the-art weaponry – and just one sortie by an Israeli F-16 could cost as much as $US 1 million, if we factor in spare parts, maintenance and repair costs, and of course the mega expensive precision weapons

With the world gripped by the worst economic crisis in 80 years, can anybody even afford a war anymore?

Popular with the electorate, not with investors

Chief analyst at Sprint Investments Ltd. Arie Tal bluntly told Bloomberg last week:

“Further escalation in Gaza could cause more budget expenditures on homeland security and could result in a decrease in Israel’s credit rating and an outflow of capital from foreign investors”.

The central bank of Israel issued its forecast on November 20, saying that economic growth may ease to 1.5% next year, its slowest pace since 2002, when Israel was in the midst of its deepest recession. Simply put, Israel cannot afford to wage a costly high-tech war indefinitely.

Air-to-surface missiles equipped with laser, infrared, optical or GPS guidance cost hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars apiece. The price tag of a single AGM-65 Maverick missile that the Israeli air force employs costs some $US 150,000

More modern Israeli-developed, precision guided, air-to-surface AGM-142 Have Nap “Popeye” missiles cost a whopping $US 500,000 per unit according to Deagel.com. Hel HaAvir, the Israeli Air Force, was lobbing hundreds of those into targets in Gaza since Saturday December 27. You do the math.

The Israeli defense budget may be an impressive $US 18 billion, but at this rate it is burning through the money. Israel's war against Hezbollah in 2006 cost the country about 1% of its GDP, or roughly $US 1.6 billion. These days Israel simple cannot afford such costs.

With Obama's administration having to deal with crises at home, the U.S. might not be as easily persuaded to pay the difference between Israeli defense budgets and its expenditures. Last year alone, the annual military grant the U.S. gave to Israel amounted to some $US 2.2 billion.

Israel does not want to leave Hamas any breathing space, but if the war drags on much longer, Israel might be out of breath itself.

India wants precision punishment

Several thousand kilometers to the East another conflict is brewing. India and Pakistan have been at odds with each other since 1947. Since that time the two countries fought four wars over Kashmir, and have more or less fought themselves to standstill.

The most recent conflict, fought at the frozen heights of the Himalayas in 1999 went into the record books as not only being fought at the highest altitude, but also as one of the most expensive. Just try to deliver those artillery shells or mortar rounds to the altitude of 5000 metres where the battles were fought

Neither side can afford the expense now. Both countries have been hit by the ongoing economic crises: Pakistan severely, India less so. Pakistan is close to effectively declaring bankruptcy and is currently asking international organizations for an emergency loan of $US 100 billion.

India, where the economy was growing rapidly in the last few years thanks to global demand for skilled and cheap Indian workforce, is doing comparatively well, but the demand for the country has to offer is rapidly slowing. The last thing Indian economy needs now is prolonged and costly military engagement, especially with its nuclear-armed neighbour.

What India really wants is to annihilate, or at least severely weaken, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based Islamist group

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was allegedly set up by the Pakistani security agency, the ISI, in the 1980s to fight Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region. It is said to be behind many brazen terrorist attacks in India, including the latest one in Mumbai.

These days the Indian military is watching the Israeli air strikes on Gaza with keen interest. It is likely that they would wish to do just the same: a massive and hopefully precise strike on known LeT camps in Pakistan. However, the difference between the two theatres is huge.

While Hel Ha-Avir operates over Gaza with absolute impunity, like a shooting range, Pakistani air defenses are unlikely to allow the Indian air force such an easy ride on its territory

Global crises won't stop wars, but it will make them shorter

So, logic dictates that waging wars during economic crises is a silly idea, but wars are rarely fought with logic. Otherwise we would never have seen U.S. troops in Iraq.

In the 21st century wars are fought for security, national dignity and by popular demand, even when it makes no economic sense. In the current economic climate, leaders of countries might think twice before sending waves of airplanes and armoured columns into the fray

Back in 1980 Iraq was a wealthy and prosperous country sitting on the some of the world biggest oil reserves, but then one Iraqi leader, a certain Saddam Hussein, decided that oil fields in neighbouring Iran were also his by right

It was suppose to be a quick and efficient war. The Iranian army after the Islamic revolution of 1979 was seen as no match for well-trained and state-of-the-art Iraqi forces.

What happened in the next eight years not only brought about the death of some 200,000 Iraqis (and close to one million Iranians), but totally ruined the Iraqi economy – and ultimately brought about the ignominious end to the Iraqi President.

Hopefully, other world leaders at the time took note.