Billions spent on war, strategic oil interests and global power is billions not spent on hospitals, education, transport, housing and benefits. The eighth reason to fight the ConDem cuts.

Estimates of the number killed in the Iraq War range from 100,000 to a million. The toll in the Afghan War is at least 30,000. Most of the human beings represented by these statistics are what generals call ‘collateral damage’.

In addition, 3 million people in Iraq have lost their homes and become ‘internally displaced persons’. The figure for Afghanistan is around a quarter of a million.

Iraq’s infrastructure has been largely destroyed. Afghanistan has always been one of the poorest countries on earth; after 30 years of invasion, occupation, and war, it remains so.

The real tragedy of these wars is represented by this human cost. But there is also a financial cost. And this, in the new ‘age of austerity’ we are being invited to enter, tells us much about our rulers’ priorities.

The total cost of British military operations in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at around £12 billion, having recently soared to £2.6 billion a year. That is £190 for every person in Britain, enough to pay for 23 new hospitals, 60,000 new teachers, or 77,000 new nurses.

These are the direct costs. When indirect costs are included – like the long-term care of the maimed – the figures rise. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, estimates the total cost of the Iraq War to the US economy will be $3 trillion. ‘Our calculations are based on conservative assumptions,’ he explains. ‘Needless to say, this number represents the cost only to the United States. It does not reflect the enormous cost to the rest of the world, or to Iraq.’

Even the Congressional Budget Office, in a report published in 2007, conceded a total cost to the US of $2.4 trillion for the Iraq and Afghan Wars combined – $6,300 per US citizen.

If these were just wars in a good cause, we might feel that the sacrifice in blood and treasure, however regrettable, was necessary. But they are not. They are wars fought for control of energy supplies in the interests of rival great powers and giant corporations. They are wars for oil and gas.

Especially oil. No other commodity has the strategic importance of oil. It is food, light, heat, and transport. It is the basis of the entire world economy.

But oil is running out. We have passed, or are very close to passing, ‘peak oil’ – the point at which depletion of the world’s reserves causes global output to begin to decline.

This must be set against fast-rising demand. China’s average growth rate for the period 1978 to 2008 was about 8% per year. In that time, its economic output increased nine-fold, and its share of world trade rose from 1% to 6%.

If we lived in a rational world, we would share resources, adjust economic plans, and work together on alternative technologies. But we do not live in a rational world. We live in one where corporations compete, and nation-states kill, for control of oil.

In this context, control means securing your own supplies and denying them to others. This explains the strategic importance of the Middle East, which contains about 70% of known oil reserves. To ensure effective control of these reserves, the US invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, retains 50,000 troops in the country today, and is now threatening to attack neighbouring Iran.

The significant statistics are these: Iraq has 12% of global oil reserves (ranking 2nd after Saudi-Arabia); Kuwait has 10% (ranking 4th); and Iran has 9% (ranking 5th).

Afghanistan is also an energy war. With its Central Asian location, Afghanistan looks in three directions: towards Iran, with its Islamic-nationalist regime and 90 billion barrels of oil; towards Pakistan, with its vast impoverished Muslim population and nuclear arsenal; and towards the Caspian Basin, with up to 30 billion barrels of oil, 30% of the world’s gas reserves, and powerful Russian influence.

Afghanistan itself is one of the poorest countries on Earth. But it is a military platform from which power can be projected. So the US invaded in 2001 to bring about ‘regime change’, and is now pumping in more troops in an effort to contain the resulting insurgency.

The Iraq and Afghan Wars are not ‘wars on terror’. They are imperialist wars: their purpose is to secure the economic and strategic interests of the US and its close allies.

When the system booms, there is something for everyone. When it crashes, the competition gets dirty. The temptation to use military power to compensate for economic failure grows.

Underlying the growing belligerence of the US and the militarisation of its relations which other states is an attempt to secure its economic position against emerging global rivals. Of these, the most important is China, a new capitalist superpower with global reach that is already consuming 7% of the world’s oil.

The Chinese state oil company has recently struck a $70 billion deal to buy oil and gas from Iran. The US, on the other hand, is threatening to attack Iran. Two global superpowers are, in effect, competing for control of Iranian oil.

The US is also threatening China itself, installing anti-ballistic missiles on Taiwan, and missile interceptors on ships operating in neighbouring seas. ‘As China pushes further ahead economically,’ says CND Chair Kate Hudson, ‘the US is playing a dangerous game … promoting US nuclear primacy to prevent Chinese economic primacy.

Nuclear weapons are weapons of last resort. As global tensions rise, they assume growing importance. The world divides between those who can deploy the ultimate threat and those who can only submit.

The Con-Dem Government is committed to British membership of the exclusive club of nuclear-armed international bullies. So they want to replace the ageing Trident system with a new generation of nuclear weapons. The total estimated cost is around £75 billion.

As for wider defence cuts, while other government departments face cutbacks of between 25 and 40%, the joint heads of the British armed forces, backed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have told the Con-Dem Government that no such cuts are permissible in the military. Ministry of Defence cutbacks will be kept to around 10%.

Here, then, is another reason to fight the cuts. Just as they have billions to burn on bailouts and bonuses, they also have billions to waste on weapons and war. To cut jobs, services, and welfare is a political choice, not an economic necessity.

Neil Faulkner

Neil Faulkner is a freelance archaeologist and historian. He works as a writer, lecturer, excavator, and occasional broadcaster. His books include ‘A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics‘ and ‘A Marxist History of the World: from Neanderthals to Neoliberals‘.