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Hossein Askari is the Iran Professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University. He served for two and a half years on the Executive Board of the IMF and was a special advisor to the Minister of Finance of Saudi Arabia; he was the director of the team that developed the first comprehensive energy models and plan for Saudi Arabia. He has written on economic development in the Middle East, Islamic economics and finance, international trade and finance, agricultural economics, oil economics, and economic sanctions. Most recently, he has co-authored four books on Islamic finance and a book on Islam and development. He is currently working on a book focusing on the political economy of oil and another on cost of conflicts in the Persian Gulf. He received all his education at MIT, including a PhD in economics in 1970.
Askari's thesis is that governments and their leaders perceive the cost of agression to be lower than, in fact, it is, and are thus encouraged to behave agressively. (A country only goes to war if it expects to win, and winning is generally, if incorrectly, perceived to be profitable.) It is easy to agree with Askari's thesis, even without the extensive material he includes to estimate the costs of various wars in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The next step in Askari's reasoning is that the true cost of agression should be made visible. This is far more problematic, particularly because the right time to present the true cost is before the hostilities begin, whereas even in the best of circumstances, the true costs can be estimated only decades later. When the US government correctly predicted military victory in the mid-East within a matter of days or weeks, was there the slightest hint of a suggestion that upward of another decade and a trillion dollars would be required to leave the world no better off than it was before?
To his credit, Askari does atttempt to quantify off-budget costs, such as lost production, veterans' health care, refugee support, environmental damage, and the like. Large as they are, his numbers are conservative and surely understate the true economic cost. He points out that most conflicts are the re-ignition of previous conflicts, so there are also problems of attribution of costs to any particular conflict.
Askari mentions human suffering - death, disability, displacement - but his analysis is primarily economic. This also understates the cost of conflict, especially to those who are directly involved.
And this is perhaps the crux of the weakness in Askari's argument.Read more ›
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