Early next year the Pentagon will ask Congress for at least $20 billion in additional funds for Operation Desert Shield. That's just to keep the peace.
According to various estimates, a full-scale shooting war could cost the United States from $1 billion to $2 billion per day. At that rate all of the $41 billion in deficit reductions we achieved in the budget agreement would be wiped out in a single month.Though economic issues are clearly of lesser moment when weighed against the lives of thousands of young Americans, the economic consequences of war demand attention.
There is a heavy dose of irony in the specter of America mobilizing for a war to protect our economic self-determination and then sinking into economic quicksand beneath the cost of the operation.
All of which poses a fundamental question: Where are the financial contributions of our key allies, especially those who have more to lose than we do from a disruption of Persian Gulf oil?
Despite the early hoopla surrounding efforts by our secretaries of defense, treasury and state to secure burden-sharing commitments from our allies, the entire effort has fallen short.
The administration, which has been preoccupied with forging international support for the use of American force in the gulf, has all but ignored the thorny question of who pays. They have shown little interest in directing the attention of Congress to this question and they have exerted minimal pressure on our allies to pay up. The allies have been content to delay paying as long as possible.
Japan relies on the Persian Gulf for some 70 percent of the oil it uses to sustain its $3 trillion yearly economy. Its leaders reluctantly pledged $4 billion to the gulf effort - $2 billion in military assistance and $2 billion in foreign assistance.
As of Nov. 30 the Pentagon reported that its Major Foreign Contributors' Responsibility Sharing program has received from Japan only $374 million, 40,000 Sony Walkmen and a few Toyotas.
Unified Germany arguably has more to gain from stable oil prices and a reliable new world order than any other industrialized nation. Nonetheless, Bonn has offered just $800 million, and, to date, the Pentagon has received only $330 million of that.
A more glaring case still is Saudi Arabia, whose royal family asked the United States to protect that nation's immense oil reserves. A safe Saudi Arabia has been able to increase oil production in a tight market and realize a windfall profit of some $150 million a day. That's at a time when Americans are paying $80 million more per day for our gulf oil imports than we did prior to the August invasion of Kuwait.
The Saudis originally promised $3 billion to $5 billion in cash and in-kind contributions. But even that modest promise is being kept grudgingly. So far the Saudis have contributed only $987 million in cash and material to the Desert Shield account - about 6.5 days' worth of their windfall oil profits.
Clearly, something is out of joint. America's share of the cost simply doesn't match our share of the international risk.
Every nation with a definable interest in the Persian Gulf should make a contribution that is commensurate with its interest. With our NATO allies and especially with Japan we should make this question a centerpiece for any future trade discussions.