U.S. Enlists More Countries in Iraq, at Taxpayers’ Expense
When the Pentagon proudly announced last week that more and more countries have been signing up to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, one fact drew little attention: U.S. taxpayers will be paying a fair chunk of the bill.
As it has sought to spread the peacekeeping burden, the Bush administration has agreed to help underwrite the participation of such countries as Poland, Ukraine, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. India, which the United States has asked to provide thousands of troops, has been asking for financial help as well.
These deals, which by one estimate could cost $250 million over the next year, will enable the United States to relieve some of its overworked troops and give more of an international face to the American-led undertaking. But they may also draw criticism that the U.S. partners in the reshaping of Iraq are those whose support can be bought -- the “coalition of the billing,” as some wags have put it.
Pentagon officials say it remains unclear what the total tab will be, because they are still trying to work out arrangements with the nearly 50 countries that they say have expressed interest. But it is already clear that the bills will substantially add to U.S. troop expenses that, by one congressional estimate, are currently running $3 billion a month.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 troops from more than a dozen nations will arrive in the next two months to augment a force of about 146,000 troops from the United States and 12,000 from Britain and seven other countries.
In most major peacekeeping missions, the United Nations has taken the lead and covered most of the expenses of countries that contribute troops. In this case, because the Bush administration did not want to surrender its lead role in Iraq to the U.N., the United States had little choice but to build and underwrite the peacekeeping coalition itself.
The U.S. will be helping out with contingents large and small. The Poles, who have become one of the United States’ staunchest military allies, have committed 2,300 soldiers and will oversee a division-size force that will patrol a large section of south-central Iraq. But with Poland’s government budget under stress and unemployment at about 20%, Warsaw asked for assistance.
The United States is also going to pick up most of the tab for 840 doctors, nurses and engineers from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic who are going to Iraq for a year, according to diplomats from Central America.
Western European countries such as Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands will pay the full cost of their participation, diplomats said.
U.S. financing makes participation politically easier for countries that opposed the war or pushed to give the United Nations a lead role in the aftermath.
The government of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, for example, has been eager to build good relations with Washington by taking part, yet faces strong pressure at home to turn down the American request.
Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, estimated that it might cost the administration $250 million to fund the estimated 20,000 troops for the next year.
That assumes that about half the countries would require help and that the United States would have to put up less than half as much money per soldier as the $10,000 to $20,000 it costs to support an American in the field for a month. Many foreign troops are far less expensive than the highly trained, elaborately equipped U.S. forces.
O’Hanlon noted that even when the United Nations finances peacekeeping missions, the U.S. Treasury covers about 25% of the cost, through U.N. dues. The deals are worthwhile, in his view, because they ease the burden on U.S. troops and bring other countries into the mission.
Word of these arrangements has emerged at a time of increasing congressional concern about the staffing and financial burdens of the military mission in Iraq.
At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) said that at the present level of U.S. troop commitment, it would cost $54 billion to pay for the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq for a year.
He noted that although allies covered most of the cost of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in this war, allies have agreed to put up only about $3 billion. “Surely we can’t sustain the burden of being the world’s only superpower, protecting region after region, without some
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, asked whether the Pentagon would soon be seeking a special supplemental budget request, said he believes that the burden in Iraq “can change a lot over the next few months, hopefully change for the better.”
Yet he acknowledged that the costs are hard to predict.
There are signs that, in the face of the mission’s mounting costs, the administration is rethinking its foreign policy spending priorities.
The fight against guerrillas and drug rings in Colombia has been one of the U.S. government’s top priorities, and it has spent nearly $2 billion in mostly military aid to the Latin nation’s armed forces. But last week, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson signaled that the United States now wants to shift the burden.