So far, cost of war to U.S. could be minimal--but peace might be different WAR IN THE GULF MILITARY EXPENSES

March 03, 1991|By Stephen E. Nordlinger | Stephen E. Nordlinger,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Each day the cease-fire holds should reduce the cost of the Persian Gulf commitment to the allied forces by about $500 million, from savings in fuel, ammunition and other costs.

But the postwar cost to the United States of maintaining an augmented military presence in the region and possibly restoring funds to the Pentagon budget may exceed the cost of the war itself. The ultimate cost will also depend on the extent to which weapons stockpiles are replaced.

"The cost of postwar policies represents the source of greatest uncertainty," said Robert D. Reischaurer, director of the Congressional Budget Office.

"They could be larger than the cost of the war, particularly if the United States elects to provide substantial aid to war-damaged countries or if we choose to maintain a larger military than is now planned."

It would cost $150 million a year, for instance, to keep a heavy Army division, including 300 tanks and other equipment, aboard ships in the Middle East. The cost of an additional 15 ships to carry this equipment would be $3.75 billion.

Costs would also mount quickly should Congress and the administration decide to scale back planned defense reductions.

The current plan calls for a 20 percent reduction, by 1995, in the number of military people on active duty -- currently, 2.1 million. But lowering these cuts by one-third would add $10 billion to $20 billion to military spending.

Although it is too early to calculate the cost of the war itself, administration officials estimate that it will be between $50 billion and $75 billion. The administration has asked Congress for $15 billion to cover the U.S. share of the cost of the war. Those funds would be supplemented by $53.5 billion pledged so far by the nation's allies. Only $14.9 billion has been received, however, according to Richard G. Darman, the budget director.

The chief contributors have been Saudi Arabia, which has pledged 16.8 billion; Kuwait, $16 billion; Japan, $10.7 billion; and Germany, $6.5 billion.

From August to December, the deployment of U.S. troops cost (( an estimated $11.1 billion, according to the administration. Other countries have pledged nearly $10 billion in aid for that period.

"I think what people who are concerned about this have not realized is that we are getting significant support committed from overseas," President Bush said at a recent news conference.

His words seemed aimed at Congress, which is fretting that other nations are failing to pick up enough of the tab or may not redeem their pledges. Government figures, however, show that while the United States provided the overwhelming share of

troops and military equipment, other countries intend to pay most of the cost.

And if they, indeed, do, the president most likely could avoid being pressured to ask for a tax increase, a move suggested by some Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Aside from funds directly for the war effort, the administration has also sought billions of dollars in aid for countries hurt by the war -- especially Egypt and Turkey, the latter of which lost revenue when it agreed to close the oil pipeline from Iraq.

The foreign funds go into a special account at the Treasury called the Defense Cooperation Account. Under law, those funds can be spent only under an appropriation approved by Congress.

An administration official said that congressional approval will be sought to spend new money as quickly as it is received. He said all of the donations except some of those from Saudi Arabia are in cash.

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