There have always been eye-catching headlines about conflicts regarding their cost, e.g.

  • The war in Iraq has cost USA x billion USD
  • The US presence in Afghanistan has cost the exchequer y billion USD

How does one estimate a cost of a conflict? Should it always be an estimate? Is it possible to get an exact cost, like one does for any venture?

  • Is it possible to have profitable conflicts as opposed to loss-making conflicts?
    • The Empire left their colonies post World War 2, because they did not find it profitable to maintain a presence after their World War 2 losses.
    • Afghanistan was a loss-making conflict, as opposed to the profitable Iraq conflict
  • Is there a standard way of calculating the costs of a conflict, using double entry book-keeping accounting methods?
  • What are the tangible and intangible assets in a war?
  • How does one calculate reduction in the value of intangible assets of a war as they may not be immediately manifest?
  • Are the assets owned by Armed Forces subject to depreciation or appreciation? If yes, how does one calculate that?
  • Just like before embarking on a business venture, a firm calculates the profitability or, at the very least, sustainability of the said venture, do nations calculate the profitability or sustainability of an invasion/occupation?
  • 3
    This is indeed very interesting and quite a good question from perspective of politics SE. But I think there are multiple questions here , some of which are quite complex to answer because we can't predect anything in war (as currently we are seeing in Ukrain war , Russia is facing hard times to push and taking much more time than anticipated.) So it will be better to ask few separate questions than a single one by spliting to avoid question being too broad to answer. Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 16:46
  • And I think " double entry book-keeping accounting methods" point looks more related to economics stack exchange and possibly best answed there. - economics.stackexchange.com Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 16:48
  • "Is it possible to get an exact cost, like one does for any venture?" - I'd argue that most ventures are impossible to get an exact cost for. Take buying a house: sure, there's an exact cost on a ledger somewhere that's the money exchanged for the deed of the house, but the venture itself? Costs to realtors, inspectors; costs of repairs and modifications; servicing costs for loans. What about cost of lunch? Well, there's the price of the sandwich, but there's also the gas in your auto or wear and tear on your bike or shoes. And time! how do you estimate costs of time? Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 17:00
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    If something is destroyed in a war, which cost do you register for it? The value of the property before it's damaged? The cost to repair it? To cost to build a replacement? If you use a boat you already own to get to your war, is the cost of that boat part of the cost of the war? Do you "rent it out" for a little bit? At what rate do you lease a boat to yourself? Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 17:03
  • @SwiftPushkar 99% of wars in history take years. Who is anticipating that it would take days? Seeing as none of us are in the Russian government, I seriously doubt that anyone can say that Russia didn't have a normal length war battle roadmap. I find it absolutely insane that a week and a half into the war, the media is saying that the war was not as quick as Russia had hoped. That is clear propaganda.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


While weapons are expensive, counting costs often start from other things:

  • Economic sanctions. If it is said that an economy could shrink by 7% next year, instead of the 2% growth that was forecast then this is measurable (source), this is the cost. The sanction costs look like the largest costs involved. Sanctions cost for both receiving and applying side but may not cost the same.
  • Lost humans. Again, it is difficult to se a price for something like this but this source estimates that 10,000 humans are worth US$4 billion, so $400,000 each (looks still cheap as for an educated human).
  • Lost weapons. For instant, here it is written that during just 100 hours of fighting the army have lost military machinery worth $4.2 billion.
  • And then the conflict it is kind of "resolved", it still may be expensive to sustain the occupation.

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