US Paying Lion's Share of Gulf Bill
Bush must lean harder on allies, congressmen say
WASHINGTON — AS the costs of Operation Desert Shield continue to mount, many members of Congress are complaining that the United States is footing too much of the bill. The tab for maintaining the multinational force deployed against Iraq could run to $30 billion or more this fiscal year, according to unofficial estimates. So far, Washington's alliance partners have pledged about $9 billion in Gulf aid, with much of that sum still to be disbursed.
``Collective security has not translated into collective cost-sharing,'' complains Sen. Tim Wirth (D) of Colorado. ``Our allies are reaping the benefits of US action in the Gulf; they should pay a fair share of the costs.''
Bush administration officials retort that the $9 billion in burden-sharing cash looks better measured against the $15 billion that's still the official estimate of what Desert Shield will cost.
The US is ``satisfied'' so far with the level of foreign contributions, says a senior State Department official.
With the unexpected duration of the crisis and the doubling of US troop strength in the Gulf region, the $15 billion official cost figure will likely rise substantially, admits this official. When it does, he says, more outside assistance will be needed.
If hostilities begin, costs could jump from $2.5 billion a month to between $1 billion and $2 billion a day, according to some estimates.
The US plans to go back to its allies after the first of the year to ask for more money for the military deployment and to alleviate the hardships imposed by the Gulf crisis on such front-line states as Egypt and Turkey. Thus allied disbursements will sharply increase, says the senior State Department official.
``The charts will look a lot different after the first of the year than they do today,'' he says.
Still, many lawmakers are not satisfied. They feel it's already clear Desert Shield will cost at least $30 billion this fiscal year, and that allies should therefore have anted up more.
According to figures released last week by Rep. Charles Schumer (D) of New York and House majority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri, pledges of outside financial support will cover only 29 percent of the first-year costs of Operation Desert Shield. Their estimate of $37 billion includes costs for August and September, not part of the current fiscal year.
``The burdens are being shunned, not shared,'' says Representative Schumer.
Congressional budget analysts warn that without larger outside contributions to defray the costs of the Gulf operation, the US may have to resort to one of three measures, all bad: more deficit financing; additional cuts in domestic programs; or increased taxes.
Congress may need to impose an income tax surtax to pay the costs of Desert Shield, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois warned recently.
Desert Shield's burden on the economy will be more onerous because of the current recession, which has reduced the amount of taxes the government takes in. The Gulf crisis and the savings and loan emergency could push the federal deficit to $250 billion this year.
Although costs of the Gulf operation are technically excluded from the budget, in reality they put the US further in debt.
``We just went through six months of agony going through the budget negotiations to cut a little more than $30 billion out of the deficit,'' says Senator Wirth. ``Now we're talking about adding that amount in the stroke of a pen. The American taxpayer will be furious when he starts to understand these numbers.''
Under the circumstances, lawmakers say, Congress may balk when the administration requests up to $20 billion in new spending authority next month - unless the US presses harder for its allies to pay more.
Despite highly publicized pledges of over $13 billion by the world's richest nations to aid poor countries affected by the Gulf crisis, there's so far been more talk than action.
Turkey, for example, has received just $300 million so far against first-year Gulf-related costs that could total $6 billion, according to the World Bank. Jordan has received only $250 million to compensate for losses in trade, tourism, and foreign remittances that a recent UN report says could add up to $4 billion by the end of 1991.
More troubling to lawmakers than the slow pace of disbursements has been the allies' reluctance to pledge significant levels of support in the first place. Nearly half of Germany's $1 billion contribution to Desert Shield, for example, is in the form of East German military equipment that is now useless and thus of no real cost to Germany, according to a House report.
Of $2 billion committed by Japan to compensate for the sacrifices of front line states, nearly half was pledged before the Gulf crisis as part of a World Bank-syndicated loan.
Japan, which has also pledged $2 billion to defray US military costs in the Gulf, relies on the Gulf for 63 percent of the oil (compared with 12 percent for the US) that fuels its $3 trillion per year economy.
Even Saudi Arabia's $4 billion contribution to Desert Shield represents but a small part of the estimated $35 billion to $60 billion in windfall oil profits that will be earned this year as the result of higher prices and increased exports to offset the Iraqi oil embargo.
``The Saudis are getting a windfall; so why isn't every bit of it going into this effort?'' asks Sen. Wirth. ``If it weren't for this effort, there wouldn't be any Saudi Arabia.''
Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Korea have also contributed to the Gulf effort. One of the biggest contributors has been Britain, which has committed one-fifth of its Army to Desert Shield.
Three factors explain the disproportionately low level of outside contributions, according to lawmakers.
Many countries - like Germany, which is paying the steep costs of reunification - say they are stretched financially by other pressing commitments.
Others, like Japan, are worried that the Bush administration's unwillingness to give sanctions time to work could lead to a war that could undermine business opportunities in the region for years to come.
The main problem, sources on Capitol Hill claim, is that the Bush administration simply hasn't leaned hard enough on its allies to pay a fair share of the costs.
``If we're not going to ask for it, they're not going to pay,'' says a congressional source.
``The US is bearing an overwhelming cost of the operation,'' former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick told the House Armed Services Committee last week. ``We simply must have an understanding in the future (with allies) that they cannot count on us to carry such a disproportionate share of the security.