“Nothing is more useless in developing a nation’s economy than a gun, and nothing blocks the road to social development than the financial burden of war. War is the arch enemy of national progress and the modern scourge of civilized men.”
– King Hussein, Address at Tulane University, April 1976 (Link)
I don’t know much about economics and development. As an undergraduate, I took only two economics courses (both in my freshman year), and to be honest they were forgettable.
That said, I wouldn’t know where to begin to help improve any country’s economic situation. However, I can think of a surefire way to destroy one — host a war. Earlier this month, the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said that because of the ongoing war Syria had lost the equivalent of four decades of human development. Even if the war ended tomorrow, it will likely take generations to recover. I won’t belabor this point. It should be enough to say that death and destruction are part of the logic of war, whether it be in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, or South Sudan. What an enormous waste.
Death and destruction have certainly become the hallmarks of war, but it is worth mentioning that until recently (say 19th century) most wars in most places had no particular interest in killing off the enemy. A live ally is always better than a dead enemy. Throughout history armies have mostly allowed fit and able soldiers to ‘turncoat’ and join the new winners. Many armies have been made up of various nationalities, many defeated on the battlefield. The objective of warfare was largely economic but rarely possession of land as much as possession of slaves. Most slaves were brought back to work the land of the victors and gradually lost slave status and identified ethnically with their ‘owners’. Given the choice between being a turncoat and a slave, most captives chose logically. Thus victorious armies grew, and such growth relied on people changing sides. The losers on the other hand withered away rather through slavery than genocide. Slavery of course was essential for most of the huge wonders of the ancient world. But for slaves to be useful, they had to be in reasonable condition. Dead slaves were bounty lost.
Economics won’t help in this context as it can’t distinguish between the contributions to GDP of the arms industry and education or health care.