That’s How Much Militarism Has Cost US Since 9/11
Lindsay Koshgarian / National Priorities
(September 3, 2021) — 20 years since 9/11, we are deeply overdue for a reckoning of everything the United States has done in the name of “national security.”
The War on Terror has fed a sprawling security apparatus that was designed for counterterrorism, but has also taken on immigration, crime, and drugs.
The human costs of this evolution are many — including mass incarceration, widespread surveillance, the violent repression of immigrant communities, and hundreds of thousands of lives lost to war.
Turbo-charged militarism and xenophobia has driven some of the deepest divisions in US politics and around the world, including the growing threats of white supremacy and authoritarianism. Another result is a long-standing neglect of threats like those from pandemics, the climate crisis, and economic inequality.
But of course, this militarization also has financial costs too.
Over 20 years, the US has spent more than $21 trillion on militarization, surveillance, and repression — all in the name of security. These investments have shown us that the US has the capacity and political will to invest in our biggest priorities.
• Over the 20 years since 9/11, the US has spent $21 trillion on foreign and domestic militarization.
• Of that total, $16 trillion went to the military — including at least $7.2 trillion for military contracts.
• Another $3 trillion went to veterans’ programs, $949 billion went to Homeland Security, and $732 billion went to federal law enforcement.
• For far less than it spent on militarization since 9/11, the US could reinvest to meet critical challenges that have been neglected for the last 20 years:
• $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the US electric grid.
• $2.3 trillion could create 5 million jobs at $15 per hour with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.
• $1.7 trillion could erase student debt.
• $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay.
• $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the world.
The past year of crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic, raging floods and wildfires, to the fall of Afghanistan, have shown us that militarized investments cannot buy us safety. The next 20 years give us an opportunity to reconsider where we need to reinvest for a better future.
Twenty years from now, we could live in a world made safer by investments in infrastructure, job creation, support for families, public health, and new energy systems — if we are willing to take a hard look at our priorities.
Lindsay, Ashik, Lorah, and the NPP team at IPS
STATE OF INSECURITY:
The Cost of Militarization Since 9/11
Lindsay Koshgarian, Ashik Siddique, and Lorah Steichen / National Priorities; Institute of Poicy Studies
Twenty years after 9/11, the War on Terror has remade the US into a more militarized actor both around the world and at home. The costs of this evolution are many, in terms of surveillance and the costs to individual privacy, growing xenophobia and racism and their costs to immigrants and people of color, mass incarceration, and the cost of lives lost in war and violence, all in the name of security.
Of course, this militarization also has financial costs. Those costs have been colossal, and they point to another set of costs — the opportunity costs of investing so heavily in militarization at the expense of social and economic investments.
The devastating fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August of 2021 raises deep questions about our military investments to date. How did it go so wrong, so quickly, after so long? Which of our investments have improved life for people in the US or anywhere else, and which have led to loss of life and a more dangerous world? Most importantly, looking forward to the next 20 years, what kind of investments are most likely to protect life, reduce con ict, and raise living standards, both in the US and elsewhere?
Twenty years ago, we were promised a vision of the War on Terror that did not come to pass: that Afghanistan would not become a quagmire, or that the Iraq war would be over in “five weeks or five days or five months” and cost a mere $60 billion. As the country went to war and refocused domestic security spending on terrorism, few had any inkling of the far-reaching ramifications for the military, veterans, immigration, or domestic law enforcement.
Today, the War on Terror has fed a sprawling security apparatus that was designed for counterterrorism but has also taken on immigration, crime, and drugs. One result is a turbo-charged militarism and xenophobia in both international and domestic policy that has driven some of the deepest divisions in US politics, including the growing threats of white supremacy and authoritarianism. Another is a long-standing neglect of growing threats like those from pandemics, climate change, and economic inequality.
The financial costs continue to pile up: the Pentagon budget is higher than at the height of the Vietnam War or the Cold War, and growing, accounting for more than half of the federal discretionary budget in typical years. The Afghanistan withdrawal notwithstanding, the endless War on Terror continues with recent airstrikes in Somalia.
At the same time, the US national security establishment is now gearing up for a newly confrontational relationship with China. Many analysts have suggested ways to cut the Pentagon budget. In previous work, we’ve suggested ending our wars and significantly curtailing Pentagon activities around the world, which could decrease the annual Pentagon bud- get by $350 billion, or about half.
The massive scale of operations of the Pentagon, the legacies of 20th century wars, and the nonstop deployments in the War on Terror over 20 years necessitate a massive infra- structure to support veterans. As long as we send troops to war, these will be necessary expenses. And yet, even with income supports, health care, and other services, veterans still suffer from high rates of suicide, homelessness, and family violence, among other long-lasting consequences of serving in the country’s wars.
Domestic policy, too, has been increasingly militarized. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) formed in 2003 as a mammoth new government agency with core directives to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks, protect people and infrastructure, and respond to threats.
One of the new department’s main responsibilities was overseeing the nation’s immigration systems, on the reasoning that immigration left the US vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The formation of DHS also marked the creation of the now-infamous Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. In the years since, ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have drawn attention for terrorizing immigrant communities, suppressing protests, and tearing children from their parents.
From the beginning, the domestic War on Terror fell heavily on federal law enforcement agencies. In its most recent strategic plan, the first of four strategic goals of the Department of Justice (DoJ) was to “enhance national security and counter the threat of terrorism,” The second was to “secure the borders and enhance immigration enforcement and adjudication.” While ICE and CBP may round up and deport immigrants, it is the DoJ that prosecutes immigration cases.
At a time when awareness of police brutality and militarization has skyrocketed, militarism has reached new heights in two other long-standing wars: the war on crime and the war on drugs. US Marshals have been found to use brutal force in the pursuit of suspects in nonviolent drug crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has conducted broad-based surveillance, infiltrated political groups, and monitored entire communities based on their race, ethnicity, or religion.
Over 20 years, the US has spent more than $21 trillion on militarization, surveillance, and repression — all in the name of security. These investments have shown us that the US has the capacity and political will to invest in our biggest priorities. But the COVID-19 pandemic, the January 6 Capitol insurrection, wild res raging in the West, and even the fall of Afghanistan have shown us that these investments cannot buy us safety. The next 20 years present an opportunity to reconsider where we need to reinvest for a better future.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.