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8 Trillion on Our Military Addiction? Why the Price Tag of the National Security Complex Should Scare the Hell Out of You

How much safety bang for its buck is the U.S. getting from those trillions?

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Now, for a few of those questions I mentioned, just to bring reality further into focus:

How does that nearly $8 trillion compare with past spending?

In the decade before the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon base budget added up to an impressive $4.2 trillion, only one-third less than for the past decade. But add in the cost of the Afghan and Iraq wars and total Pentagon spending post-9/11 is actually two-thirds greater than in the previous decade.  That’s quite a jump.  As for homeland-security funding, spending figures for the years prior to 2000 are hard to identify because the category didn’t exist (nor did anyone who mattered in Washington even think to use that word “homeland”). But there can be no question that whatever it was, it would pale next to present spending.

Is that nearly $8 trillion the real total for these years, or could it be even higher?

The war-cost calculations I’ve used above, which come from my own organization,  the National Priorities Project, only take into account funds that have been requested by the President and appropriated by Congress. This, however, is just one way of considering the problem of war and national security spending. A  recent study published by the Watson Institute of Brown University took a much broader approach. In the  summary of their work, the Watson Institute analysts wrote, "There are at least three ways to think about the economic costs of these wars: what has been spent already, what could or must be spent in the future, and the comparative economic effects of spending money on war instead of something else."

By including funding for such things as veterans benefits, future costs for treating the war-wounded, and interest payments on war-related borrowing, they came up with $3.2 trillion to $4 trillion in war costs, which would put those overall national security figures since 2001 at around $11 trillion.

I took a similar approach in an earlier TomDispatch piece in which I calculated the true costs of national security at  $1.2 trillion annually.

All of this brings another simple, but seldom-asked question to mind:

Are we safer?

Regardless of what figures you choose to use, one thing is certain: we're talking about trillions and trillions of dollars. And given the debate raging in Washington this summer about how to rein in trillion-dollar deficits and a spiraling debt, it’s surprising that no one thinks to ask just how much safety bang for its buck the U.S. is getting from those trillions.

Of course, it’s not an easy question to answer, but there are some troubling facts out there that should give one pause.  Let’s start with government accounting, which, like military music, is something of an oxymoron.  Despite decades of complaints from Capitol Hill and various congressional attempts to force changes via legislation, the Department of Defense still cannot pass an audit. Believe it or not, it never has.

Members of Congress have become so exasperated that several have tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to cap or cut military spending until the Pentagon is capable of passing an annual audit as required by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. So even as they fight to preserve record levels of military spending, Pentagon officials really have no way of telling American taxpayers how their money is being spent, or what kind of security it actually buys.

And this particular disease seems to be catching.  The Department of Homeland Security has been part of the  “high risk” series of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) since 2003. In case being “high risk” in GAO terms isn’t part of your dinner-table chitchat, here’s the definition: "agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of broad reform."

 
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