The United States spends more on the military than any other country. In fact, when the costs of the war in Iraq and the global “war on terror” are added to the Pentagon’s annual budget, we spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined.
Since 2001, lawmakers have appropriated $752 billion to pay for the Iraq war, the conflict in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the global war on terror, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). And there’s no end in sight: Just weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney predicted that the war on terror “may never end. At least, not in our lifetime.” Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain said early this year that if the U.S. occupation of Iraq lasts 100 years, “that would be fine with me.”
The administration has tried to hide these appropriations from public scrutiny by funding the Iraq and Afghanistan military operations through “emergency supplementals” rather than the normal budget process. These bills are cobbled together and sail through Congress with little oversight or opposition.
Where is this money coming from? Rather than raising taxes or slashing social spending dramatically, the White House has opted for deficit spending—essentially putting the war on our national credit card. This has long-term budgetary and economic consequences. According to the CBO, every $1 trillion in direct costs will necessitate that another $700 billion be paid in interest.
In The Three Trillion Dollar War, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes look at the price that will have to be paid for the Iraq war, a price that includes interest on debt, the increased cost of oil, and the expense of providing medical care and disability benefits to the more than 70,000 soldiers injured in the conflict. They are already revising their initial $3 trillion estimate upward: In recent interviews, Stiglitz predicts long-term costs of as much as $5 trillion.
What’s more, the billions being spent on the war are just the tip of an even larger iceberg: the Pentagon’s annual budget. The Department of Defense has been allocated $508 billion for 2008 (on top of the Iraq and Afghanistan appropriations). And, while U.S. military forces are fighting a 21st century counterinsurgency war marked by light, mobile hardware on a wireless battlefield, the Pentagon’s annual budget is stocked with Cold War-era systems.
According to a December 2007 report by former Reagan Pentagon official Lawrence Korb, programs like the DDG-100 destroyer, whose cost per ship has ballooned from $1 billion to $3.6 billion, and the F-22 Raptor—a fighter designed to counter a Soviet plane never built—could be excised from the military budget without degrading U.S. security even marginally. No one would notice, except the weapons manufacturers that have gotten rich off of these programs.
As the nation sinks into a recession, all three presidential candidates have plans to revive our limping economy, but cutting the military budget is not a major plank in any of the candidates’ platforms. Until there is a concerted examination of how much U.S. taxpayer money, present and future, is locked up in war and preparation for war, economic stimulus efforts—however genuine and urgently necessary—will be partial and doomed to failure.
As people of faith, we are called to alleviate suffering and end injustice. That work must include addressing a militarism that robs the poor of one country to bomb the poor of another.
We need steps that will lead to a durable, affordable peace and stability. We need to more broadly define security beyond borders, militaries, and hardware; to use all the tools in our toolbox; to dismantle the enduring influence of the military-industrial complex; to commit to use force only as a last resort; and to recalibrate our priorities so that health care, infrastructure, and education are allocated adequate resources. This is the kind of economic stimulus package that America really needs.Frida Berrigan is a senior program associate at the New America Foundation’s