U.S. spending on war on terror since 9/11 to reach $4.79 trillion in 2017

Crawford wrote that the accounting includes Congressional war appropriations for the State Department and Department of Defense, the Homeland Security budget related to terrorism, war-related additions to the Pentagon base budget, and spending in the Department of Veterans Affairs, including the costs of future obligations to veterans of these conflicts, and the costs of interest in borrowing to pay for the wars.

The latter expense is significant. In the report, Crawford wrote that, “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the U.S. changes the way it pays for the wars.”

Unlike the way it has funded previous wars, Crawford wrote, Congress has not enacted a war tax or sold large numbers of war bonds “which would have made these ‘pay as you go’ wars. Hence DOD and State Department Overseas Contingency Operations spending are considered here as borrowed.” Crawford noted that she includes the costs of borrowing as a war expense in the report.

Crawford addressed the Congressional definition of some war funding as “emergency funding,” describing needs as unanticipated, sudden, urgent, unforeseen or temporary. She assessed that some costs of the wars do not fall into the category of emergency spending.

“These expenses have been institutionalized, for example, into the spending of the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense and Homeland Security,” she wrote, whereas other costs “can be anticipated and estimated because they are future obligations — namely the costs of veterans’ future medical care and disability payments.”

The Costs of War report also briefly addressed the macroeconomic impact of the wars, noting that the project’s analysts have posited that “the wars likely cost tens of thousands of jobs, affected the ability of the U.S. to invest in infrastructure and probably led to increased interest costs on borrowing, not to mention greater overall federal indebtedness.”

This finding contrasts with a statement made by Lindsey in 2002 that “the successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy,” and the overall findings in the report show that various estimates of the cost of the war made in the early 2000s, from $48 billion to $3 trillion, were too low.

Some key findings from the report:

  • Homeland Security spending has increased by more than $500 billion for missions related to preventing and responding to potential terrorist attacks.
  • Future obligations to provide medical care and support for wounded veterans will total approximately an additional $1 trillion in medical and disability payments and an additional administrative burden through 2053.
  • About 2 million of the more than 2.75 million people who served deployments in the war zones have left the military and entered into the VA system.
  • The cumulative total from Fiscal Year 2001 to Fiscal Year 2016 spent in the war zone in Iraq is $805 billion. An additional $2.2 billion has been requested for Fiscal Year 2017.
  • Homeland Security spending for prevention and response to terrorism from Fiscal Year 2001 to Fiscal Year 2016 was $548 billion.

— Read more in Neta C. Crawford, U.S. Budgetary Costs of Wars through 2016: $4.79 Trillion and Counting (Watson Institute, Brown University, September 2016); and Neta C. Crawford, Update on the Human Costs of War for Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001to mid-2016 (Watson Institute, Brown University, 29 July 2016)