In May 2012, TomDispatch featured a piece by Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, both then analysts at the National Priorities Project, headlined “War Pay: The Nearly $1 Trillion National Security Budget.” The two of them ran through the figures for the cumulative annual budget for what we still mysteriously call “national security.” In other words, they looked beyond the monumental Pentagon budget and found that the total for all such funding was at the time closing in on a trillion dollars a year. ($931 billion, to be exact.)
Strangely, though, in mainstream reportage while you’ll see discussion of what Congress is likely to pony up in any given year for the Pentagon and some associated activities, I doubt you’ll ever find a figure for total national security expenditures. In fact, I’m ready to make a modest bet that, outside of the technical literature, in the five years since the Hellman-Kramer article, you would have a tough time finding such a cumulative number in the mainstream world for what we (that is, “we the people”) actually spend to support an ever more powerful national security state. Meanwhile, that state within a state continues its relentless post-9/11 expansion, as it officially girds itself for the eternal fight against a single threat to American “safety,” one that holds only the most modest of actual dangers for Americans: terrorism.
Of course, staggering amounts of our “national security” dollars also go into preparations for and the fighting of the now-15-year-old war on terror, which has loosed the U.S. military to do its damnedest in an ever-spreading, never-ending, always-morphing set of conflicts across the Greater Middle East. In these, as I wrote recently, that military has proven remarkably successful at turning significant parts of the region into so much rubble. Add it all up and, at a moment when the domestic order of the day is cutting the funding for the sort of domestic services — from health care to the environment — that actually do keep us secure, we the people are essentially throwing our money into the black hole of war and preparations for yet more of it.
With that in mind and knowing that most Americans have little idea what their government is truly spending to “defend” them, we turned for help to TomDispatch regular William Hartung, an expert on the money eternally being wasted on our “security.” (And yes, I’m aware that I’ve been putting some of the commonest words in Washington’s vocabulary inside scare quotes. The reason: given the history of the post-9/11 era, they really should scare us.) In any case, in these early months of the Trump era we asked Hartung to add up just what we’re now regularly pouring into our past wars, present wars, future wars, endless preparation for the same, and the national security state itself. Fair warning: buckle your seat belt; you’re in for a bumpy, trillion-dollar ride into American financial hell.