The United States has exploded $ 21 trillion in the war on terror instead of student debt, health care, etc.


  • Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has spent $ 21 trillion on wars and militarism.
  • For less than half of that, we could decarbonise the electricity grid, dramatically reduce child poverty, and more.
  • With US troops out of Afghanistan, it is time to reinvest in these 20 years of missed opportunity.
  • Lindsay Koshgarian heads the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. She is the lead author of the new State of Insecurity: The Cost of Militarization Since 9/11 report.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

As the United States marked the end of the war in Afghanistan, President Biden focused on a crucial question: “What have we lost as a result in terms of opportunities?”

The president noted that we have spent $ 300 million a day in Afghanistan for 20 years. It’s a shocking number, but it’s only part of the cost of the large-scale militarization that the United States has undertaken around the world and in our own country since 9/11.

Twenty years after September 11, our fully militarized foreign and domestic policies have cost $ 21 trillion over the past two decades, according to new research my co-authors and I published at the Institute for Policy Studies.

These costs include wars, increased Pentagon budgets, and our massive global military presence. They also include punitive immigration and border enforcement and the reorientation of the FBI, DEA, and other law enforcement agencies around combating terrorism with newly expanded powers.

These expenses themselves caused considerable damage.

The militarized spending of the United States since September 11 has caused 900,000 deaths in the global war on terrorism and led to 5 million expulsions from that country. He put $ 1.8 billion in military equipment on city streets, jailed blacks and Latinxes for predominantly non-violent crimes, and fueled FBI programs that targeted people based on their position. race, ethnicity or religion. And that’s just to start.

It is also, as the chairman suggested, money that just has not been spent on other things.

We are still in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 600,000 in the United States alone. Millions of Americans face homelessness now that most deportation moratoria have ended. We have an ongoing opioid epidemic that costs almost 50,000 lives a year. Thousands of people in all parts of the country have lost their homes or their lives to fires and floods that were previously unthinkable but have become common due to climate change.

Each of these crises is an emergency, but we still hear from too many members of Congress that real solutions are just too expensive. But what if we spend even a fraction of the $ 21 trillion that we have plunged into militarism on these things instead?

Crisis solutions cost less than war

It turns out that many of the ambitious plans we hear are “too expensive” would only cost a fraction of the $ 21 trillion we spent on militarism. It would cost less than a quarter of that – $ 4.5 trillion – to build a fully renewable energy grid, decarbonizing electricity generation across the country.

It would only cost $ 1.7 trillion to write off student debt.

For $ 2.3 trillion, we could create 5 million jobs paying $ 15 an hour with benefits – for 10 years.

For $ 449 billion – just 2% of our spending militarized – we could continue to put money in the pockets of families with children by extending the child tax credit for another 10 years, helping people stay at home, giving children a good start in life, and dramatically reducing child poverty.

And it would cost just $ 25 billion – just a tenth of 1% of $ 21 trillion – to vaccinate low-income countries against COVID, save lives, and stop the spread of new coronavirus variants.

Even if we did all of these things, it always adds to less than half what we have spent on militarism over the past 20 years.

Getting out of militarization

We’re not saying we have to wipe out all of that spending. We clearly need to take care of veterans who have been put at risk because of our policies, for example. But we can minimize these costs and others in the future by ending our reliance on militarization and war – which, as the ignominious end to our occupation of Afghanistan suggests, has been a failure. massive.

The fact that we’ve spent $ 21 trillion on militarism in 20 years proves one thing: When the country prioritizes something, we have both the money and the political will to make it happen.

But so far, Congress has not changed its priorities. On September 1, the House Armed Services Committee voted to add $ 25 billion – coincidentally, the same amount it would cost to vaccinate the rest of the planet against COVID-19 – to the Pentagon’s already huge arms budget. that the military leaders did not even ask for. for. They are out of step with the Americans, the majority of whom said in a poll last year that they would rather cut the Pentagon’s budget by 10% to fund other priorities.

At the end of the Cold War, the United States cut Pentagon spending as part of a “peace dividend.” The United States finally withdrew the last troops from Afghanistan. Ending this war may give us a peace dividend to reinvest at home, if Congress and President Biden dare to claim it. After 20 years of missed opportunities for our infrastructure, our jobs and our planet, we cannot afford not to.

About John Tuttle

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