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Excerpt: "Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days?"

(image: Salon)
(image: Salon)

Americans Pay $1 Trillion a Year for War and 'Security' - Why?

By Chris Hellman, Mattea Kramer, TomDispatch

23 May 12


ecent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called “threats”) to the U.S. defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs.

Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety?

In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion — a staggering enough sum that it’s worth taking a walk through the maze of the national security budget to see just where that money’s lodged.

If you’ve heard a number for how much the U.S. spends on the military, it’s probably in the neighborhood of $530 billion. That’s the Pentagon’s base budget for fiscal 2013, and represents a 2.5% cut from 2012. But that $530 billion is merely the beginning of what the U.S. spends on national security. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Pentagon’s base budget doesn’t include war funding, which in recent years has been well over $100 billion. With U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq and troop levels falling in Afghanistan, you might think that war funding would be plummeting as well.  In fact, it will drop to a mere $88 billion in fiscal 2013. By way of comparison, the federal government will spend around $64 billion on education that same year.

Add in war funding, and our national security total jumps to $618 billion. And we’re still just getting started.

The U.S. military maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons. You might assume that we’ve already accounted for nukes in the Pentagon’s $530 billion base budget.  But you’d be wrong. Funding for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy (DOE), so it’s a number you rarely hear. In fiscal 2013, we’ll be spending $11.5 billion on weapons and related programs at the DOE. And disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, so add another $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup.

Now, we’re at $636 billion and counting.

How about homeland security? We’ve got to figure that in, too. There’s the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will run taxpayers $35.5 billion for its national security activities in fiscal 2013. But there’s funding for homeland security squirreled away in just about every other federal agency as well.  Think, for example, about programs to secure the food supply, funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So add another $13.5 billion for homeland security at federal agencies other than DHS.

That brings our total to $685 billion.

Then there’s the international affairs budget, another obscure corner of the federal budget that just happens to be jammed with national security funds. For fiscal 2013, $8 billion in additional war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is hidden away there. There’s also $14 billion for what’s called “international security assistance” — that’s part of the weapons and training Washington offers foreign militaries around the world. Plus there’s $2 billion for “peacekeeping operations,” money U.S. taxpayers send overseas to help fund military operations handled by international organizations and our allies.

That brings our national security total up to $709 billion.

We can’t forget the cost of caring for our nation’s veterans, including those wounded in our recent wars. That’s an important as well as hefty share of national security funding. In 2013, veterans programs will cost the federal government $138 billion.

That brings us to $847 billion — and we’re not done yet.

Taxpayers also fund pensions and other retirement benefits for non-veteran military retirees, which will cost $55 billion next year. And then there are the retirement costs for civilians who worked at the Department of Defense and now draw pensions and benefits. The federal government doesn’t publish a number on this, but based on the share of the federal workforce employed at the Pentagon, we can estimate that its civilian retirees will cost taxpayers around $21 billion in 2013.

By now, we’ve made it to $923 billion — and we’re finally almost done.

Just one more thing to add in, a miscellaneous defense account that’s separate from the defense base budget. It’s called “defense-related activities,” and it’s got $8 billion in it for 2013.

That brings our grand total to an astonishing $931 billion.

And this will turn out to be a conservative figure. We won’t spend less than that, but among other things, it doesn’t include the interest we’re paying on money we borrowed to fund past military operations; nor does it include portions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that are dedicated to national security. And we don’t know if this number captures the entire intelligence budget or not, because parts of intelligence funding are classified.

For now, however, that whopping $931 billion for fiscal year 2013 will have to do. If our national security budget were its own economy, it would be the 19th largest in the world, roughly the size of Australia’s. Meanwhile, the country with the next largest military budget, China, spends a mere pittance by comparison. The most recent estimate puts China’s military funding at around $136 billion.

Or think of it this way: National security accounts for one quarter of every dollar the federal government is projected to spend in 2013. And if you pull trust funds for programs like Social Security out of the equation, that figure rises to more than one third of every dollar in the projected 2013 federal budget.

Yet the House recently passed legislation to spare the defense budget from cuts, arguing that the automatic spending reductions scheduled for January 2013 would compromise national security. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said such automatic cuts, which would total around $55 billion in 2013, would be “disastrous” for the defense budget. To avoid them, the House would instead pull money from the National School Lunch Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, food stamps, and programs like the Social Services Block Grant, which funds Meals on Wheels, among other initiatives.

Yet it wouldn’t be difficult to find savings in that $931 billion.  There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit, starting with various costly weapons systems left over from the Cold War, like the Virginia class submarine, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, the missile defense program, and the most expensive weapons system on the planet, the F-35 jet fighter. Cutting back or cancelling some of these programs would save billions of dollars annually.

In fact, Congress could find much deeper savings, but it would require fundamentally redefining national security in this country. On this issue, the American public is already several steps ahead of Washington. Americans overwhelmingly think that national security funding should be cut — deeply.

If lawmakers don’t pay closer attention to their constituents, we already know the alternative: pulling school-lunch funding.

Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer are research analysts at the National Priorities Project. They wrote the soon-to-be-published book A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget, and host weekly two-minute Budget Brief videos on YouTube.

[Note: This is the latest National Priorities Project piece on TomDispatch about the true cost of national security. In a piece last year by Chris Hellman, the total cost of national security was calculated in a slightly different manner; it included interest payments on the borrowing that funded past military operations. In the national security numbers described above, such interest payments have been omitted.

For further reading on national security spending see “U.S. Security Spending Since 9/11,” an examination of the nearly $8 trillion the United States has spent on defense since the September 11th attacks. Also see “Debt, Deficits, and Defense: A Way Forward” by the Sustainable Defense Task Force.] your social media marketing partner


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+17 # Activista 2012-05-23 15:38
"Director of National Intelligence disclosed that the National Intelligence Program (NIP) - CIA -budget for FY 2011 was $54.6 billion"
My guess - with this new "cool" drones killing hundreds of civilians = close to $100 billions?
The figure close to $1.3 trillion/year for US militarism is more likely.
Interesting how military waste matches federal deficit since Reagan .. scary thing is what happens after the crash (2013) - what these military types will do.
+18 # Nick Carlin 2012-05-23 22:01
Good article. You should be aware that the California Democratic Party in its 2012 Platform calls for a 25% cut in the military budget. It is also important to note that every $100B reallocated from the military could be used to employ some 4 million people at the median income. A rational military budget would easily enable us to achieve full employment, end the great recession, and reduce the deficit.

(Full disclosure: I am the primary author of that platform language, and I advocated for even larger cuts. The consensus was 25%, however).

Nick Carlin, San Francisco
+9 # John Locke 2012-05-24 07:52
The Military Industrial Complex is in control. They get what ever they want and it’s because companies that make weapons are all of the 1% and have their lobby's...and the stock holders are once again the too big to fail…Money talks and children, and seniors don't have a lobby that finances our politician’s political aspirations and so as those we elect in government feel, the hell with Children, Seniors and all other "worthless Eaters" if there is ever going to be a change in this country and take back our democracy, it won’t happen until WE the people are ready to act!
-8 # gpick 2012-05-24 15:59
How many jobs would be LOST due to deep cuts? The hundreds of billions of dollars in expenditures do not evaporate in thin air, they also pay for millions of jobs. We could and should cut waste, but lets not go overboard
G Pick
+2 # reiverpacific 2012-05-25 09:43
Quoting gpick:
How many jobs would be LOST due to deep cuts? The hundreds of billions of dollars in expenditures do not evaporate in thin air, they also pay for millions of jobs. We could and should cut waste, but lets not go overboard
G Pick

In a creative and progressive economic plan -like putting the money into the infrastructure and a just medical system -in other words a life-nurturing one, it seems to me that more jobs would be created and a circle of life begun, not a cycle of death.
And that's not even looking at the Black Budget, accountable to no one including the president!
+17 # _Pooh_Bear 2012-05-23 22:26
We pay WAY too much to kill and maim than to care for these young veterans. But hey, go out and catch those sales on memorial day.
+5 # seeuingoa 2012-05-23 23:33
One trillion per year is
more than 100 million per hour,
day and night!
+6 # Activista 2012-05-24 10:43
Yes this is the HOLE the money goes to - and results are all negative.
It is criminal. Bombs are terrorism regardless of the source. And USA is terrorist NUMERO UNO.
+2 # PoetForPeace 2012-05-24 00:09
It has been my personal observation over many years that very few EVER get to the clearest CORE POINT! This is why we keep talking so much. Each wants to be right. EGO wants, needs to be in Control. How true it is that few can even control themselves impeccably, ethically. And, Yes, we all must own this FACT. If our CAUSE was Ethical, Honest, We WOULD/COULD SEE a Different RESULT. How CAN WE take the time to Unite, Agree, Decide, Act TO CHANGE this Deadly Game that humans Choose? This is the answer we seek in each our own way. WOW! NOW. ONE WAY NOW. Don Miguel calls our collective choice "...the dream of the planet...".
+3 # bluepilgrim 2012-05-24 00:57
This is more about the economy in general, but there is no shortage of euphamism about war -- defense, security, terrorism, democracy, et. etc.

The Politics of Language and the Language of Political Regression
by Prof. James Petras
Global Research, May 24, 2012

Capitalism and its defenders maintain dominance through the ‘material resources’ at their command, especially the state apparatus, and their productive, financial and commercial enterprises, as well as through the manipulation of popular consciousness via ideologues, journalists, academics and publicists who fabricate the arguments and the language to frame the issues of the day.

+7 # James Marcus 2012-05-24 02:42
Wake Up! This War/Defense 'Thing' the Main Conduit through which the Bulk of the U S Treasury is embezzled. Deals are 'Cut'. Mouths are 'Zipped'. Hands are Joined. Everyone Involved is Intimidated. And Victims -of-the-Process .....are brutalized in every direction. SHHHH!
It is Sickness Beyond Belief!
+11 # Dave45 2012-05-24 02:46
What is often overlooked is that a nation's budget is the most accurate statement of its priorities. More than education, health, jobs, or financial viability and accountability, America's lawmakers are most concerned about developing increasingly effective and efficient ways of killing people. To most of the rest of the world and a large group of Americans, that's what America is all about. As long as Americans tolerate leaders like Barack Obama and George W. Bush, this will not change.
+5 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:53
Military has been making its move for decades and it is scary...Nazi mentality
+5 # teineitalia 2012-05-24 04:15
Congress seems to be light years behind the American people on this subject.

but oh, wait... the Tea Party controls the House and there's a crapload of DINOs in the Senate.

that explains a lot.

Congress needs a major upheaval and it needs to start in 2012. Up and down the line, progressives need to be elected, and they need to stay on message: CONTROL DEFENSE SPENDING AND YOU WILL GO A LONG WAY TOWARD DEFICIT REDUCTION.

President Obama is never going to get the support he needs with the crazy people in charge of the other two branches of government, the Cock Brothers controlling the media, and shadow PACS spinning the facts and working to disenfranchise voters.

This is going to be a really difficult election cycle...and if we-- each of us-- don't pitch in, it may be the turning point for America.
+5 # RMDC 2012-05-24 04:27
Thanks for the calculations. It is important to know how much the US spends on "national defense." All of this money is wasted, stolen, or used for immoral and illegal purposes. The Pentagon and all the apparatuses of US imperialism should be shut down. A small army for defensive purposes might be OK, but that is clearly what we don't have.

Supporters of the Pentagon often say "it is a dangerous world." Well, the great danger in the world is the US. the world is not dangerous for "Americans. It is dangerous for Syrian, Pakistanis, Somalis, any African. The US is the great threat to human life in the world. It is time to stop it.

Shut down the Pentagon. Convert the building to The National Peace University. Offer PhD degrees in Peace related disciplines such as the Economics of Peace, History of Peace, Social Theories of Peace, Peaceful Science, and so on. It would cost a fraction of the Pentagon's current budget, maybe 1 or 2 billion dollars and over time it would make the world a lot better place.
+9 # walt 2012-05-24 05:59
The USA has lost its ability to think rationally and is completely out of control. We still spend $2 billion a week in Afghanistan. And we still have fools running around with "Support Our Troops" banners glorifying war, killing and senseless spending.

The military-indust rial complex has taken complete charge of the country to include the Obama administration that seems content with it all, despite promises of "change we can believe in."

It's time to stop the madness and vote accordingly. Our tax dollars are being wasted on killing!
+6 # waltben 2012-05-24 06:27
Very good article, though I disagree with lumping veterans care in with defense spending. Veterans care is paying for past obligations, the same as Social Security. We paid indirectly by serving at grossly reduced salaries and being willing to be wounded, maimed or killed with the promise of future care. Politicians on the other hand, serve at very good salaries and also get very good benefits for life afterwards. Their also the ones who start the conflicts and wars we have to fight. (If I'd realized this way back, maybe I'd have done something different!)
+2 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:51
We pay almost nothing to the Vets compared to the Brass whether Vets, Police, Rescue, EMT or Fire Brass get the money not the force who protects us.

They should be on the lines and give the forces a vacation
+1 # MsAnnaNOLA 2012-05-25 10:40
I think it should be lumped in with Defense Spending, not because it should be cut but because it is a true cost of war.

American's have not had to face what war does. We have not fought a war on our soil since the Civil War. War is ugly and expensive. Caring for veterans should be done but it it should also be factored into any cost/benefit analysis of a war. If we had spent some of this money on our crumbling infrastructure instead of wars of choice, our economy would be better off now and we would have something to show for it.

We wasted billions on Iraq and Afghanistan and have nothing but shame to show for it. We should have shame but we don't because instead we have hubris that we can also start a war with Iran!

It is coming. Look at the headlines. Even Obama wants a war with Iran. It is so utterly insane.
+3 # oldibtgdy 2012-05-24 07:36
it's amazing. the biggest expansion of the federal reach since goodness knows when resulting in the militarization of civilian police for the first time in forever. and they say the prez has expanded government! yikes.
+13 # Kwelinyingi 2012-05-24 07:48
The cost of maintaining a single US soldier in Afghanistan: $1,000,000 per year or $83,000 per month. This sinful amount is ostensibly used to "save" an Afghan from himself and to teach him democracy. That Afghan makes an average of about $35 a month, or less than $2 a day. In other words we invest $83,000 to help produce $35 monthly. Average per capita medicare cost $500.00. We clearly prefer killing to saving our own lives. By far. There have to be more than simple explanations for these immoral wars, surely. Unbridled greed of our Corporate masters backed by the most powerful Military-Indust rial Complex in history? And our total impotence in the face of all this is nothing short of mind boggling.
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:49
We must keep the brass in Uniforms, Vacations and maids.
+9 # fliteshare 2012-05-24 08:00
It is good to know that the military is working hard to become financially selfsufficient. Hence their mission change from hunting down Osama Bin Laden, to guarding the poppy(opium) fields, in Afghanistan.
+3 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:49
Got to keep the GOP/TP rich and kids dying

Got to love our priorities
-1 # MichaelSSmithNJ 2012-05-24 08:07
While I agree in princeple that the military budget should be cut (by about 25% -37.5%) I don't agree on what is suggested to cut like the V-22 F-35 and Missle Defense System at least I would not eliminate them altogether I would remove most of our troops from Europe just have a an Army Brigade and maybe an USAF Squardron or two take most of our troop out of Asia leaving only some troops in S, Korea. The Military is top heavy so I would cut the numbrer of Gens and Admrls by 55% the next 3 ranks Cols Lt Cos and Maj ( Capts Cmndrs and Lt Cmdrs) by 37.5% Capts 1s and 2nd Lts ( Lts Lt, JGs and Ensings) by 25% Reduce the number of large Nuclear Carriers by about say 5 Reduce the number of nuclear Submarines by a about 1/4 -1/3
-1 # gpick 2012-05-24 16:20
I would like to have you explain how did you arrive at the numbers of officer corps reductions. Than while you are at it explain why a soldier in the US cost less to maintain than in Afghanistan? Let me help you with the later. Every fighting soldier is supported by 10 other soldiers or civilian contractors to keep him equipped, fed, provide ammunition etc. That is called the logistics train and the associated industrial base.
Your logic reminds me of the 1930s thinking of unilateral disarmament. And then Hitler came and it took us over 2 years to get a crash (very expensive) program to catch up.
+3 # Vardoz 2012-05-24 08:21
And now they want to cut services all across the nation and our most precious entitlements which includes education and teachers and much more while they want to keep the tax cuts for the top, the loop holes etc... as they are giving us their deep concern for the deficit. Main Street comes last on their list or important considerations.
+6 # jack406 2012-05-24 08:28
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustr ial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." President Eisenhower
Too bad senators and congressmen don't understand U.S. History! (But they are well paid by Corporations for their efforts.)
+9 # Billy Bob 2012-05-24 08:46
Whatever happens to these articles once they're published? The facts mentioned seem to fall right back into the memory hole. They need to be shouted from the rooftops and not just occassionally. These are facts that the MSM will not discuss and most Americans have no idea about.

We need to drive this message home.
+3 # reiverpacific 2012-05-24 10:19
You want a reason? Just one? There are many but all are interconnected
So simply stated, because this is not and has not been for a long time, the "Land of the Free and the home of the Brave" (such jingoism is part of the problem) but the land of the "Entrapped and home of the shit-scared"!
-And the fragmented, ignorant and insular.
"Panem et Circences" still exists.
The "Circences" are everything from major sports spectacles and the commercial that pay for them, to remote-controll ed Drones killing innocents like high-tech fairground games.
+3 # Activista 2012-05-24 10:55
Yes - Americans are scared and brainwashed nation - most of the information is censored.
But the conscience is there - see comments for this article. But I do not how the system could be fixed - the system (Money Culture) is broken - we need fundamental system change.
0 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:47
If we are paying so much for security and big brother is watching come people are being mugged, raped, homes broken into. Perhaps we should Privatize now because who ever we are paying does a real bad job securing US ....the American Citizen
+4 # dascher 2012-05-24 20:12
We're not paying for OUR security. We're paying for the security of the 1%. So they can do their very important business without interference from other countries' 1% or riffraff like the rest of us.
+4 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-05-24 20:41
& note also, this does not include never-accounted Black Ops budget money, which must also be enormous; nor the NSA & CIA.

Incidentally, if you had a trillion dollars & gave away one million every day, to end up with no money today, you'd have to start some time in the 10th Century AD....
+1 # kootenayguy 2012-05-24 22:46
I recently read a review of economist Robert Shiller's new book Finance and the Good Society in which Shiller says that 19.7% of all American workers are involved in security of some form (soldiers, guards, airport baggage screeners, etc). If this is so, I would say it is clearly the mark of a dysfunctional society, one in serious decline.
+1 # Wonk 2012-05-25 09:07
An excellent article. I'm interested in getting your book on the budget. When you publish, I do hope that you're publishing as an ebook, I'm trying to avoid the clutter of paper books these days.
+2 # MsAnnaNOLA 2012-05-25 10:47
One other comment which I want to share.The military is doing something I think is very dishonest. I do want to support the troops that have served as they have sacrificed. However, I think it is dishonest that my sister's good friend is career military was sent to Iraq for two weeks so that she could get a higher pension when she retired. Two weeks of non combat. I am not sure how much this gooses her pension, but I think this should be illegal. They are rotating people over there just to get more pension and I don't think the tax payers should have to pay that.
0 # Bodiotoo 2012-05-26 19:19
End the Empire.

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