America's Global War on Terror is a trillion dollar business

Kaylah Jackson
May 16, 2018 - 2:23 pm

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A whopping $2.8 trillion. With a "t." 

That's how much the United States has spent on countering terrorism since the attacks on 9/11, according to a new report from the Stimson Center.

The report, written with guidance from the various current and government officials, was produced by a nonpartsian team of experts from the government and private sector including, defense policy and budget experts, former Senate advisers, Defense Department officials, and other counterterrorism experts.

Although the report aims to examine the costs of counterrorism funding and provide reccomendations to policymakers, the authors note that gaps within tracking defense spending, inconsistencies and loose definitions provide a challenge of presenting a totally accurate count of how much the U.S. has spent on counterterrorism efforts since the start of the GWOT. Even more, as national security efforts shift to a great-power competition, analyzing past spending in order to effectively plan our future strategies becomes nearly impossible without adequate data.

In starting to address the many faults in addressing how we allocate funds towards counterterrorism efforts, the authors offer that the lack of transparecy surrounding spending begins at how terrorism is defined, particularly across U.S government agencies and administrations. 

While a portion of the The Bush administration's national secruity strategy focused efforts towards terrorist organizations with attempts to gain or use weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the reports notes how strategy evolved from 2001 to 2008, with the Obama-era administration honing in a counterrorism campaign to eradicate al-Qaeda and "its terrorist affiliates."

In acknowledging a change in strategy, that also means changes in spending. From 2002 to 2017, the report finds that counterrorism made up nearly 15 percent of the $18 trillion receipt of discretionary spending reaching it's peak at 22 percent of the spending budget in 2008, during height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

"We have to do a better job of making sure that what we're investing in actually matches the strategy that we put forward. If you look what we've said our strategy has been, and this is really across all three administrations that we've had since 9/11, the strategy has not been a military only strategy," said Luke Hartig. "It has been a strategy that priortizes things like working with partners, like countering bound extremism and addressing root causes of radicalization..."We are so heavily invested in miliary intelligence that we are not really doing what we said we were going to do," he continunes.

Prior to the rise in counterrorism, spending was "split almost evenly between DOD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at nearly 51 and nearly 48 percent, respectively." Today, DHS spending makes up about 35 percent of the $2.8 million hand reciept. 

With defintinion in budgets agreements becoming more loose, enforcing budget caps and allocating discretionary spending to non-related CT missions, effective funding becomes even more cloudy.

"When these wars started, people kept expecting them to end and for any number of years now, it's pretty clear they're not gonna end. We have in fact, a presence in the area which is not that difference from our presence in Korea...our presence in Japan, our presence in Europe, if it's presence, it's not war-related," said Amy Belasco.

The report concludes by offering five recommendations to fix what they refer to as"eroding" data:

  1. Create a clear and transparent counterterrorism funding report. The Office and Management and Budget (OMB) should compile data and analayze U.S. Department of homeland security spending. OMB should also provide metrics for Congress comparing the public scope of counterterrorism spending with total discretionary and mandatory spending.
  2. Adopt a detailed agencywide definition for counterterrorism spending. OMB and Congress should define terrorrism and with a "clear, usable set of criteria." The definition could be tailored to individual agency missions but address how spending tackles a credible threat to the United States. 
  3. Build on current accounting structures to anticipate future budget pressures. OMB should work with agencies in distinguishing counterterrorism spending at the varrious levels and needs.
  4. Tie the definition of war spending to specific activities. "Develop and implement clear criteria for terrorism-related spending" and differentiate costs of missions with a counterterrorism versus a war-focus. 
  5. Require Congress to separately approve emergency or wartime spending. "Congress should pass new legislation that requires it to vote separately to approve spending that is designated as war-related emergency or wartime overseas contingency operations spending before those funds can be obligated."