America’s Military Spending and the Uncertain Costs of its Wars: The Need for Transparent Reporting
January 23, 2019
Between 2001 and 2019, the United States will have spent a total of $5.9 trillion dollars with its military budget. By 2023, it is estimated that the cost of America's wars could total $6.7 trillion.
The United States has now been continuously at war for more than seventeen years. It is still fighting an active war in Afghanistan, has yet to fully defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq – much less establish a state of lasting security in either country – and is playing a role in low level conflicts against extremist and terrorists in many other parts of the world.
The U.S. government, however, has never developed a convincing method of reporting on the cost of the wars, and its estimates are a confusing morass of different and conflicting Departmental, Agency, and other government reporting that leave major gaps in key areas during FY2001-FY2019.
It has never provided useful forecasts of future cost, instead providing empty "placeholder" numbers or none. It has failed to find any useful way to tie the cost estimates it does release to its level of military and civil activity in each conflict or found any way to measure the effectiveness of its expenditures or tie them to a credible strategy to achieve some form of victory.
The result is a national embarrassment and a fundamental failure by the Executive Branch and Congress to produce the transparency and public debate and review that are key elements of a responsible government and democracy.
CSIS is circulating a working draft of a report analyzing official reporting on the Cost of War since FY2001. It examines these issue in detail for the period from FY2001-FY2023.
This report presents a range of total costs that range from lows of $2,002.4 billion to $2,106.2 billion for government reported war costs between FY2001 and FY2019. However, there are a wide range of outside estimates that include other major costs. One well-structured such estimate reaches a total of $5.9 trillion spent and obligated over the same period.
As is examined later, the Department of Defense and other Departments and agencies have never provided credible estimates of futures pending, but the same outside estimate of war costs projects a total of $6,741 billion through end-FY2023.
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