Counterterrorism Spending Tops $2.8 Trillion Since 9/11

By Jon Harper
Soldiers fire rounds from their M119A2 howitzer at an al-Qaida training camp southwest of Samarra, Iraq.

Photo: Defense Dept.

The U.S. government has spent more than $2.8 trillion on counterterrorism efforts since the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a recent study group.

The findings were included in a new Stimson Center report, “Counterterrorism Spending: Protecting America While Promoting Efficiencies and Accountability,” which looked at CT-related investments across federal agencies from fiscal years 2002 to 2017. The study is the first of its kind.

“CT spending has become a substantial component of total discretionary spending for programs across a wide range of areas, including defense, education and medical research,” the report said.

The study group looked at expenditures for government-wide homeland security efforts, international programs and military campaigns in the Middle East and elsewhere. It calculated that annual counterterrorism spending peaked at $260 billion in 2008 at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2017, as war funding decreased, expenditures dipped to $175 billion, which was still an 11-fold increase from the 2001 level, the report noted.

“Despite this drop, the study group found no indication that CT spending is likely to continue to decline,” it said.

However, that remains to be seen as the Defense Department pivots to preparing for potential fights with advanced adversaries such as China and Russia. The unclassified summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy declared that great power rivalry, not counterterrorism, is now the primary concern of the U.S. military.

“The Pentagon has begun to shift back to great power competition,” noted Laicie Heeley, a fellow with the Stimson Center’s budgeting for foreign affairs and defense program. “While budgets have risen and priorities have shifted, arguably to a far more expensive course, tradeoffs will be necessary. We will have to choose to invest in the future” requirements, she said during a recent panel discussion when the study group’s findings were rolled out.

The researchers noted that their counterterrorism spending calculations were imperfect, due to several factors that make it challenging to identify all federal CT spending. Budgeting practices and a lack of transparency make it difficult to assess the efficacy of investments that are being made, they noted. And the problem is only getting worse.

“We’re moving in the wrong direction for something that is going to continue to be for the foreseeable future a significant activity of federal government and a significant amount of your tax dollars,” said Mike McCord, director of civil-military programs at the Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership and former Pentagon comptroller.


Topics: Counterterrorism, Homeland Security, Defense Department

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