In the two decades that have passed since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States has spent more than $14 trillion – yes, $14,000,000,000,000 – on military engagements across the world. Countless lives have been lost, and the premise of “spreading democracy” to nations like Afghanistan and Iraq has resulted in destruction, increased extremism, and the geopolitical destabilization of the Middle East. The diversion of this staggering, incomprehensibly large sum of cash has robbed the American people of investments in our own fledgling domestic infrastructure, such as education, green energy, health care, and transportation. It has also jeopardized the safety and security of every person on Earth.
This may not be all that surprising given the gargantuan “defense” budget that Congress agrees to renew and inflate every year. Sadly, it is one of a handful of spending priorities that enjoys bipartisan support, and without more pressure from their constituents to change course, lawmakers are unlikely to lead us down a different path.
But even more alarming is just how much money has been funneled into the pockets of defense contractors, private armies, and other war profiteering organizations, according to a new paper authored by William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy in collaboration with Brown University’s Costs of War Project that was published on Monday.
“Total Pentagon expenditures for all purposes since Fiscal Year 2001 have topped $14.1 trillion (measured in 2021 dollars). Of this sum, $4.4 trillion went for weapons procurement and research and development (R&D), categories that primarily benefit corporate contractors. The remaining funds went to pay and benefits for military and civilian personnel and supporting expenditures needed to operate and maintain the U.S. military. The $4.4 trillion figure is a conservative estimate of the pool of funding Pentagon contractors have drawn from in the two decades since 9/11,” Hartung writes. “The Pentagon’s massive budget for operations and maintenance (O&M) also subsidizes contractors, but it is harder to determine what share of this category goes to private firms. The benefits of the post-9/11 surge in Pentagon spending have been highly concentrated. One-quarter to one-third of all Pentagon contracts in recent years have gone to just five major weapons contractors: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman.”
In addition to the vast amount of treasure that has enriched these architects of mass death, Hartung explains, is the madding lack of accountability – both financially and operationally – of the corporations whose business is war.
“Some of these corporations earned profits that are widely considered legitimate. Other profits were the consequence of questionable or corrupt business practices that amount to waste, fraud, abuse, price-gouging, or profiteering,” the study states. “The Pentagon’s increasing reliance on private contractors in the post-9/11 period raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness. This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud, and abuse. Additionally, that the waging of war is a source of profits can contradict the goal of having the U.S. lead with diplomacy in seeking to resolve conflicts. More broadly, the outsized influence of defense contractors has resulted in a growing militarization of American society. This is manifested in everything from the Pentagon’s receipt of the lion’s share of the federal discretionary budget – more than half – to the supply of excess military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.”
Hartung says that “the largest beneficiaries of the post-9/11 wars and the spending increases that accompanied them were the weapons suppliers. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics were the top beneficiaries, supplying the bulk of the combat aircraft, attack and transport helicopters, armored vehicles, bombs, and missiles used in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” adding that “due to a lack of transparency on the part of the Pentagon, it is not possible to fully distinguish between arms purchases tied directly to the post-9/11 wars versus those bought for other military purposes. But there are a number of indicators that give a sense of the revenues these arms-supplying companies have reaped from the wars.”
Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman were not the only faceless entities to benefit from the 21st Century American imperialist agenda, however. Blackwater, Halliburton, and DynCorp have also raked in billions of dollars from contracts with the Pentagon.
“Halliburton’s Pentagon contracts grew more than tenfold from FY2002 to FY2006 on the strength of its contracts to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure and provide logistical support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the new paper reads. “By 2009, over half of DynCorp’s revenues were coming from the Iraq and Afghan wars.”
The federal government’s reliance on private, for-profit warmongers has irrevocably harmed not only the USA’s standing in the world but has also weakened the power of diplomacy to resolve international spats, and we simply cannot afford to continue business as usual.
“Reducing the profits of war ultimately depends on reducing the resort to war in the first place,” Hartung says. “Likewise, making war less profitable decreases the incentive to go to war. Given the immense financial and human costs of America’s post-9/11 wars – and the negative security consequences generated by many of these conflicts – adopting a new, less militarized foreign policy should be a central goal of the public and policymakers alike.”
BREAKING: Military contractors received between one-third to one-half of the $14 trillion in Pentagon spending since the start of the war in Afghanistan. [THREAD] https://t.co/PcfqZ2SiaS pic.twitter.com/s4gls7pchu
— The Costs of War Project (@CostsOfWar) September 13, 2021
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.