The Real U.S. National Security Budget
The Figure No One Wants You to See
By Chris Hellman
What if you went to a restaurant and found it rather pricey? Still, you ordered your meal and, when done, picked up the check only to discover that it was almost twice the menu price.
Welcome to the world of the real U.S. national security budget. Normally, in media accounts, you hear about the Pentagon budget and the war-fighting supplementary funds passed by Congress for our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. That already gets you into a startling price range -- close to $700 billion for 2012 -- but that's barely more than half of it. If Americans were ever presented with the real bill for the total U.S. national security budget, it would actually add up to more than $1.2 trillion a year.
Take that in for a moment. It's true; you won't find that figure in your daily newspaper or on your nightly newscast, but it's no misprint. It may even be an underestimate. In any case, it's the real thing when it comes to your tax dollars. The simplest way to grasp just how Americans could pay such a staggering amount annually for "security" is to go through what we know about the U.S. national security budget, step by step, and add it all up.
So, here we go. Buckle your seat belt: it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Fortunately for us, on February 14th the Obama administration officially released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget request. Of course, it hasn't been passed by Congress -- even the 2011 budget hasn't made it through that august body yet -- but at least we have the most recent figures available for our calculations.
For 2012, the White House has requested $558 billion for the Pentagon's annual "base" budget, plus an additional $118 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. At $676 billion, that's already nothing to sneeze at, but it's just the barest of beginnings when it comes to what American taxpayers will actually spend on national security. Think of it as the gigantic tip of a humongous iceberg.
To get closer to a real figure, it's necessary to start peeking at other parts of the federal budget where so many other pots of security spending are squirreled away.
Missing from the Pentagon's budget request, for example, is an additional $19.3 billion for nuclear-weapons-related activities like making sure our current stockpile of warheads will work as expected and cleaning up the waste created by seven decades of developing and producing them. That money, however, officially falls in the province of the Department of Energy. And then, don't forget an additional $7.8 billion that the Pentagon lumps into a "miscellaneous" category -- a kind of department of chump change -- that is included in neither its base budget nor those war-fighting funds.
So, even though we're barely started, we've already hit a total official FY 2012 Pentagon budget request of:
$703.1 billion dollars.
Not usually included in national security spending are hundreds of billions of dollars that American taxpayers are asked to spend to pay for past wars, and to support our current and future national security strategy.
For starters, that $117.8 billion war-funding request for the Department of Defense doesn't include certain actual "war-related fighting" costs. Take, for instance, the counterterrorism activities of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. For the first time, just as with the Pentagon budget, the FY 2012 request divides what's called "International Affairs" in two: that is, into an annual "base" budget as well as funding for "Overseas Contingency Operations" related to Iraq and Afghanistan. (In the Bush years, these used to be called the Global War on Terror.) The State Department's contribution? $8.7 billion. That brings the grand but very partial total so far to:
The White House has also requested $71.6 billion for a post-2001 category called "homeland security" -- of which $18.1 billion is funded through the Department of Defense. The remaining $53.5 billion goes through various other federal accounts, including the Department of Homeland Security ($37 billion), the Department of Health and Human Services ($4.6 billion), and the Department of Justice ($4.6 billion). All of it is, however, national security funding which brings our total to:
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