The Real U.S. National Security Budget: The Figure No One Wants You to See

By Chris Hellman

Excerpted from TomDispatch

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.

A country with a gross domestic product of $1.2 trillion would have the 15th largest economy in the world, ranking between Canada and Indonesia, and ahead of Australia, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia.  Still, don’t for a second think that $1.2 trillion is the actual grand total for what the U.S. government spends on national security. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once famously spoke of the world’s “known unknowns.”  Explaining the phrase this way: “That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know.” It’s a concept that couldn’t apply better to the budget he once oversaw.  When it comes to U.S. national security spending, there are some relevant numbers we know are out there, even if we simply can’t calculate them.

Read the whole eye-opening article at TomDispatch.

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