April 20, 2014

Estimates on War Costs Should Be More Realistic

  • The national debt has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits. A deficit occurs in any year the government spends more...

Recent reports by Brown University and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) underscore the need for Congress to honestly account for war costs, both past and present, and to factor them into long-range planning.

The Brown University report, authored by Neta C. Crawford and Catherine Lutz of the school’s Eisenhower Research Project, says the U.S. has spent $2.3 trillion to $2.6 trillion on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001 -- much higher than the $1 trillion the President cites.

The study looks not just at what the Pentagon allocates directly to the conflicts but such things as soldiers’ pay, war-related foreign assistance and war-related debt. The study concludes that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will ultimately cost somewhere between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion, which takes into account future fighting and veterans’ health care.

CBO recently compared its 5-year projections of defense spending with those by the Department of Defense. Due to rising health care costs and the fact that the Pentagon usually underestimates the cost of developing and buying weapons by 20 percent to 30 percent, the CBO says, costs over the next five years will come in $64 billion higher than Defense projections.

As the authors of the Brown University study put it, many war costs are “...invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed.” Congress, the administration and the Pentagon should work to ensure that military cost projections are more transparent, complete and realistic.