In The Federal Budget and GDP and The Canary and the Colly Bird I said I’d take a flashlight, calculator and canary to investigate the “Military-industrial mine-shaft that keeps us in a ruinously costly perpetual state of war”. There’s a lot of camouflage but my flashlight shed some light on the business results of what I’ll call Military Operations Inc (MOI). The canary was distressed at times but it’s OK now, maybe because I didn’t yet take it very deep.
What I mean by camouflage in this context is none of the numbers I found so far can entirely be trusted. As the Congressional GAO repeatedly says: “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense make its financial statements unauditable.” Nonetheless, the following numbers are sufficiently OK to show relative sizes. To set them in context, DOD spending is 20% or more and DOD plus non-DOD military spending 30% or more of federal spending, i.e., around half of total estimated Federal tax revenues. Military spending grew 9% annually since 2000, much faster than GDP, and now accounts for 5%-8% of GDP.
Our stated military spending, which exceeds the next 20 nations combined, is actually a lot higher than the $711B for 2011 shown below. That number is said to include War on Terror spending but I doubt all those costs are included. Additional spending on defense-related programs, e.g., Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and nuclear weapons maintenance brings the total above $1T and even to $1.4T with interest on debt incurred in past wars. We have military bases in at least 150 countries, almost 1.5M active military personnel, an additional 100K DOD personnel and substantially more than 100K contractor personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Spending dropped after the collapse of the Soviet Union but greatly increased following the 2001 terrorist attack that killed 3,000 US civilians. The canary was distressed to learn that the War on Terror response to that attack, recast by the Obama administration as Overseas Contingency Operation, has so far resulted in over 6,500 US military personnel killed and 50,000 wounded. The bird may not have recovered if I’d been able to find dependable counts of Iraqis, Afghanis and others killed and wounded.
Although the canary sees ratios, it is fundamentally innumerate. It recovered while I returned to my calculator. The numbers in the chart below are understated, as noted above, but they do correctly illustrate the spending pattern. A 2011 Congressional report estimates the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be $1.8 trillion. An academic report the same year that includes other areas of related spending estimates $5.4 trillion.
The canary showed new signs of distress when I examined the spending rationale. When President Bush declared war on terror he said it “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” The canary was troubled because:
- Such a war can never end
- The justification for the first big operation was false – satellite images said to be of Iraqi factories for enriching uranium were not
- That operation was followed by ones the public barely questioned in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Trans Saharan Africa, Pakistan and Yemen
- We are repeatedly told to be prepared for future actions against North Korea and Iran
The canary recovered while I looked at more numbers. We can’t know for sure where the money goes, but the next chart gives a sense of the breakdown. Pay and housing for military personnel fluctuates fairly closely around $100B. Spending on weapons and procurement increased steeply during the Vietnam War, again toward the end of the Cold War and again from the start of the War on Terror. Spending on war operations, in other words MOI’s revenue from conducting war, which also grew during the Vietnam War and Cold War escalation, increased dramatically in the past decade.
Defense R&D spending remains relatively consistent. I’ll come back to this another day because it yields some civilian benefits, e.g., the Internet. Most of the $700B to $1T we spend on defense is simply a burden on income tax payers, a tax whose only rationale is to prevent the possible occurrence of negative things.
What, then, have I learned on Day 1 of this exploration? MOI’s Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) product line is yielding greatly increased revenues. The obvious next question is the OCO product line’s longer term potential in the “negative things” market. How much further can OCO revenues be grown and for how long? To approach answers, I will next explore OCO product strategy in the context of MOI’s overall business strategy and organizational structure. I’ll carefully watch the canary for signs of distress.