The financial legacy of Afghanistan and Iraq: How wartime spending decisions will constrain future U.S. national security budgets

Linda J. Bilmes

Abstract


The Afghan and Iraqi conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in United States history, totaling somewhere between US$4 to US$6 trillion. This includes long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment, and social and economic costs. The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid. Since 2001, the U.S. has expanded the quality, quantity, availability, and eligibility of benefits for military personnel and veterans. This has led to unprecedented growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense budgets. These benefits will increase further over the next 40 years. Additional funds are committed to replacing large quantities of basic equipment used in the wars and to support ongoing diplomatic presence and military assistance in Afghanistan and Iraq. The large sums borrowed to finance war-related operations will also impose substantial long-term debt servicing costs. As a consequence of these wartime spending choices, the United States will face constraints in funding investments in personnel and diplomacy, research and development, and new military initiatives. The legacy of decisions taken during the Afghan and Iraqi wars will dominate federal budgets for decades to come.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15355/epsj.9.1.5

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