The Astronomical Price of America’s Undeclared Wars

According to a study by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, since 2001, America’s wars have cost $5.6 trillion. That equates to $23,000 per taxpayer. This is more than three times the Pentagon estimate – which still comes in at a staggeringly high $1.5 trillion.

Study author, Neta Crawford said the Pentagon’s failure to account for much of the cost of waging war accounts for the discrepancy between official numbers and the study.
“War costs are more than what we spend in any one year on what’s called the pointy end of the spear,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “There are all these other costs behind the spear, and there are consequences of using it, that we need to include.”

According to Newsweek, the study includes costs for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, along with support for allies in the battle against extremist groups, mostly eastern European countries such as Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. It also factors in a trillion dollars for the care of veterans who may have received injuries in the conflicts. But the study did not account for U.S. military assistance outside of these countries against ISIS, such as Tunisia, the Philippines or Egypt.

So, war has cost you even more than $23,000 over the last two decades.

I wonder how many people would support these military interventions if they had actually had to write a $1352.94 check every year for the last 17 years?

War is not only costly in financial terms. As James Madison put it, “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

“War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

This is why the Constitution carefully separated the power to initiate war and the power to execute it. As Madison wrote, “The constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war in the legislature.”

Without any restraint from Congress – the representatives of the people – one president after another has dragged America into undeclared war after undeclared war. Sometimes Congress rubber-stamps executive action with unconstitutional, open-ended authorizations to use force. But over the last several years. presidents have even abandoned this formality. As Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin put it, “Give government an inch and they always take a mile. Especially when it comes to war powers.”

As we pointed out recently, the Trump administration dropped over 44,000 bombs during the president’s first term – all without any declaration of war. If dropping deadly munitions on people in pursuit of an unconstitutional foreign policy doesn’t bother you, perhaps the cost of these undeclared wars will.

You can’t have limited government and perpetual war. The founders understood this and created a system that would make it difficult to drag the United States into military entanglements.

Having unfettered itself from its constitutional restraints, war has become the default position for the U.S. government. And we have all paid the price. These undeclared wars have cost countless lives, trillions of dollars in treasure and have eroded our liberties here at home, just as Madison predicted.

Mike Maharrey