Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

US Federal and State Budgets

Federal budgetary expenditures for the post 9/11 wars include many expenses far beyond direct Congressional war appropriations. The approximately $1.7 trillion in Congressional appropriations for combat, international assistance, and defense of United States airspace through Fiscal Year 2016 is just the tip of an iceberg. 

Other spending directly related to the War on Terror includes additions to the Pentagon “base” budget. And while the US paid for past wars by raising taxes and selling war bonds, the current wars have been paid for almost entirely with borrowed money, on which interest has to be paid. Through FY2016, the US government owes $453 billion in interest on these wars.

The federal government also has committed itself to a series of I.O.U.s – medical and disability payments for veterans and administrative overhead costs that will total another estimated $1 trillion through 2053. Finally, among the costs of these wars are increases in Homeland Security spending, intended to avert the threat of a terrorist attack and respond to and recover from attacks. This spending totals $548 billion to date.

Totaling these expenses and Congressional requests for FY2017, the US federal government has spent and obligated approximately $4.8 trillion on the post-9/11 wars. In addition, by 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the US changes the way it pays for the wars.

Key Findings

  • Direct war appropriations, which policymakers often cite as the costs of the post-9/11 wars, account for less than half of total war costs.

  • Current and future veteran care, interest on war debt, Homeland Security spending, and additions to the Pentagon base budget form the bulk of post-9/11 war expenses.


Congress should require the Congressional Budget Office to make a fuller accounting of war costs, including:

  • War-related additions to the “base” Pentagon budget

  • Details of the “Overseas Contingency” fund

  • VA medical and disability expenditures related to post-9/11 veterans

  • Future obligations accrued to post-9/11 veterans

  • Estimated funding across agencies for war-related activities (including the Department of State, Social Security, CIA, Department of Energy, Department of Labor).

(Page updated as of September 2016)