By the National Priorities Project

Sept. 1, 2021


Twenty years after 9/11, the war on terror has remade the U.S. into a far more militarized actor, both around the world and at home. The human costs of this evolution are many — including mass incarceration, widespread surveillance, the violent repression of immigrant communities, and hundreds of thousands of lives lost to war and violence.

But of course, this militarization also has financial costs too. Over 20 years, the U.S. has spent more than $21 trillion on militarization, surveillance, and repression — all in the name of security. These investments have shown us that the U.S. has the capacity and political will to invest in our biggest priorities.

But the COVID-19 pandemic, the January 6 Capitol insurrection, wildfires raging in the West, and even the fall of Afghanistan have shown us that these investments cannot buy us safety. The next 20 years present an opportunity to reconsider where we need to reinvest for a better future.

Key Findings

  • Over the 20 years since 9/11, the U.S. has spent $21 trillion on foreign and domestic militarization.
  • Of that total, $16 trillion went to the military — including at least $7.2 trillion for military contracts.
  • Another $3 trillion went to veterans’ programs, $949 billion went to Homeland Security, and $732 billion went to federal law enforcement.
  • For far less than it spent on militarization since 9/11, the U.S. could reinvest to meet critical challenges that have been neglected for the last 20 years:
    • $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the U.S. electric grid.
    • $2.3 trillion could create 5 million jobs at $15 per hour with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.
    • $1.7 trillion could erase student debt.
    • $449 billion could continue the extended Child Tax Credit for another 10 years.
    • $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay.
    • $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the populations of low-income countries.