Twenty years on, the war on terror has made the state larger and stronger than ever
One of the biggest changes in America during the 20 year-long fight against global terrorism has been the rapid change, and accelerated growth, of the security state. Once designed to fend off the Soviet Union, the behemoth pivoted quickly to the war against loosely-defined terror organizations and failed states, such as Afghanistan.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the results of that pivot have reshaped the nation in more ways that we realize:
In the decade following the terrorist attacks, military spending more than doubled in absolute terms to $700 billion, or about 20% of total government spending. In 2011, the nation’s military spending peaked at 19.6% of total federal outlays and represented about 4.6% of GDP. By 2020, it had fallen to 11% of total federal spending and represented 3.5% of GDP.
Much of the money flowed to the private sector as commercial firms bid on huge new contracts to develop the next generation of security capabilities. In 2001, the Defense Department had $181 billion in contract obligations to about 46,000 contractors, according to a Center for Strategic and International Studies estimate. By 2011, when war and security spending growth reached its apex, the department had $375 billion in obligations to more than 110,000 companies.
Military is still increasing, despite the end of the Afghan War. What else is growing? Surveillance:
Domestically, the government took on a much greater role in regulating the security of industries like air travel and gained new counterterrorism authorities under laws like the USA Patriot Act, passed in October 2001. Part of that involved collecting huge troves of data on U.S. citizens to compare their names against newly created watch lists and no-fly databases. New technologies, such as millimeter-wave scanners and air cargo screening programs, came into existence.
And in secret, U.S. intelligence authorities were expanded to obtain access to the communication records of Americans—and the power to wiretap their calls without warrants in limited circumstances.
Some of those programs, the Journal notes, have either ended or been curtailed. But data gathering in the U.S. has increased through new channels and even newer technology.
Has it made us safer? That’s unclear. But all of this has eroded the federal balance sheet, and the balance between liberty and state power…all with the sanction of voters acting through the major political parties.