The U.S. war on terror is being waged in 80 countries.

The U.S. war on terror has led to 17 years of conflict, $5.9 trillion in war-fighting costs, drone strikes targeting accused terrorists (including American citizens) on three continents, and terror-related military operations in 80 sovereign nations. New data released by Brown University’s Costs of War project show the wide scope of the forever war on terror:

See the full map at Brown University’s Costs of War project.

American military operations now span two-fifths of the globe, but when it comes to the domestic costs of wars waged abroad, it’s the working class that bears the burden.

This forever war can’t be undone without comprehensively refuting militarism, starting with reforms to the legal architecture that systematically masks the costs of war at home and abroad.

Two post-9/11 authorizations demonstrate how this framework limits public debate and invites mission creep, in effect denying the working class agency by design.

First, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress only days after the September 11 attacks gave the president effectively unchecked power to wage war against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” in the attacks. Seventeen years later, the measure is still in effect. Terror suspects who were not even born when the Congress passed the AUMF are now old enough to be killed under its authorities. More importantly, it allows the president to determine without public debate who exactly those “nations, organizations, or persons” are. Finally, the law provides the fig leaf of process and gives Congress an excuse for abdicating its oversight responsibility now.

Second, unscrutinized train-and-equip programs give the military an ever-expanding foothold abroad. Section 333 of Title 10 of United States Code allows the Department of Defense to provide military equipment and training abroad; since 2017, the has U.S. funded more than $1.3 billion worth of projects under this authority across 60 countries.[1] As evidenced by the U.S. experiences in Niger, Iraq, and Syria, these train-and-equip missions have a record of seamlessly transitioning into combat missions. But the more subtle political effect is in their buying country access for the Department of Defense, laying the groundwork for an indefinite global policing structure.[2]

[1] The inaugural U.S. military-led ‘security assistance’ program, ‘Global Train & Equip’ under Section 1206 of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act marked the first time that the U.S. military would have the authority to do what the program name implies.

[2] These programs under this authority are characterized from a tactical perspective as technocratic and preventive.  From a strategic perspective, they’re most accurately described as political and reactive.  For more on the political goal of access in the Middle East, read Micah Zenko’s report, here.