Paying for War: How to afford a future of strategic competition

COG #47 Paying for War

Author/s (editor/s):

Sarah Kreps

Publication year:


Publication type:

Discussion paper

Wars are expensive and how they are paid for is important for both military capacity as well as political accountability. The two main ways to pay for wars are taxation and debt. In the mid-twentieth century taxes fell out of favour as a way of paying for wars. In this Centre of Gravity paper, Professor Sarah Kreps of Cornell University shows that the public and legislature are less apt to focus on how force is being used when they do not bear the burdens of those wars. As such, she argues how we pay is important for how we fight. The paper argues that the United States and other democracies must restore the connection between the public and the policy choices that the government makes about war. So that public approval is a conscious decision informed by an awareness of the stakes and tradeoffs rather than a tacit decision perpetuated by a lack of political awareness.

This is a timely COG paper. With defence budgets around the world rising and expectations of future conflict growing, democratic government such as the United States and Australia should preemptively seek to explain how they will fund future military expenses. Direct war taxes should be the priority over deferred debt for reasons of clarity and accountability. The discussion of resources should also cover the obligations and call on citizens war might force, such as the use of conscription or systems of national service.

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