Does Significantly Less Than 10 Percent of Defense Spending Go to Fighting International Terrorism?

During the November 14th Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said “We're spending over $600 billion a year on the military and yet, significantly less than 10 percent of that money is used to be fighting international terrorism.”

In fact, by most measures we spend above 10 percent to fight international terrorism. In terms of money out the door (outlays), the federal government spent $583 billion on defense in 2015. Of that, about $74 billion was spent on overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund – mainly to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent in Iraq. Focusing instead on the amount appropriated (budget authority), total defense spending in 2015 was about $586 billion of which $64 billion was OCO.

In other words, OCO alone accounts for 11 or 12 percent of defense spending. On top of this, a portion of the base defense budget also goes directly or indirectly toward fighting terrorism. It is therefore not true, as Senator Sanders claimed, that the military spends significantly less than 10 percent of its budget to fight terrorism.

If Sanders had instead made a more narrow claim about the money spent fighting the terrorist group ISIS – which his campaign has said is what he meant – then his claim would be true. The President’s FY 2016 request of OCO funds to combat ISIS was $5.3 billion which is less than 1 percent of the defense budget and less than 10 percent of the OCO budget. It is possible that other defense resources may be re-directed to fight ISIS as well.

Ruling: Largely False