When Trump takes command
Military | What the military can expect during Donald Trump’s presidency
by Michael Cochrane
Posted 11/11/16, 12:18 pm
The surprise victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election could mean a Reagan-era rebuilding of the U.S. military strength accompanied by a weakening of alliances with foreign powers.
“Trump’s election heralds a surge in military spending by the government, both for weapons and for additional personnel in the ground forces,” said Loren Thompson, a defense consultant with the Lexington Institute. “Obama has neglected investment in new weapons and, as a consequence, our enemies have been closing the gap with the Pentagon in terms of capabilities.”
In a defense and foreign policy speech in Philadelphia in September, Trump referenced the recommendations in the Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Military Strength, calling for increases in the number of ships, tactical fighters, and ground combat formations in both the Army and the Marine Corps.
“For him to refer to those figures indicates that either he or his advisers are looking at least at our documents, as well as others, to get some corroborating reference material, and saying that it seems reasonable to them,” said Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation and editor of the 2016 Index of Military Strength.
Trump has not only called for increased defense spending to rebuild the U.S. military after almost two decades of war, but he has also threatened to make America’s commitment to defend its NATO allies contingent upon their meeting defense spending obligations. Some analysts worry that would make the alliance weaker.
“It is possible that Trump’s threats … will be the wake-up call some Europeans needed to get serious about their own defense,” said Lisa Samp, an international security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But I think it’s far more likely that, in the absence of strong (or even interested) American leadership, NATO follows its natural tendency toward the path of least resistance and winds up weaker, more divided, and more adrift than ever under a Trump presidency. This is a truly dangerous proposition at a time when Europe is facing some of the gravest security challenges since the Cold War.”
Samp said she feared Trump would use NATO values as bargaining chips in a bilateral reset with Russia, allowing Putin to expand his sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, Baltic leaders appeared to make the best of the election outcome.
“The people of the U.S. have made a decision; we will respect their choice,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said. “We trust the United States, as it is our strongest and closest ally.”
But perhaps the most significant impact Trump may have as incoming commander in chief will be the review and even repeal of some of the policies of the Obama administration such as opening ground combat positions to women and mandated acceptance of transgender soldiers.
“The military is a resilient institution. It can and will respond to new orders,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness. ““It is also vulnerable … to political forces that do not have the best interest of the military at heart. And that’s what we’ve seen in the last eight years.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.