From what I understand, Trump is an isolationist / non-interventionist, at least more so than previous presidents.

On the other hand, Trump wants to massively increase military spending:

[Trump] wants "one of the greatest military build-ups" in American history.

It doesn't seem to make much sense to increase the already high US military spending while at the same time not wanting to engage in large-scale military actions. The current spending seems more than enough to finance small-scale actions against say ISIS.

Why does Trump want "one of the greatest military build-ups in American history"? Is it part of future foreign policy? Just pandering to his base?

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    It's an excellent question but really no possible way to answer it beyond pure speculation.
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 17:09
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    You call it a "massive" increase. I seem to recall it was about $50 billion, which I think would be about a 10% increase in overall US military spending. Clearly this is more than an inflationary adjustment, but is it "massive"? But interestingly Trump is urging many other countries, mainly NATO allies, but also Japan and Korea to ramp up their defence commitments - even in the last cases to go nuclear.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 20:48
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    How can anyone argue that $50 billion is not massive? It's still a 10% increase and if we were talking about any other program it would be an insane amount of money, especially for a President and a political party that constantly claims government is too big and spends too much money. Why do all these standards just disappear whenever it comes to military spending?
    – J Doe
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 23:26
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    @WS2 if work gave me a 10% raise, I'd be massively happy.
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 23:50
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    Cynical view: The military represents a large chunk of the US economy; spending more on it is an ideological palatable way for a Republican president to (essentially) increase public spending. The military provides jobs, paid education too, and spends a lot of its money inside the US. And you can spend a lot on it without the usual inflation risks, as much is sunk costs, even in peace time. E.g. a multi-million dollar cruise missile doesn't offer any return on investment (in the usual sense). Once bought, it can't really be resold, and it's very much single-use.
    – Flambino
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 2:29

3 Answers 3


Bottom Line Upfront: If you don't allow the military to plan for maintenance, but keep them working, then it will cost more to fix them when you start giving them money.

Part of it is most certainly about pandering to his base. 67% of Republicans believe too little is spent on defense. Though, there is room for universal appeal, where this could be an effort to unify the country, because 41% of individuals surveyed have a great deal of confidence in the military, while an additional 32% have quite a lot.

The large portion for why Trump is pushing a budget increase is the decay of military readiness under sequester and continuing resolution. Lacking a formal budget and subsisting off of uncertain continuing resolutions for six years, usually followed by a 'government shutdown,' the military is challenged to put major maintenance items on contract. This causes maintenance to be deferred, for ships and airplanes.

Paul Ryan is on the note that Continuing Resolutions are uniquely bad for the Military.

In the long term, the military could likely stand to do with less money, assuming the operational requirements are firmly defined and curtailed. There is plenty of evidence of wasteful spending. A consist budget through the appropriations process would be preferable, so the military could at least plan on having money. Sustainment contracts are made years in advance, with negotiations for maintenance availabilities starting months prior. Since they military couldn't depend on money being there, they couldn't plan for maintenance. Add in the increased operational tempo, and you have equipment going without maintenance doing more work. Eventually things will break.

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    We differ politically but this is a great and concise answer. +1 Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 14:03
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    Wouldn't implementing a formal budget and getting rid of government shutdowns and continuing resolutions be better solutions to the decay though? It seems that the problem isn't the size of the budget, but how the money is distributed. I'm probably missing something, but I'm not sure how increasing the budget helps here. Or is it a matter of catching up on what was lost during sequester etc?
    – tim
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 14:51
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    @tim Yes. it is a matter of fixing the decay that happened in the last eight years that rendered the military incapable of fully carrying out its mission. The formal budget and other techniques would be better, but they would not help if not enough money is budgeted. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 15:21
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    This is a good answer but I think that there could also be a economic benefit, from the president's perspective. Combine this with an America-made clause and he gets a lot closer to meeting campaign promises about US manufacturing.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 16:14
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    That's an... odd choice of answers for a poll. "A great deal" v. "Quite a lot"? I wouldn't know which one of those indicates the highest confidence level save for the order they're presented in.
    – user2164
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 18:19

Why does Trump want to increase military spending?

President Trump wishes to increase spending to restore capabilities that have been declining throughout the past decade or so.

Maintenance is reduced; forces are less ready

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) is one contributor to declining military capability. The Defense Department reduced operations and maintenance funds in response to the BCA. The cumulative effect from 2013 to 2016 of this reduction in maintenance has been significant. Example: at one point only 30% of Marine Corps. F/A-18 Hornet were mission ready, and 28% of Super Stallion helicopters were airworthy (reference).

Aging equipment

A budget increase is not only sought to restore deferred maintenance, it is also sought to recapitalize aging and outdated equipment. This article has subtle biases, but it does well describe how today's military capabilties are in large part a product on the 1980's defense build up. Reinvestment is needed. The article also describes the impact of less maintenance.


President Trump has a reputation as a negotiator from his real estate career. I opine that 50 billion is his entering argument as a negotiating tactic--that he realizes the final amount will be negotiated downward.

Even strong phrases such as Greatest Military Build Up Ever could be a negotiating tactic. It could very well be his entering statement. Catching Up on Deferred Maintenance would not do well with focus groups.

Relation to isolationism and non-interventionalism

From what I understand, Trump is an isolationist / non-interventionist, at least more so than previous presidents.

On the other hand, Trump wants to massively increase military spending

I suggest actually being the President can change one's opinions and attitudes. President Trump has probably evolved and has different thoughts and attitudes from Private Citizen Trump. It is to soon to tell where President Trump will act in regard to isolationism and non-interventionalism.

I offer the following thoughts:

  • isolationist and non-interventionalist are difficult to uniformly define and apply. I imagine you could be a Defense Hawk and still wear one of those labels
  • being an isolationist or non-interventionalist or does not necessarily mean less military capability (spending) is the norm
  • President Trump's stance toward ISIS suggests he may be an interventionalist
  • While the BCA limited money available to the Military, it was the inability of the government to pass a budget, relying on Continuing resolutions instead, that had the greatest effect on maintenance. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 21:10

increase military spending vs Trump is an isolationist

Increasing military spending doesn't contradict necessarily with Trump being an isolationist; He can reduce US aid spending to foreigners (Here are some of aid receivers and some are hidden), and increase US military budget.

not wanting to engage in large-scale military actions.

How do you know this?
Time calls Donald Trump "President of the Divided States of America". The situation is getting worse every day for Trump. A large-scale military action can lead to solidarity.

If this is the scenario, we may see a severe killing of citizens, e.g. US citizens or target country citizens (Accusing government about human rights,... ) ,... .

Although it seems a spending at first glance, but it can cause grate incomes. Consider, for example, proxy wars in middle east, Consider selling weapon to Saudi Arabia to kill people in Yemen,...


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