“They will include for the first time requiring women between the ages of 18 and 25 to register for potential conscription in the event of a prolonged war, as all young men are currently required to do.
Big changes are expected to come to the Selective Service System in coming years, but exactly what is still unclear.Leo Shane III
The idea has gained traction among some women’s rights groups and complaints from some conservative activists in recent years. In the past, courts have ruled against adding women to the draft because certain combat posts were closed to them, but Pentagon officials in recent years have lifted nearly all those restrictions.
In a statement on Tuesday, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, praised the commission’s work and promised to closely consider the findings.
“Opening Selective Service to women is just one of their recommendations,” he said. “I look forward to examining the data and arguments the commission has compiled more closely.
“In the meantime, it is important that my colleagues have an opportunity to hear from the Commission directly. I believe that public hearings in the Armed Services Committee and other relevant committees are essential.”
When those public hearings might be held is unclear. Currently, nearly all congressional hearings have been postponed indefinitely because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump earlier this month recommended keeping any public gatherings to fewer than 10 people in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness.
Legislative proposals have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain.
Congress will have to adopt new legislation in order to make the change of adding women to the draft. Or they could opt to get rid of the Selective Service System altogether.
Recent legislative proposals regarding registration of women have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain, and several studies have questioned how effective it would be if officials needed it to replenish troop levels.
That hasn’t happened in more than 40 years, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they prefer the current all-volunteer force to the idea of a mostly conscripted military.
Men between the ages of 18 and 25 who don’t register for the draft face possible fines and jail time, and may be ineligible for benefits like federal student loans. Advocates for adding women to the registration system have argued in the past that levying those penalties only on men is unfair.”
“In fiscal year 2018, the Army sought an ambitious 80,000 new recruits. They dropped that goal to 76,500 but still only came in at 70,000 by the end of the year. The service spent $429 million in enlistment bonuses.
In Fiscal Year 2019, the nearly 11,000 soldiers in the Army’s recruiting command brought in slightly more than 68,000 new recruits to the active side, spending $329 million and another $90 million to add 15,000 soldiers to the reserves.“
“Over the past five years, retired Army Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich and Col. Larry Wilkerson along with members of the All-Volunteer Force Forum have traversed the country in an effort to address what they see as a looming crisis in the military — dwindling numbers of qualified and interested recruits for a military straining at the seams.
And they’ve got the solution: Bring back the draft.
The pair, along with William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy spoke to a crowd of a few dozen attendees in the Capitol Visitor’s Center Tuesday.
Impeachment hearings and other congressional business may have drawn away interested parties, but Wilkerson was not deterred. Each year they hold a daylong forum which lays out in detail how a draft could help close the military-civilian divide, cut recruiting spending and personnel costs and even help engage the citizenry to reduce or eliminate the militarization of foreign policy.
But Laich threw a kind of curveball at the common narrative that there just are not enough young American’s willing and able to serve in the armed forces.
It’s the “willing” part that the draft can eliminate, Laich said.
As he broke down the “AVF Arithmetic” for the audience, numbers did reveal themselves.
For example, an estimated 4 million people turn age 18 each year. Of those, the Pentagon estimates about 30 percent can qualify for military service, giving the armed forces 1.2 million men and women to bring on board.
But only 180,000 of those 1.2 million are willing and able, Laich said. That leaves more than 1 million potential recruits on the table.
And the services only need about 150,000 each year to maintain the force, he said.
“Numbers are not the problem,” Laich said. “It’s about who we access and how we use the law.”
Laich authored a book on the subject, “Skin in the Game: Poor Kids and Patriots,” and co-founded the forum to tackle the problem.
The retired two-star calls the current volunteer military recruiting, “unfair, inefficient and unsustainable.”
Some of the numbers they present bear that out. The Army, for instance, fell short of recruiting goals even after adjusting its initial mark last year. And this year took on even slower growth towards what officials had called for in recent years.
Alongside the recruiting money, the Army also granted between 10 percent to 12 percent of them some form of waiver either for weight, drug use, criminal records or test scores.
Nearly 2 percent, or close to 1,200 of those active Army recruits, were considered category IV recruits, scoring in the 10th to 31st percentile on test scores. Those recruits, a decade-old RAND study showed, wind up being 20 percent to 30 percent less effective in their jobs than category II and III soldiers, Laich said.
By scratching using the leverage of the draft on the larger numbers, Laich and Wilkerson said that the services would no longer need to court lower-quality recruits, grant as many, if any, waivers and bring a few National Merit scholars and All-American linebackers into the fold.
And to these men and their colleagues, it isn’t a matter of if the draft will return, but when.
That’s because a combination of ever-growing missions for the military and outside pressures on the dollars being spent their will force it, they said.
Those missions and challenges will include a rise in humanitarian and disaster relief in the face of increased natural disasters linked to climate change and a national defense policy that seeks to meet peer competitors such as Russia and China. Meanwhile, badly needed investments in the economy, environment and education competing with defense dollars, the panel said.
“We’re going to need a lot more soldiers and Marines, and probably the all services, as well,” he said.
That’s in part to competing with peers but more is needed for the military’s long reach to address what some predict to be a massive refugee and resources crisis over the coming decades as climate changes forces rising levels of conflict and displacement.
Wilkerson points to recent Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey, all of which required major efforts from multiple states’ Guard units. The Texas Guard called up all 12,000 of its troops to respond to devastation in Houston.
And the drain on Guard, Reserve and active troops for the response to assist Puerto Rico continues in some forms.
Now, Wilkerson said, imagine if we had such events straining us on the homeland while at the same time needing to deploy a high number of troops to a shooting war abroad.
There wouldn’t be enough troops to do both.
For those reasons, the panel members see a measured way of reinstating the draft as the best option for getting Americans reacquainted with such service that previous generations took as the norm.
“We need to start,” Wilkerson said. “We need to have at least a small bit of conscription.”
The suggested method was laid out in Laich’s book and remains his summarized recommendation.
A national no-deferral lottery system for men and women.
If selected, the person would have the option of three choices — serving two years on active duty following basic training and job training; serving in either the Guard or Reserve for six years after the same training but if deployed for one year or more, service obligation would be considered satisfied; if the selected person wants instead to attend college then they would participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps and serve a commission. If they fail to gain a commission then they revert to option one or two.
The larger effect, forum members hope, is to engage citizens in how the country uses its military.
“If we had a draft in 2003, would we have gone to Iraq at all?” Laich pondered.”
“Consider this: We are 17 years into a “War on Terror” that’s come with a $5.6 trillion (and rising) price tag. Our military is currently engaged in an overwhelming number of overseas missions, including a growing number of natural disaster-related deployments.
The U.S. is waging the war on terror in 76 countries. That’s 40 percent of the countries on this planet. Add these facts together, and it begs the question: Can an all-volunteer military force stand ready to answer the call? Will the demands prove greater than our resources?”
“The United States ended its military draft in 1973 after nearly 2.2 million men were conscripted during the Vietnam War era. More than 9 million served during that period, but the majority of those draftees were sent to Vietnam.
‘NOT MUCH IN THE BARN IF SOMETHING BREAKS’
“If there’s a bullet flying anywhere on the planet, Marines want to be there. However, if something big breaks, there ain’t a lot in the barn,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Hedelund was speaking at the 2017 Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, about Marine Corps readiness. Hedelund, along with other high-ranking military officials and veterans, has warned that our military is at a critical crossroads and might be hard-pressed to meet the global demands of numerous ongoing missions as we face low recruitment and retention rates.
Not enough in the barn, indeed. According to a map published by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the U.S. is waging the war on terror in 76 countries. That’s 40 percent of the countries on this planet.
However, this figure may be low and not accurately reflect our total number of secret ongoing special ops deployments. Sources at U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) say the number of countries where the U.S. is waging war on terrorism is much higher, perhaps even as high as 70 percent.
BUT WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO REINSTATE A MILITARY DRAFT?
“Some kind of mass-mobilization; a war on Korean peninsula, or a more conventional confrontation with Russia or China,” retired Army Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich says.
Laich is the author of “Skin in the Game” and founder and executive director of the All-Volunteer Force forum, which contends that our current all-volunteer military is “unfair, inefficient, and unsustainable and contributes to the civil-military gap and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.”
He argues that it might not take the threat of a rogue nation to initiate a draft — rather, it may be a crisis based on manpower.
“If you do the math, only three out of 10 Americans meet the criteria to serve, and only 15 percent of those able have the propensity to serve,” Laich says. “This is unsustainable, especially with an interventionist strategy where America’s forces are the global police force and the rest of the world is content [with] letting us play that role.”
Laich and many others argue that an all-volunteer force is a fiscal disaster in the long run. There are currently unprecedented incentives for joining the military, some as high as $40,000. Given our current level of debt, he says this trend is “unsustainable” and that “we can’t afford the all-volunteer force that we have today.”
And Laich contends that this money is clearly an incentive for the socio-economic underclass, which brings the issue of fairness into focus.
“Drafts have never been fair,” he says. “But the fact is an all-volunteer force gives us 330 million people that are not obligated to protect and defend. They don’t have skin in the game.”
THE U.S. MILITARY: A GLOBAL INTERVENTIONIST POLICE FORCE?
Dr. Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War, argues that the root cause of our endless wars is an all-volunteer force because not enough Americans have “skin in the game.”
“We currently have two war parties, even if Democrats and Republicans use different language in describing the purposes of the wars they support,” he says.
Bacevich’s solution? “We need to have another party that is, if not anti-war, at least anti-interventionist.”
Bacevich, professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, is critical of American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. He maintains that after the Cold War, Washington came to see military power as a tool to solve problems instead of relying on diplomacy.
He also contends that popular culture has given rise to an unrealistic portrayal of what war is really like, simultaneously promoting war as heroic as well as the stereotype of the broken warrior with PTSD. Some say these misconceptions only widen the gap of understanding between the civilian and military populations.
Bacevich’s only son, Andrew Bacevich Jr., also an Army officer, died fighting in the Iraq War in May 2007.
CAN MORE VETERANS IN CONGRESS BE A SOLUTION?
The cross-partisan organization With Honor seeks to help more veterans get into Congress and perhaps bring us back to a time when the goal of war was peace rather than one based on intervention.
According to With Honor, veterans represented more than half of Congress for much of the second half of the 20th century. Today, veteran representation in Congress is near a historic low at 19 percent.
“Veterans took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” said John Mahony, a Marine infantry officer veteran and chief operating officer of With Honor. “They know what it means to put the country’s interests ahead of their own and, by placing mission accomplishment first, have often been leaders who have made a difference by working together to solve our nation’s largest problems.”
Bacevich isn’t convinced that veterans can do a better job at handling the way our military forces are deployed but says he wholeheartedly supports more veterans in Congress.
NATIONAL PRIDE IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
Of course, not everyone believes that compulsory service is the only answer.
Retired Air Force Col. Dan Merry, the vice president of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), believes an all-volunteer force is the only way forward.
“MOAA’s position on the draft has been consistent,” Merry says. “We support the all-volunteer ‘career’ force as a necessary component of a strong national defense.”
It’s also clear that the government is serious about investigating not only how to bridge the gap between civilian and military populations, but how to inspire the American public to serve.
The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service was created by Congress to consider and develop recommendations about whether we need a military draft. It’s also charged with finding ways to foster a greater attitude and ethos of service among American youth. Established on Sept. 19, 2017, the commission intends to issue its final report no later than March 2020 and conclude its work by September 2020.
The commission hopes to ignite a national conversation around service and, ultimately, develop recommendations that will encourage every American to be inspired and eager to serve. It is currently looking for your input.
“National service has traditionally been an issue embraced by presidents on both sides of the aisle.
While we can’t predict what all of tomorrow’s challenges will look like, a nation in which we are all committed to serving is bound to be stronger and more united than one that is not.
A system of universal national service would not only enhance the lives of the individuals serving and the communities in which they serve, but it has the potential to transform our nation by bridging divides, developing future leaders, building national resilience and fostering bipartisanship.
In light of the recent coordinated attacks in Paris, the bombings in Beirut and the downing of a Russian airliner, the United States and other countries are grappling with questions about the best way to strengthen our security and defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS. Despite disagreements on strategy and tactics, most agree that this is not a battle that can be won overnight or through military solutions alone. Like many global challenges we face, it will require commitment, resolve, flexibility and resilience– not just our military strength and prowess. While there is no single antidote to the myriad of challenges we face here at home and overseas, there is a single idea that we believe can contribute to bolstering our citizenry’s ability to address all of them: national service.
Right now, less than 1 percent of our population serves in the military and, in my view, we need to rethink and create a system where every young American has an opportunity to serve their nation in other ways. We need to create a culture of service where we are all invested in our nation’s future and feel a shared sense of responsibility to our nation and to each other. For this reason, I’ve joined forces with a bipartisan group of leaders on the Franklin ProjectLeadership Council at the Aspen Institute to focus on strengthening a commitment to service here at home beyond the realm of military service. As chair of the project, I have been committed to the mission of making a year of national service a shared experience for all young Americans. We are working to create a system of universal national service that incentivizes and encourages national service, but does not mandate it.
The support of the defense and national security community is going to be critical in this effort. On Monday, I will explain more in a panel discussion co-produced with Defense One, joined by CEOof the Center for a New American Security and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who served as a Marine in Iraq. Below are just four reasons I believe the community ought to be on board.
Bridging the military-civilian divide by building a sense of shared sacrifice: The military-civilian divide has widened with a dramatic decrease in the percentage of the population serving in the military. During World War II, more than 12 percent served compared to the less than 1 percent in our military now. In addition, almost half of those serving now live in just five states. And about 80 percent come from families with others who have served in the military. A 2012 Pew Study showed that connections between the civilian population and those serving in the military have become significantly weakened. Pew notes, “Just under four-in-ten (39%) of adults under the age of 40 say they have an immediate family member who served in the military. By contrast, 60% of veterans younger than 40 have an immediate family member who served.” In a June 2015 Sebastian Junger piece, he writes “The shocking disconnect for veterans isn’t so much that civilians don’t know what they went through—it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to fully understand another person’s experience—but that what they went through doesn’t seem relevant back home.” A system of universal national service can work to foster a shared sense of mission and understanding between those who serve in the military and those serving in other capacities overseas and at home. Universal national service would work to distribute the shared burdens associated with our foreign policy and defense decisions and commitments. Americans would feel more connected to one another, but also more connected to their country. According to Pew, 83 percent of Americans say that members of the military and their families have had to make “a lot of sacrifices,” but when asked about the general public, the number drops to just 43 percent.
Bolstering the talent pipeline and enhancing the defense/national security community workforce: Over the last year or so, studies have shown that Americans are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with government andtrust in government is at all-time lows. Among the millennial generation, these trends are magnified with even lower social trust than prior generations. While the millennial generation is extremely interested in meaningful careers and making a difference, they do not always see government as the best way to do this. National service can help to restore greater confidence in our government by getting individuals more invested in its work. In addition, the expansion of national service programs like Peace Corps, Global Health Corps and others with a more international angle could help provide individuals with the knowledge and skills that would make them valuable assets to our defense and national security communities down the line. Programs such as these ought to be expanded not just because they work each day to assist us in facing challenges around the globe, but they train the next generation of foreign policy leaders.
Fostering bipartisanship: We live in an increasingly polarized country. In Washington, the ability to achieve great things and work together on issues related to national security and defense is often hampered by the gridlock of partisan politics. Bringing people from different backgrounds, geographies and political leanings together in service at a young age can teach greater empathy and understanding for those with different experiences and beliefs. Serving together whether in the military or in Teach for America or in the Peace Corps bonds individuals together on behalf of a mission and instills in them lessons that will be carried with them for the rest of their lives. Over time, these experiences can work to bring people from different communities together and hopefully drive the next generation of elected leaders to be less politically polarized than its predecessors.
Building national resilience and patience: Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are accustomed to taking on important missions in support of great enterprises—tackling challenges that may ultimately take generations to solve. Unfortunately, the climate in Washington pushes for immediate solutions that favor short-term gain over the long view. When a young person undertakes a year of civilian national service, she is chipping away at a problem with no apparent end in sight: improving education, health, or the environment. Civilian national service could instill the habits of resilience and a respect for the long-term that our nation needs to make pragmatic strategic decisions.
The 2016 presidential election provides us with an opportunity to truly transform and rethink national service in America. Over the coming months, we will hear proposals and plans from candidates on a variety of issues. Despite their differences, all of them surely will be talking about different ways to make America greater, stronger and more secure.”
Stan McChrystal is chair of the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute and co-founder of McChrystal Group. He is a retired four-star general and the former commander of U.S.and International Security Assistance Forces Afghanistan, or ISAF, and the former commander Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC. He is also the author of two bestselling books My Share of the Task and Team of Teams.