Universal Military Service would be a disaster for the Army. As long as I’ve been reading blogs, I’ve seen commenters arguing that the nation should bring back the draft. For several reasons, this would not be advisable. The electoral political problems are outside the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that there is not popular political support for the idea. But if there were some crazy confluence of opinion that brought it about, the supporters of the idea would quickly come to regret the decision.
Almost every discussion of universal military service claims it would be beneficial to the youth of America to serve the nation. But that isn’t the metric by which these things are measured. The only valid question is “does this improve the defense of the nation?” I’ve railed against social engineering in the service where “diversity” is proclaimed as a good in and of itself, and a goal that must be reached. No one has ever shown me the metric by which diversity makes a unit more combat ready. Most of my audience is politically conservative (as am I). How can we argue against using the military as an agent of social engineering in the case of diversity, then turn about and argue for a massive shift in our defense posture based solely on the desire to engage in social engineering of our own? If the draft isn’t implemented to improve the combat readiness of the Army, why do it? And if the draft can be shown to hurt combat readiness, doesn’t that mean that any supposed benefits to society are not worth the price?
The foremost problem with the idea of universal military service is that there are just too many people in the country compared to the size of the Army we’re willing to support. Our active Army is currently somewhat more than half a million troops, and a roughly similar size for the reserve components. Roll in the other branches of the service, and the total comes out to just under 1% of our population. For the Army to maintain its strength, it currently recruits roughly 1% of the seniors in high school, and a similar number of recent graduates. If we were to truly implement universal military students, we’d be looking at inducting somewhere around 47% of high school seniors. That’s a massive number of people, far beyond any capacity for the army to house, let alone train. How many male seniors graduate each year? And how many divisions would that amount to?
Further, large swaths of this population of seniors is unsuited for military service. Many suffer from health issues that would make them liabilities more than assets. Large numbers graduate from high school with such poor reading and math skills as to be virtually untrainable for even the most minor technical fields. Far too many have already had such encounters with law enforcement demonstrating the lack of moral fiber to be successful in the service. And of course, there are an enormous number of young Americans that are just too fat to make good soldiers. Under the current standards of service, just finding sufficient numbers of people qualified to serve is a challenge. What would we do with those people that are unsuitable? Our options would be to either drastically change the standards of service (thereby lowering combat readiness, and saddling commanders with troops that just can’t do the job) or exempt those unqualified under the current standards of service, and in effect, punish those folks who do meet the standards by forcing them into the service while others who made poor choices (ate too much, smoked dope, broke the law, failed to study) are rewarded with an exemption from service. That’s a perverse incentive system there, and one almost guaranteed to have unhappy second order consequences.
Any large increase in the number of soldiers will cost enormous sums of money. That’s money we just don’t have, and frankly, I don’t think the Chinese are all that willing to finance a large expansion of our military right now. Faced with a large increase in the end strength of the Army, the choice would be to raise and equip units to the standards we employ now, in terms of equipment and supporting logistics, at ruinous costs; or to raise large numbers of formations that are primarily infantry based, with a lesser standard of equipment and support (and probably lesser standards of training as well- training dollars and space to train troops ain’t cheap). But what would we do with these large, poorly equipped, poorly trained units? Are we willing to have two levels of competency in the Army? Regular units that are equipped and trained as they are today, and then large draftee units that, if committed to combat, would be certain to sustain higher casualties, and less likely to achieve their missions? I think not. It would neither raise the combat readiness of the Army, nor would it be fair to those people drafted.
Indeed, as much in favor as I am of a larger Army, what would the mission of all these units be? Having a large Army sitting around doing nothing isn’t very useful. It smacks of the worst sort of government make-work.
If we can’t accept ALL the available manpower into service, then the draft ceases to be Universal Military Service, and instead becomes Selective Service. But who would decide who would be selected? Almost invariably, a series of exemptions would be carved out that would allow either deferment or exemption from service. How likely is it that those exemptions would lead to the wealthiest, most privileged finding a way to avoid an unpleasant couple years of service, while the poorer (and more minority laden) slices of America would be more likely to be called to the colors? It was largely because of this injustice in how the draft was implemented that we went to an all-volunteer force in the first place. Further, loading up the Army with tens of thousands of inductees that feel that they are paying a price that the elites of the country don’t have to would build resentment. Tell me how that would help raise esprit de corps and contribute to combat readiness. Nobody ever said life in the Army was fair, but usually troops realize they’re getting screwed by the fickle finger of fate, not their friends and neighbors.
There is no practical way to implement a draft that would improve the combat readiness of the Army. I remain extremely proud of my service in the US Army. I strongly believe that most people that enlist will benefit from it. And I can recall more than once as a recruiter meeting young men and women that I wished I could compel to serve. I thought they would be an asset to the Army, and I thought that such service would benefit them as well. But there is no way devise a conscription that would be free from abuse and still help the Army recruit, train, equip, field and sustain a force second to none.