3/02/2005

Military Service and the Draft

The Washington Monthly features an article by Phillip Carter and Paul Glastris titled "The Case for the Draft." Though it contains some predictable sniping about "inept leadership" and "inadequate forces" (which in light of the events of the last week are particularly off the mark), it makes some good points about the limits on military deployments with the present force structure.

The key passage outlining their proposal for a new draft is:
A better solution would fix the weaknesses of the all-volunteer force without undermining its strengths. Here's how such a plan might work. Instead of a lottery, the federal government would impose a requirement that no four-year college or university be allowed to accept a student, male or female, unless and until that student had completed a 12-month to two-year term of service. Unlike an old-fashioned draft, this 21st-century service requirement would provide a vital element of personal choice. Students could choose to fulfill their obligations in any of three ways: in national service programs like AmeriCorps (tutoring disadvantaged children), in homeland security assignments (guarding ports), or in the military. Those who chose the latter could serve as military police officers, truck drivers, or other non-combat specialists requiring only modest levels of training. (It should be noted that the Army currently offers two-year enlistments for all of these jobs, as well as for the infantry.) They would be deployed as needed for peacekeeping or nation-building missions. They would serve for 12-months to two years, with modest follow-on reserve obligations.

Whichever option they choose, all who serve would receive modest stipends and GI Bill-type college grants. Those who sign up for lengthier and riskier duty, however, would receive higher pay and larger college grants. Most would no doubt pick the less dangerous options. But some would certainly select the military—out of patriotism, a sense of adventure, or to test their mettle. Even if only 10 percent of the one-million young people who annually start at four-year colleges and universities were to choose the military option, the armed forces would receive 100,000 fresh recruits every year. These would be motivated recruits, having chosen the military over other, less demanding forms of service. And because they would all be college-grade and college-bound, they would have—to a greater extent than your average volunteer recruit—the savvy and inclination to pick up foreign languages and other skills that are often the key to effective peacekeeping work.

A 21st-century draft like this would create a cascading series of benefits for society. It would instill a new ethic of service in that sector of society, the college-bound, most likely to reap the fruits of American prosperity. It would mobilize an army of young people for vital domestic missions, such as helping a growing population of seniors who want to avoid nursing homes but need help with simple daily tasks like grocery shopping. It would give more of America's elite an experience of the military. Above all, it would provide the all-important surge capacity now missing from our force structure, insuring that the military would never again lack for manpower. And it would do all this without requiring any American to carry a gun who did not choose to do so.
Let's begin by noting that such an idea is absolutely politically unfeasible. The liberal elite would howl at the thought of mandatory national service for (gasp!) college students. The college students themselves wouldn't be thrilled either, and though national service may indeed lead to worthwhile benefits for the national character, sadly it must overcome the present national character to be instituted in the first place.

Second, the Petagon has adamantly opposed a draft for a long time. They find that volunteers generally do a better job than conscripts, for any number of reasons. Aside from that, it causes much less domestic turmoil to send volunteers into battle than it does to send conscripts, which is probably the biggest reason why the government prefers a volunteer force. Just look at all of the breastbeating over deploying National Guard units, because they are being ripped away from their work, families, etc. And they volunteered for it!

Third, such a proposal would inevitably lead to a growth in government programs of the Americorps variety, just to absorb the new capacity. It is possible that such programs would end up promoting the model of government as social patron, leading America into the Euroswamps.

Carter and Glastris note that one major problem with military deployments is the present unit structure. Units at present do not operate independently of each other, but are part of a vast logistical hierarchy which must be deployed along with them. While they note that the military has been working to reorganize its units to be more flexible, Carter and Glastris discount such efforts as a way to meaningfully solve the problem. I think this is a mistake.

For some time I've been paying attention to the work of Arquilla and Ronfeldt over at the RAND Corporation, especially their piece "Swarming and the Future of Conflict." In it, they propose that the entire unit hierarchy be canned altogether, and that soldiers be organized in autonomous units called "pods," which are about battalion-size. The pods would be more or less specialized, and would coordinate with each other to bring the correct mix of abilities to bear on any obstacle. They suggest that such an approach would be much more efficient than what is presently done, and would allow for the maximum benefit from new network technologies.

I think that such an approach is much more realistic than pressing for a draft, especially in the present political environment in which "draft" is a dirty word. (Thank you, Charlie Rangel...) It has the benefit of making our forces much more effective, as well as reducing our footprint. The only difficulty is convincing the rear echelon at the Pentagon that they have to devolve control to the front line, and embrace a radically new way of doing things. Actually, that might take a while...

1 comment:

Lorenzo said...

I had a dream I saw a recruiting poster that looked like this:

Do You Dream of America?

Learn English, learn teamwork and leadership, make friends who will be friends for the rest of your life, learn to parachute out of airplanes, to field dress a wound, to fight, drive, build, and succeed at anything you do. Travel the world, save innocents from tyrrany, destroy terrorists, pirates, thugs, and murderers, triumph in the cause of freedom and justice, and after a five year tour of service, earn Citizenship in the United States of America.

Dare to Triumph Over Tyrrany
The American Foreign Legion
Think that we'd have enough recruits to handle another front?