Published in Foreign Policy Online in February 2009
By William L. Hauser (USA, ret.) and Jerome Slater
Read the full article at ForeignPolicy.com
In the ongoing struggle between radical Islamism and Western democracy, military intervention by the United States may again be judged necessary as a last resort against particularly dangerous states or organizations. Although presidential candidate Barack Obama made drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq the centerpiece of his national security agenda, so as to focus on the “real fight” in Afghanistan, President Obama will find that even with a complete withdrawal from Iraq, the United States’ current all-volunteer forces will be inadequate for accomplishing its worldwide national security goals. Regarding Afghanistan in particular, even the planned reinforcement of 20,000 to 30,000 troops will not begin to match the 1 to 10 troop-to-population ratio generally acknowledged to be necessary for success in counterinsurgency.
Moreover, as a result of the repetitive stresses of Afghanistan and Iraq, the human-resources quality of the U.S. military appears to be declining: recruitment and retention rates (by pre-Iraq standards) are slipping, forcing the armed services to lower their physical, educational, and psychological standards; to soften the rigors of initial training; and even to expand the moral waivers granted to some volunteers with criminal records. Generous inducements have also been needed to retain junior officers beyond the length-of-service payback requirements of their academy or ROTC educations. The economic downturn might help temporarily, but the problem cannot be resolved by continuing the present system. There will have to be a reinstitution, albeit in a significantly modified version, of universal military service — a “draft.”
Our proposal is to combine a revived military draft with a broader public-service program as already practiced in some European states — a “domestic Peace Corps.” Indeed, a crucial component of our proposal is that draftees be allowed to choose between military and nonmilitary service. A program structured along those lines would simultaneously increase the political appeal of conscription, defuse the opposition of those who disapprove of the use of military force, and serve such valuable national purposes as public health, public works, and the alleviation of shortages of teachers and social workers in disadvantaged regions of the country.
William L. Hauser, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society. He is affiliated with the Center’s Military Outreach Program. Jerome Slater, a U.S. Navy veteran, is a university research scholar and retired professor of political science at the State University of New York, Buffalo.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.