Restoring the Draft No Panacea
Bringing back the military draft would make it easier to meet recruiting goals but the negatives would outweigh the positives, a new Congressional Budget Office study found.
The report, requested by Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, says that drafting people could make it easier for the Army to reach its 2012 goal of 547,000 soldiers. It might also save some money if Congress opted to pay draftees less than volunteers. But the downside, the report claims, would be a less effective fighting force, thanks to a sudden influx of draftees who would remain in uniform for much shorter spells than today’s all-volunteer soldiers.
“Usually, greater accumulated knowledge and skills come with increased experience,” the report notes. “Because most draftees leave after completing a two-year obligation, a draft might affect the services’ ability to perform those functions efficiently.” To maintain the same capability, the CBO suggests, the Army might have to grow, which could eliminate any savings. On the other hand, increased training costs for draftees – with less time in uniform, more have to be trained – could be offset by cuts in advertising and bonuses now used to entice volunteer recruits.
The report says that while 91% of last year’s recruits were high school graduates, only 80% of U.S. residents aged 18 to 24 have attained that level of education. And high-school graduates, the military says, make better soldiers than dropouts. The CBO, which does not make recommendations but only charts options for lawmakers, estimates that somewhere between 27,000 and 165,000 would be drafted each year. That relative small slice – some 2 million males turn 18 each year – could resurrect the problems seen in the Vietnam era when deferments and friendly draft boards kept some well-connected young men out of uniform. Under current law, women could not be drafted.
If it doesn’t make military or economic sense to launch the draft, what about the notion of fairness? Critics have claimed that minorities are over-represented in the all-volunteer military because they have fewer options in the civilian world. The CBO disputes that, saying that “members of the armed forces are racially and ethnically diverse.” African Americans accounted for 13% of active-duty recruits in 2005, just under their 14% share of 17-to-49-year-olds in the overall U.S. population. And minorities are not being used as cannon fodder. “Data on fatalities indicate that minorities are not being killed [in Iraq and Afghanistan] at greater rates than their representation in the force,” the study says. “Rather, fatalities of white service members have been higher than their representation in the force,” in large part because whites are over-represented in the military’s combat, as opposed to support, jobs.
Anyone with even a modicum of interest and a library card or Internet access already knew all that. Certainly, Murtha — a retired Marine colonel with years of experience on the Armed Services Committee — did. One wonders, then, what he hoped the CBO study would accomplish.