Problems of Modern Military Don't Begin Abroad But At Home Why Modern Drafts Won't Work Today
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In both the Civil War and World War I, the United States instituted wartime drafts to ensure that the U.S. had strong military capabilities. However, the drafts were ended when hostilities concluded.
The first peacetime draft was initiated in 1940, prior to U.S. entry into World War II. It enabled the U.S. response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. A resulting piece of legislation—The Selective Service Act of 1948—serves as the basis for the modern Selective Service System. Between 1948 and 1979, the Selective Service System was put on stand by. However, efforts in the 1980s led to the current form of the Selective Service System seen today.
The Selective Service System was first instituted when America’s capacity and capabilities to defend its vital interests were very different from what they are today. Almost 100 years later, however, the country’s interests and needs have changed. The Selective Service System is outdated. Congress should assess the relevance and practicality of the current system and look into an alternative form of service, one that gives individuals the opportunity to voluntarily join an inactive reserve, to be an effective solution.
THE DRAFT IN PERSPECTIVE
It is important to differentiate the Selective Service System from the draft since the two are routinely conflated. While the draft is an actual call up of citizens to serve, the Selective Service System is more like a contingency plan—a collective list of citizens capable of serving if the need arises.
A draft is used to conscript people into military service. It is a decision made by Congress and the president, and the subsequent process legally forces people to join the military. The U.S. has used the draft several times, when going to war and on other occasions when it determined its permanent or standing force was too small for the task. It expanded the U.S. military during the Civil War, both World Wars, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Draftees accounted for as little as 10 percent of the force in the Civil War and roughly half the force employed during World Wars I and II. They represented one-third and one-fifth of the force during Korea and Vietnam, respectively.
To implement a draft, Congress and the president must authorize one. Congress passes legislation that the president then signs. In order to initiate a draft, the government needs to know who is eligible to be called up. This is typically a segment of the population comprised of men between the ages of 18 and 35. The Selective Service System was enacted in its earliest form in 1917 and has been resurrected, modified, and used throughout the 20th century, as needed, to create and maintain a registry of potential draftees in the event the country needs to mobilize for large-scale war.
The system has been periodically challenged, even at its inception. On at least a half-dozen occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is constitutional, authorized by Article I of the Constitution which states that Congress has the power to raise a military. Again, the Selective Service System is not a draft per se; it only provides the means by which a draft can be implemented if and when the need arises. Essentially, the Selective Service’s purpose is to enable a draft should the United States need more military power than exists in the current all volunteer force.
LESSONS FROM HISTORY
The relevance and utility use of the Selective Service have changed over time. Throughout much of the 20th century, war meant a mass army employed for years and subject to casualty levels requiring regular replenishment of the force. From the 1991 Gulf War on, the wars waged by the U.S. have seen American casualties at historic lows, really without precedent, though sometimes protracted, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. The standing force composed of the active duty, reserve, and National Guard components, ably handled these more recent conflicts.
The types of threats challenging U.S. security interests have been small when compared to the massive conventional and nuclear threat once posed by the Soviet Union. Further, few people truly believe we will find ourselves enmeshed in a full-scale war with the likes of Russia or China.
A few major points to consider when discussing the current Selective Service System include: its impact on U.S. military capacity and capability, its relevancy to current needs, its practicality, and its impact on the greater international order.
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