- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Mr. Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, plans to introduce legislation to resume the military draft. While Mr. Rangel well may be introducing his bill in an effort to build public anxiety and opposition to war with Iraq and while we certainly are not prepared to recommend a yea vote for his bill we do encourage the relevant House committees to hold vigorous hearings on the topic. Whatever Mr. Rangel's motivations and calculations, his proposed legislation nonetheless raises three timely and important questions that need careful investigation. First, will the current method of recruitment reliably provide us with the numbers and quality of troops necessary to face the needs for the near future? If not, are there other options than the draft that might solve the problem? Finally, if a draft is found to be necessary, how can it be made equitable?
The need for at least some increase in troop strength would appear obvious. To meet current needs, we are now relying on: 1) scores of thousands of guard and reserve extended call-ups; 2) forced retentions; and 3) insufficient downtime for our active forces. (Six months at sea, followed by as little as 96 hours of shore leave before redeployment is obviously not a sustainable system, for example.) According to some military personnel experts, the current system could be tweaked to increase total uniformed, active personnel by approximately 100,000. So, if our active forces shortfall is judged to be of that magnitude, we can probably get by merely with adjustments to the current system. Of course, to reasonably estimate future needs, one must first know the scope of future missions and the implications of military transformation on personnel demands. While there are about 2 million men and women in various reserve and guard categories (meeting different levels of preparedness standards), relying on a significant percentage of those forces on a regular, 365-day-a-year basis is not a reasonable solution. It will be surprising if careful study does not conclude that the current force levels will be increasingly stressed perhaps beyond acceptable limits in the face of likely future mission demands. The financial cost of solving this problem will be measured in the many scores of billion dollars per annum.
At a pure manpower (and womanpower) level, the draft may turn out to be a severe response to what may be only a moderate personnel shortfall. Certainly, if a draft is turned to, it will have to be more equitable than it was during the Vietnam War. Only universal application would make a draft equitable. That would mean not only including young men of all walks of life, but young women, too. As combat positions are only a small percentage of the total force (today's military has a long logistic tail and a short combat claw), it is hard to conceive of an equitable draft that excludes women. This would doubtlessly raise large and contentious cultural issues. But even if limited to young men, a universal draft would raise vastly more soldiers than are likely to be needed for the extended war on terrorism. Random exclusions by lottery (down to the needed levels) would result in only a small percentage of young men actually being drafted. Thus, equity will be hard to attain, and talk of compulsory alternative service would inevitably arise. We probably along with most Americans are strongly disinclined to ever support compulsory service for anything other than the demands of national security.
Clearly, Mr. Rangel's draft proposal raises issues central to our cultural values and understanding of individual freedom as well as to our national defense and finances. It is well that he has raised them, and there is no better place in which to thrash them out than in the People's House.

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