NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pitfalls Of Renewing The Draft

October 5, 1999

With the U.S. military increasingly being sent to far corners of the world on "peacekeeping" and other missions, armed forces personnel are stretched quite thinly, observers report. Moreover, there are recruiting shortfalls and retention problems.

Some politicians have been suggesting a return to conscription -- which the U.S. abandoned in 1973 in favor of the all-volunteer military. Doug Bandow, an analyst at the Cato Institute, points out that the U.S. has relied on a volunteer military for most of its history, and strongly cautions against a return of the draft.

In a recent paper, Bandow says returning to the draft would increase costs for several reasons:

  • It would increase turnover and, thus, training costs
  • The Pentagon would have to hike reenlistment benefits since few conscripts choose to make the military a career.
  • However, a draft would not improve the retention rate of skilled personnel, while it would reduce the quality of new service personnel.

The all-volunteer force "is providing the best military personnel that America has ever had" and for that reason, few leaders in the armed services would like to return to conscription.

Perhaps most importantly, conscription "would be incompatible with the government's duty to protect the individual liberty of the American people" -- destroying the very values that it purports to save.

Increased involvement in the world's hassles has worked against the best interests of the military. For one thing, the prospect of serving in some murky mission is discouraging potential volunteers and discouraging present personnel from reenlisting. At the same time, greater foreign involvement means a greater need for personnel -- twin realities that are in conflict.

Source: Doug Bandow, "Fixing What Ain't Broke," Policy Analysis No. 351, August 31, 1999, Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D. C. 20001, (202) 842-0200.


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