A depleted military force, growing global threats, volunteer reluctance and ballooning national debt could force the United States to reinstate the draft.
Under the Obama Administration, a designed draw down of American troops left the U.S. Army with 479,000 soldiers — its lowest number in more than 70 years. Whether driven by the illusion that ISIS was only a “JV team” or an attempt to slow a runaway national debt, the troop reduction has left the largest military on the planet dangerously thin.
From 2010 to 2015, troop reductions depleted the U.S. Marine Corps from more than 202,000 to about 183,000. The Army lost more than 65,000 active duty personnel. The Navy and Air Force each dropped about 20,000.
In 2016, Gen. Mark Milley reportedly told the Senate Armed Services Committee the U.S. military was running about 220,000 soldiers short and that constitute a “high risk.”
“But it’s not just numbers,” Milley reportedly said. “It’s the readiness of that force.”
Given the technological advancements and specialized training that have been embedded into soldier training, readiness requires time. To that end, Pres. Trump’s 2018 budget calls for $639 billion in defense spending, an increase of $52 billion. While a cash infusion will help put more planes in the air and ships at sea, it may not put boots on the ground.
Lack of Retention
No one could reasonably argue that soldiers are paid their worth. They take the ultimate risk and the monthly check doesn’t even match a decent paying private-sector job. For the majority who complete their initial enlistment, the lure of financial and educational opportunities has been winning hearts and minds. The GI Bill, for example, provides underpaid military people the ability to attend a college of their choice with paid tuition and monetary support they earned. The GI Bill was designed to be a fair and just promise for opportunity after service. Unfortunately, in the post-Obama drawdown era rife with rising threats, the U.S. military has had to sweeten the pot with cash bonuses for re-enlistment.
The Army plans to triple its bonus offerings for soldiers to re-up and has already doled out more than $26 million in incentives. For another 4-year commitment, the top-end can hit $90K. The move has been successful with many soldiers unsure about what to do in civilian life. However, many others are declining and the re-enlistment pool appears to be drying up.
Cash Strapped Nation
History buffs may recall that a primary cause for the fall of the Roman Empire was money. Although the Romans had created the greatest fighting force in history, conflict on too many fronts emptied their coffers.
The president’s call for more military spending is grounded in the reality that the country could be one war away from disaster. North Korea has a fighting force of more than 1.2 million, Iran continues to instigate military confrontation and Russia remains at the heart of the Ukraine problem. With America’s national debt approaching $20 trillion and the possibility of a balanced budget years away even under excellent GDP growth, another war could threaten to scuttle the economic ship. A protracted fight could result in slashing military incentives such as bonuses, post-enlistment college benefits and calling for straight up conscription.
Benefits of a Draft
Whether at war or peace, mandatory military service advances several key national security interests. First and foremost, it readies a fighting force. Even a two-year stint acclimates the citizenry to military tactics and prepares them for combat. Many countries require minimum military duty so that they can later call up soldiers in the event of a war. This strategy allows countries to hold lower full-time people in their service ranks and a greater number of reserves and potential reserves. It’s a viable financial solution in the face of skyrocketing national debt.
Another reason the Pentagon may call upon Congress to implement at least a limited draft is that it takes at least a solid six months of training to properly prepare soldiers for modern warfare. Should sparks fly in North Korea or with a major foe such as Russia, the armed forces could be spread too thin.
American military and political leaders are hard at work looking for solutions to the low enlistment numbers. However, the country may be one crisis away from reinstating the draft.