We both advocate increasing the end strength of our active duty and reserve ground forces. (Again, I'll reference this article of mine from August 2001 as pre-9/11 background.)
I agree with several of your points: Contracting has its limits, allies can be unreliable, and hastily converting naval and air personnel to ground forces is myopic.
That said, I don't see a need for conscription now or in the immediate future. We're not at a point where we have to confront the uncomfortable paradox.
The big reason is demographics. Demographics argue we can meet our current and foreseeable manpower requirements by expanding the volunteer force. I'll paraphrase the statistics mentioned on Monday: In 1990 the Army fielded around 750,000 and the Marines at 197,000. America had a population of 250 million in 1990; today we have 300 million. Quite simply, we have manpower resources our current volunteer system can tap.
Yes, a volunteer military is expensive, but conscription wouldn't necessarily be cheap, even if we adopted a "tiered pay scale" like the one you advocated in your Washington Monthly article. Our training establishments would have to be expanded enormouslya huge capital outlay. This also requires, to a degree, converting elements of the volunteer force.
Based on what I've heard from our military leaders, they do not support a draft. Here's one reason they oppose it: Given the skill requirements and multitude of missions we assign our soldiers, we must have capable, motivated servicemen and women, like those we have in our volunteer force.
But. Yet. However.
I have toyed with the idea of requiring every college or university that receives any type of federal aid money or grant money or scholarship money or student loan money to have a compulsory semester of ROTCyup, from your local community college on up. Professors who never served in the militaryparticularly gray-haired sociology profs with pony tailswould be required to take a "military service sensitivity training course" where they will learn how to curb any residual anti-military bigotry.
That's my cheeky acknowledgment of a much more profound concern.
Military experience seeded throughout society adds a special leavenof common sense and common experience. The burden and privilege of military service needs to be more broadly borne by our society. Military service brings extraordinary benefits to our society and too many of America's economic and intellectual elites shirk military service. Who has the hardest job in a democracy? Answer: a Pfc., when he's tackling an enemy machine gun nest.
If we share in the benefits of democracy we must share in the risks. Cynics dismiss that moral appeal as naïve or as propaganda; they describe our volunteer force as mercenaries. It is, however, a key motivation for many American servicemen and women. In another lens, it is also a genuinely liberal argument for some form of universal service. And I do not dismiss it.
Austin Bay is an author and syndicated columnist. He is also a retired US Army Reserve colonel and an Iraq veteran.