TCS Daily

Backdoor Draft?

By James H. Joyner - January 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Bradley Graham reports in the Washington Post that Army leaders are pushing to make last year's increase of 30,000 troops in the active-duty force permanent and to change the law to allow longer and more frequent call-ups of some reservists in order to meet the obligations of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If these changes are enacted, half of the forces deployed to these war zones would be reservists.

The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum and Talk Left's Jeralyn Merritt dub this a "backdoor draft." Says Drum, "If this happens, it's for all intents and purposes a draft." Merritt adds, "After the reserves, who do you think will be left?"

Well, no.

Within the present context, a "draft" may be defined as "(1) : a system for or act of selecting individuals from a group (as for compulsory military service) (2) : an act or process of selecting an individual (as for political candidacy) without the individual's expressed consent."

The proposed plan fails this test because

        1. People who have joined the Reserve Component have done so voluntarily. 
        2. The raison d'ĂȘtre of the Reserve Component is to provide a pool of 
        people who may be drawn from in time of war.
        3. We are currently at war.

Now, it may well be argued that the active duty force is presently too small to handle our long-term commitments. That depends almost entirely on what the future holds for Coalition forces in Iraq after the January 30 elections.

The active-reserve mix is another issue entirely. Upon the shift to the All-Volunteer force in 1973, a conscious push was made to ensure that a call-up of the reserves would be necessary for any major combat operation. As the New York Times' Thom Shanker explains,

        "The current Guard and Reserve system was designed after the Vietnam 
        War, a conflict in which neither President Lyndon B. Johnson nor President 
        Richard M. Nixon called up reservists in significant numbers, fearing 
        greater opposition to their policies. In frustration, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, 
        the Army chief, shaped a post-Vietnam mix of active and Reserve forces 
        to ensure that when America went to war with its new all-volunteer 
        force, hometown America would have to go, too."

This was accomplished by putting the preponderance of several key combat support and service support units in the reserves.

This system went untested for nearly two decades, as the United States engaged in only relatively small operations between Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War. Even that conflict was short, though, so it did not put much of a strain on the force. That began to change in the early 1990s, as numerous peace and stability operations in places like Kurdish Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Mozambique, Bosnia, and Kosovo required significant call-ups of skill sets found predominantly in the Reserves, notably military police, civil affairs, Special Forces, psychological operations, and engineers.

The Iraq War, though, has put a much more serious burden on the Reserves. Because of a bipartisan decision to draw down the active force after the Cold War, there simply are not enough soldiers on active duty to handle long term, manpower intensive operations such as have been underway in Iraq for nearly two years and also fulfill the myriad other global commitments that U.S. forces have even during peacetime. Further, the post-major combat operations phase of the Iraq War requires an abundance of the same types of forces that were in undersupply in the 1990s -- military police, civil affairs, Special Forces, psychological operations, and engineers. As a result, the reserves are in constant demand.

Secretary Rumsfeld is pushing for a realignment of the active-reserve balance to alleviate this problem. By putting more of the heavy maneuver forces like tank units and mechanized infantry into the reserves and moving more of the specialty forces onto active duty, the need for constant, long reserve call-ups will be reduced. He deserves credit for addressing a problem that has been all-too-apparent for a decade. Unfortunately, the change is happening too slowly, partly for reasons of bureaucratic inertia and partly because Rumsfeld and others were late in recognizing the scope of the problems in Iraq.

The bottom line is that the country is at war and reservists signed up to serve when that's the case. We owe it to them, though, to place as much of the burden as possible on the active duty force, who after all have volunteered to make the military their full-time job. Reservists joined with the expectation that they be called to serve during emergencies and then released from active duty when the shooting is over. It's perfectly reasonable to ask them to fight our country's wars. It's not reasonable to expect them to be full-time soldiers.

James H. Joyner, Jr., Ph.D. is Managing Editor of Strategic Insights, the journal of the Naval Postgraduate School. He writes about national security policy at the Outside the Beltway weblog.


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