Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Ready Reserve and the Return of the Draft?

The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. military is calling up 5,600 veterans from its Ready Reserve. These are veteran soldiers who are contractually obligated to be called back to service at the military's option.

(It is not clear whether this contractual option was originally made at the request of the veterans. My understanding is that some U.S. soldiers, such as current soldiers who have had their tours of duty extended, as well as some medical personell in the reserves, have effectively been drafted through the backdoor.)

All of this brings up the issue of a real draft in the future. Neither Party will mention this prior to the election in November, but reports are that the U.S. selective service has quietly begun preparing in case it is needed.

A study (link) by the U.S. military's own think tank, the RAND Corporation, estimates:

"The [December 2003 current] Iraq troop level is on par with such failed U.S. efforts as Somalia and Haiti. Using the Bosnia and Kosovo ratios, between 450,000 and 500,000 total forces would be necessary in Iraq."

This RAND Corporation figure has been previously cited in these pages, as well as by journals such as Atlantic Monthly and elsewhere; the opinion was originally published in Newsday. The prestigious British thinktank, the IISS has quoted similar figures.

This is about three times the current level of troops in Iraq. No significant numbers of further trained troops are available. (Recall we insulted the only two allies with any major reserves of qualified troops to spare.)

In the past some people in the Pentagon may have thought they could use "virtual boots" i.e., high technology, to increase soldier efficiency so that more could be done with fewer soldiers. This is Rumsfeld's "Revolution in Military Affairs" for which he has been much criticized. Rumsfeld is right that high technology can improve combat efficiency in some areas. However, real boots are usually better than "virtual" boots, especially during an occupation.

Our current solution has been to use Iraq police and various Iraq troop units. However, these have not performed well, and their loyalty has sometimes been suspect. (One think tank calls the Iraqi police a "one on a scale of one to ten, with ten best.")

The bottom line is that it will be years before Iraqi troops will be sufficiently well-trained and loyal to take over these functions. In the report cited above, RAND estimates this will take at least five years.

Due to amount of time it takes to train a soldier, the Draft is not a good short-term solution. (Using 5,600 from the Ready Reserve is a good solution -- it is first stab at the 200-300K needed.) But, in a campaign of five years or more as RAND estimates, the draft becomes a real option in the hands of whoever is inaugurated next January.

Politicans of both parties are going to be reluctant to discuss the Draft. It's an important strategic option for the United States in a crisis; implying a reluctance to use this option might signal weakness to our enemies and thereby endanger our troops in the field. Opening discussing its possible use, however, would be political suicide for a Presidential candidate. It's the elephant under the table that members of both Parties are reluctant to discuss.

My fellow Americans might want to ask themselves a question before going to the polls in November, especially if they or their loved ones are of draft age: Does one of the candidates have a demonstrated history of military adventurism that might make a draft more likely?