Congress

Draft Dodgers

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The Cold War may be over, but it looks as if the peace dividend has vanished. Congress sent the Pentagon $271 billion in the budget it passed in October, $8.4 billion more than the budget resolution ratified a few months earlier. And with all the armed forces complaining about outdated weapons systems and shortages of spare parts, a "readiness" problem just about guarantees a new boom in military spending.

The services are also griping about a shortage of recruits: The Navy says it will fall 1,700 recruits short this year; the Air Force expects a deficit of 900. And a small but influential group of legislators is pushing a bad idea that refuses to die: reinstating the draft.

At a September House National Security Committee hearing, Rep. Norman Sisisky (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the military readiness subcommittee and a longtime advocate of the draft, raised the possibility of resuming conscription. Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), chairman of the military personnel subcommittee, said the shortage of recruits indicates that "a lot of young people
are escaping their civic responsibilities. There are benefits to a draft."

Fortunately, the armed services steadfastly oppose it, and they made their sentiments clear at the hearing. Representatives from the Navy and the Air Force said they could fill their ranks with recruits if Congress would raise service members' pay.

Chris Hellman, a policy analyst at the Center for Defense Information, says the all-volunteer forces are merely facing the same labor shortages that affect the economy as a whole. The shortfalls are "cyclical, linked to the health of the economy" and can easily be addressed through "appropriate incentives and bonuses" for recruits, he says.

Despite what Hellman calls "zero support" for reinstituting the draft, debating conscription does serve a political purpose: It allows Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to avoid discussing the appropriate role of the American military in a post-Cold War world. Meanwhile, U.S. forces continue to engage in open-ended missions in Europe, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and Korea.