Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Draft Bitter (Aha. Ahaha. Urrrgh.)

Yes, so Phil's article then.

My initial reaction to the fact that Phil was apparently promoting the Draft was not positive. The main reason for this is that we are fighting a campaign in which the most notable military activity is going to be counterinsurgency and troops below the level of career regulars tend not to have a good record in this field. States that have tried to conscript large armies to fight wars of national liberation have tended to find that either a) draftees have limited utility because their deployability abroad is curtailed by legislation or b) once they get "in country" the draftees are not well trained enough - through no fault of their own - to demonstrate the skills necessary for successful COIN work: cultural sensitivity, extreme patience and the nerve to ask questions first and shoot later. That said - can this argument be applied to the reserves and National Guard? Are we already staring this situation in the face anyway?

On reading the article, however, I have to say that Phil has managed - at least in theory - to square the circle pretty well.

Unlike an old-fashioned draft, this 21st-century service requirement
would provide a vital element of personal choice. Students could choose to
fulfill their obligations in any of three ways: in national service programs
like AmeriCorps (tutoring disadvantaged children), in homeland security
assignments (guarding ports), or in the military. Those who chose the latter
could serve as military police officers, truck drivers, or other non-combat
specialists requiring only modest levels of training. (It should be noted that
the Army currently offers two-year enlistments for all of these jobs, as well as
for the infantry.) ... Most would no doubt pick the less dangerous options. But
some would certainly select the military—out of patriotism, a sense of
adventure, or to test their mettle. Even if only 10 percent of the one-million
young people who annually start at four-year colleges and universities were to
choose the military option, the armed forces would receive 100,000 fresh
recruits every year. These would be motivated recruits, having chosen the
military over other, less demanding forms of service. And because they would all
be college-grade and college-bound, they would have—to a greater extent than
your average volunteer recruit—the savvy and inclination to pick up foreign
languages and other skills that are often the key to effective peacekeeping

Interesting stuff.

Would Phil's plan be acceptable to the American public? I honestly don't know. Perhaps it would have been immediately post-9/11, but now with the public at large split pretty much down the middle I'm not sure it's got legs.

I'd also like to return to the historical record. The success of regular armies in COIN is not merely down to the quality of the troops involved (though that's key) but also to the fact that the thing about small regular armies is that they can be sent off to do the business and pretty much forgotten about. Could the British Empire have been sustained if its maintainence had proved a serious personal drain on the British public at large? Probably not.

Perhaps I'm setting up a straw man here, I don't know. And perhaps in the era of the 24 hour news channel this rule no longer holds true, as we are seeing. But it's something to consider.

I know Phil is enthusiastic about peacekeeping and peace support operations and whatnot - I know he'd like to see the West do more about the Sudan for a start - but I'm not sure whether his draft idea will actually end up lessening the inclination of the USA to intervene in crises without a direct national security implication. The American public is a lot heartier on these matters than many - including the Clinton administration - gave and give them credit for. But a draft for peacekeeping? I'm not so sure about that.

Even those who don't support the Bush policy of using unilateral force
to democratize the Middle East (and we don't), and who prefer to work through
military alliances whenever possible (and we do), should understand the need to
increase American troop strength. The international community failed to act in
Rwanda largely because the United States chose not to send troops; our NATO
allies sent soldiers into Bosnia and Kosovo only because we put substantial
numbers of ours in, too. The same will hold true for just about any other major
war or humanitarian intervention in the future.

Would the US really have been more likely to intervene in Rwanda if it had a draftee force? Really? I'm not convinced on this count I'm afraid. Phil clearly sees the notion of the draft as a potentially enabling force but pretty much every other draft advocate (at least on the left) has viewed the draft as a social means of setting the bar higher for any proposed military action. It seems to me that Phil's got two aims which might be mutually exclusive - he wants to encourage responsibility in the Bush administration in terms of committing to military action (a common and understandable view from a former military man in the face of gleeful hawks with no service under their belts) but he still wants all the fluffy stuff to go ahead - and then some. There's nothing inherently wrong with these two positions, but is this a viable means to that end? As I say, Phil may have been able to square that circle, but it's something to think about.

In fact a case is probably easier to make for a "just in time" draft to provide for contingencies like the outbreak of a hot war in Asia - either to fight in it or to fill in for the Regulars while they are rushed to the scene. But that rather invalidates Phil's - extremely attractive - notion that those draftees who chose to undertake military service would be just the sort of people able to acclimatise easily to counterinsurgency and other MOOTW.

I'm worried that maybe I'm setting up straw men here. It's a seriously good article and there is a lot to recommend in the policy prescriptions being put forward - and as the authors acknowledge, we're talking about least worst options here.

Incidentally, as a side note, I take the view that getting the National Guard units that have been called up back onto homeland duties should be a matter of priority. Not only does the National Guard represent the best method of bolstering Homeland Security efforts with manpower and expertise, but a significant proportion of "first responders" on whose shoulders any relief effort at home should the worst happen will rest are in the Guard. Not all Guardsmen are first responders, but a hell of a lot of first responders are guardsmen. If you're serious about homeland security, they're needed at home (a similar situation exists in the UK, where the British Army is heavily dependent upon medical staff provided through the Territorials).


Blogger J. said...

Re: I'm not sure whether his draft idea will actually end up lessening the inclination of the USA to intervene in crises without a direct national security implication. The American public is a lot heartier on these matters than many - including the Clinton administration - gave and give them credit for. But a draft for peacekeeping? I'm not so sure about that.

The point isn't to decrease the inclination of the US govt to intervene or develop a plan that the public supports. The point is, the Army (and Marines) are starting to lose critical people and under an all-volunteer army, it's possible that it will not be able to support even one long-term major combat operation. So your choice is between the devil and the deep blue sea - retain an all-volunteer army OR be a superpower patrolling the world. Not both. From that standpoint, Phil's right.

Whether this new force is effective in COIN operations, completely different issue. If the conscriptees largely stick to combat support roles and leave the close combat COIN role to the combat arms, still could work. Issue is and will remain, our armies are too logistically heavy and need, what, 9 support staff for every shooter? And we aren't recruiting those support staff, which means the shooters aren't being supported, which means loss of operational capability.

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