The United States is involved in a proxy war supporting Ukraine against Russia. The conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East may worsen; US aircraft carriers are already taking up positions. China constantly harasses its neighbors and waits for the right moment to take control of Taiwan. North Korea continually rattles its saber.
In such a geopolitical climate, is the US military sufficiently staffed to meet current geopolitical needs?
All six branches of the US military are facing recruiting problems. For example, the Army fell short of its recruiting goal of 65,000 troops for the fiscal year 2023, which ended Sept. 30. He only managed to recruit 55,000 soldiers. It is the second year in a row that the Army has not met its recruiting goal. In 2022, it falls short by 15,000 soldiers, or 25%.
Military conscription, commonly known as mandatory military service, has been used in six major conflicts: the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The fourth implementation of conscription began in 1940, in peacetime, through the Selective Training and Service Act. From 1940 to 1973, men were recruited to fill vacancies in the US Armed Forces, whether in times of peace or conflict.
In 1973, conscription was suspended as the United States moved to an all-volunteer military. However, specific legal requirements remain in force. Male U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 25, as well as male immigrants residing in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status, are required to register with the Selective Service System, which maintains a database of potential recruits in should compulsory military service be reinstated in the future. Additionally, federal law includes provisions for the mandatory conscription of particular groups, including both men and women, for service under specific circumstances.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the all-volunteer military, coinciding with a period of global uncertainty and recruiting difficulties that have raised concerns among military leaders and in Congress.
Why does the military have difficulty recruiting personnel?
First, the military competes with the civilian labor market, which often offers better wages and benefits.
Plus, perceptions matter. Biden’s disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan did not inspire confidence. Furthermore, extensive media coverage of “controversial” issues in the military discourages potential recruits. Negative perceptions about military life and concerns about personal safety deter many young people from considering military service.
In a recent Gallup poll, only 60% of Americans expressed confidence in the U.S. military, their lowest level since 1997. Similarly, in the Reagan National Defense Poll, confidence in the military It stood at 70% in 2018, dropped to 45% in 2021 and experienced a slight rebound to 48% in 2022.
Potential recruits often do not meet the high physical fitness requirements required. Along with rising obesity rates, COVID lockdowns compounded the problem by making young people less active. Many turned to drug use and also experienced mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Criminal records and medication use, including ADHD, can disqualify potential recruits.
Among those eligible, young people are often unaware of the opportunities and benefits the military offers, and parents’ concern for their children’s safety also hampers recruiting efforts.
Furthermore, educational culture often despises military service. Limited access to institutes and resistance from teachers’ unions tie recruiters hand and foot.
The recent magazine of the United States Army War College analyzes the reinstatement of mandatory military service in the country. It suggests that if the US were to enter a full-scale war, mandatory military service for young people might be necessary. This idea arises from estimates that, in such a war, the US could suffer many casualties each day and would need many new soldiers to replace them.
Is reinstating mandatory military service an option?
In a recent TIPP poll conducted in early October, one in two Americans (55%) opposed reinstating the draft, with 30% strongly opposed and another 25% somewhat opposed. Only 31% support the idea, while 14% are unsure.
By age groups, 51% of those between 18 and 24 years old and 55% of those between 25 and 44 years old, who are the main recruiting potential, oppose compulsory military service.
Enthusiasm is less among women: 60% oppose conscription, compared to 50% of men.
On this issue, there is consensus across the political spectrum. By party, 57% of Democrats, 57% of Republicans and 55% of independents oppose the idea.
In short, there is no support for conscription.
Burdened by $33 trillion in debt, Americans are more cautious than ever about getting involved in wars. The results of previous US-led conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have left many disheartened. Americans are likely to insist on a meaningful justification for future U.S. involvement in wars, hesitant to put their beloved sons, daughters, wives, and husbands in harm’s way. Unless the perception of the military and the United States’ role on the world stage changes dramatically, the idea of reinstating the military draft is not viable.