Debate: How to Preserve the All-Volunteer Military

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - The Pentagon's increasingly controversial decisions to extend the tours of duty for enlisted personnel and to deploy National Guardsmen and reservists to combat zones have prompted some people to predict the end of the all-volunteer military. But Tuesday, several military experts suggested options for making sure the U.S. does not have to eventually reinstitute a draft.

America hasn't had a draft since 1973, but during the recently concluded presidential campaign, Democratic candidate John Kerry accused President Bush of conducting a "backdoor draft" through a stop-loss policy that forces some troops to remain in the military even after their contractual obligations are over. Also, earlier this month, eight soldiers sued the Pentagon in federal district court over the stop-loss provisions.

"Effectiveness ... depends not just on smart bombs," Lawrence Korb of the liberal Center for American Progress explained Tuesday, "but also on smart people." While the Pentagon's stop-loss policies are intended to maintain an adequate military force, Korb said restrictions on stop-loss and adjustments on minimum tours of duty would do more to boost the numbers. Stop-loss policies, he said, "should be used as little as possible and no more than once."

Korb said he would create two new active divisions amounting to 86,000 troops, double the number of special forces and add 10,000 support forces to serve as military police, civil engineers and in other support roles.

When asked how he would pay for such troop increases, Korb said the Department of Defense should cut money from the national missile defense and F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet programs.

Panel moderator Michele Flournoy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies opened Tuesday's discussion by recognizing that, "It's too early to say whether we have a crisis here," but added that the all-volunteer military "will be front-and-center in upcoming discussions."

She said the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq "have put tremendous strains on the forces." Korb echoed her comments. The United States, he said, has been so focused on lowering troop numbers and increasing technology that it has been unable to fully man Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Thomas Donnelly of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said he agreed with Korb that increasing active-duty troops was a good idea. But he said 86,000 troops wasn't enough. He didn't offer a number, but implied that he would like to see an increase of more than 100,000 troops on the active roster.

"Regular, conventional units are doing an excellent job," he said, adding that there's "too much concentration on the tactical level ... [while] in the Middle East the more important issue is the construction of a theatre Army."

Donnelly said he is skeptical of the Defense Department's ability to pay for an increase in troops, saying, "I don't think the budget math adds up properly." He added, however, that the military build-up during the Cold War set a precedent for the ability to recruit and sustain a larger military.

While Korb and Donnelly agreed that a buildup of active duty forces was needed, Christopher Preble of the libertarian Cato Institute said a complete restructuring of military strategy was necessary.

Instead of a draft or a "further mobilization of the National Guard and Reserves," Preble said the best solution "is to revisit all military deployments." With hundreds of thousands of troops currently stationed in 120 countries worldwide, Preble said troop deployments need to be concentrated only in areas where there is a potential for combat.

He said a reduction of worldwide forces would allow for those existing troops to be concentrated in hot areas like Iraq without having to spend more money recruiting and training new soldiers.

The Pentagon also finds itself currently answering questions about the disproportionate casualties suffered by National Guardsmen in Iraq. According to a USA Today analysis released Monday, the death toll for active duty troops in Iraq is one for every 402 soldiers deployed while the death toll for Guardsmen is one for every 264 deployed.