Magazine article Insight on the News

Even Military Experts Consider Draft Antiquated

Magazine article Insight on the News

Even Military Experts Consider Draft Antiquated

Article excerpt

Some theorists compare modern warfare to battle strategies developed during the Middle Ages -- a time when weapons were relatively rare and expensive, a trained cavalry was superior to a massed infantry and small bands of knights and their support teams conducted the bulk of the fighting.

The Cold War's final casualty may be the humble draftee. In recent weeks, Spain and Italy have become the latest European powers to abandon universal military conscription, driving another nail into the coffin of an institution that was born with and helped define the modern industrial state.

Britain abandoned compulsory military service in 1962, followed 11 years later by the United States. Belgium and the Netherlands dropped the draft soon after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. When the Italian Senate voted Oct. 24, 2000, on whether to end compulsory military service, not a single legislator voted to preserve the system.

"There were a lot of viewpoints raised, some quite emotional, but the basic idea was that this was necessary to make our military more professional and efficient," says Giuseppe Manzo, first secretary for the Italian Embassy in Washington. As it phases out conscription, Italy also will trim its armed forces from 270,000 to 190,000, relying exclusively on volunteers who serve from one to five years.

Likewise, when French President Jacques Chirac announced the eventual elimination of the draft, he simultaneously announced a plan to cut French military forces by one-third, to 350,000. The Spanish Defense Ministry also plans to reduce its forces as its moves toward an all-volunteer force after Jan. 1, 2002.

The draft may be effective in producing warm bodies, but it has presented several problems for military planners in the absence of a massive, unifying outside threat, such as that posed by the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. Despite the fact that volunteers are in a better position than the draftee to demand better pay, benefits and working conditions, an all-conscript force isn't cost-effective.

"For market-oriented societies, it has become very important to achieve profit from investments in the military sphere as well," said Lt. Col. Andras Ujj, vice director-general of the Institute for Strategic Defense Research, at a conference in Hungary earlier this year. "From this point of view, with respect to effective force, capital and technology, the conscript armies have turned out to be more and more uneconomical."

In the modern era, the draft has produced more recruits than the military needs. Attempts to pare down the number -- by education, physical strength or even by lottery -- raises fairness questions. On the other hand, fully 75 percent of the young men eligible for the draft in Spain declared themselves conscientious objectors. In Germany, more than half of the 300,000 draftees in 1997 opted for alternative, nonmilitary service.

"The draft was very efficient if what you needed was a large mass of semiskilled labor to deal with a direct and massive threat to your homeland" says Philip Gold, director of defense studies at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank. "That does not even remotely describe the threat that the United States and its European allies are facing for the foreseeable future."

Today, the Anglo-American system of highly trained, well-paid professionals is the model for any military establishment which wishes to remain viable and credible. "Conscripts are good if you're fighting your next-door neighbor," says Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins' Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. "They're not nearly so effective for the peacekeeping and long-distance military operations that are much more likely for today's military forces."

Simply put, today's military leaders don't want conscript forces. "When you talk to generals and admirals today, you won't run into one who wants to bring back the draft" says Cohen. …

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