Fighting the War against Terrorism: Elite Forces, Yes; Conscripts, No

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The United States possesses the most powerfulmilitary on earth, one that has proved itspotency in ousting the Taliban from power inAfghanistan. Yet, even as the military was gearingup to perform so well, some people were callingfor a return to conscription or, more dramatically,for institution of mandatory national servicefor all young people.

A draft would make no sense militarily: U.S.soldiers are the best trained and educated ever.Operations like that against the Taliban--andpotential future anti-terrorist initiatives elsewhere,such as in Yemen and Somalia--requireelite special forces, not mass conscript armies.Indeed, a draft would degrade the military'sperformance, requiring induction of less-qualifiedpersonnel, who are rejected today, and raisingthe rate of "indiscipline" by filling the armedservices with people who don't want to serve. Itcomes as no surprise that the military leadershipopposes conscription.

A broader national service draft would beeven less justifiable. Conscripting 18-year-oldswould do nothing to protect America from terrorism;a few skilled personnel can do far more tomake us safe than can masses of untrainedyoung people.

Turning over to Washington the lives of the 4million men and women who turn 18 every yearwould guarantee the grossest misuse of enormoushuman potential. If opportunity cost isnot considered, perceived "needs" will be infinite.Control by a federal government engaged in theusual pursuit of political pork would guaranteethat national service would become a monumentalboondoggle.

Most important, turning over control ofyoung people's destinies to government wouldbe a massive transfer of power from civil societyto the state. Conscription would undermine thevery individual liberty that makes our nationworth defending.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of Human Resources and Defense Manpower, published by the National Defense University. As a special assistant to President Reagan, he worked with the Military Manpower Task Force.