Is a New Future in Store for the Draft System?

In a bipartisan effort that has drawn little national attention, two members of Congress have created legislation that would do away with the Selective Service System (SSS), the independent federal agency that manages draft registration. Did you catch that? Representatives Mike Coffman (R) of Colorado and Peter DeFazio (D) of Oregon don’t want to just get rid of the draft; they want to get rid of the federal agency that manages the draft—the SSS.

The congressmen claim the millions budgeted to the SSS each year is wasted money. Citing Pentagon sources to support their case, the two representatives say the military have had so much success raising an all-volunteer force that there is no need to return to conscription.

On the other side of the fence is the agency’s director, Lawrence Romo. His take on things is that the SSS is like “an inexpensive insurance policy.” According to a recent AP story, Romo was quoted as saying “We are the true backup for the true emergency.”

The law currently states young men between the ages of 18 and 25 must register with the SSS. The agency’s 2012 Report to Congress showed a compliance rate of 91%. Anyone failing to register with the SSS can be charged with a felony—although the Justice Department has not prosecuted anyone for that offense since 1986. A conviction could mean a fine of up to $250,000 and a prison term of up to five years.

Several states have added additional penalties for those who fail to register. The bottom line is Selective Service registration is still the law. Even if you have heard that nobody is being prosecuted for failing to register, there are real penalties in place for not doing so.

A young man who does not register for Selective Service also becomes ineligible for:

  • Student financial aid.
  • US citizenship (if the man arrived in the US prior to his 26th birthday).
  • Federal jobs and job training

What about Women?

Which leads us to an interesting question: now that women are eligible for combat roles, will a requirement to register for the Selective Service also fall to them? That appears unlikely for the time being.

You could argue that when the then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta signed a memorandum in January of 2013 that ended the 1994 ban on women serving in combat situations, he also effectively opened the door to their selective conscription under the right set of circumstances. Women currently make up approximately 12% of active duty military.

US women in the military are not new to the dangers of war. More than 800 women have been wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan— more than 150 have been killed. Even before the official policy change for women in the military, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have brought more and more women into the line of fire. Women have participated in convoys, accompanied infantry troops, served as intelligence officers and medics, and searched civilians. All of these duties have placed women in harm’s way and in combat situations.

President Obama’s newly appointed defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, said at his confirmation hearing: “I will work with the service chiefs as we officially open combat positions to women, a decision I strongly support.”

Time will tell just how many U.S. men we will need in active military roles and whether the needed numbers can be sustained by an all-volunteer force.

Time will tell just how many U.S. women will receive combat assignments. There is a sense of evaluating as we go forward with the new policy. As yet there has been no real talk of conscripting women into military service.

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