The Deep Unfairness of America’s All-Volunteer Force

The Deep Unfairness of America’s All-Volunteer Force, by Dennis Laich.

When the Gates Commission set up the rationale for the [U.S. All-Volunteer Force (AVF)] in 1970, it did so at the behest of a president, Richard Nixon, who had come to see the conscript military as a political dagger aimed at his own heart. One could argue that the decision to abolish conscription was a foregone conclusion; the Commission simply provided a rationale for doing it and for volunteerism to replace it. …

After 16 years of war it is plain to all but the most recalcitrant that the U.S. cannot afford the AVF — ethically, morally, or fiscally.

Fiscal:

The land forces in particular are still having difficulties fielding adequate numbers—even with lowered standards, substituting women for men (from 1.6 percent of the AVF in 1973 to more than 16 percent today), recruitment and reenlistment bonuses totaling tens of millions of dollars, advertising campaigns costing billions, massive recruitment of non-citizens, use of psychotropic drugs to recycle unfit soldiers and Marines to combat zones, and overall pay and allowances that include free world-class health care and excellent retirement plans that are, for the first time in the military’s history, comparable to or even exceeding civilian rates and offerings.

A glaring case in point is the recent recruitment by the Army of 62,000 men and women, its target for fiscal year 2016. To arrive at that objective, the Army needed 9,000 recruiting staff (equivalent to three combat brigades) working full-time. If one does the math, that equates to each of these recruiters gaining one-point-something recruits every two months—an utterly astounding statistic. …

Moreover, the recruiting and retention process and rich pay and allowances are consuming one half of the Army’s entire annual budget slice, precluding any sort of affordable increase in its end strength. …

This end strength constraint creates the need for more and more private contractors on the nation’s battlefields in order to compensate. The employment of private contractors is politically seductive and strategically dangerous. To those enemies we fight they are the enemy and to most reasonable people they are mercenaries. Mercenaries are motivated by profit not patriotism—despite their CEOs’ protestations to the contrary—and place America on the slippery slope towards compromising the right of sovereign nations to the monopoly of violence for state purposes.

Ethical:

Today, more than 300 million Americans lay claim to rights, liberties, and security that not a single one of them is obligated to protect and defend. Apparently, only 1 percent of the population feels that obligation. That 1 percent is bleeding and dying for the other 99 percent. …

The last 16 years have also generated, as wars tend to do, hundreds of thousands of veterans. The costs of taking care of these men and women are astronomical today and will only rise over the next decades …

In fact, when one calculates today’s U.S. national security budget—not simply the well-advertised Pentagon budget—the total expenditure of taxpayer dollars approaches $1.2 trillion annually, or more than twice what most Americans believe they are paying for national security. …

The AVF has compelled the nation to transition its reserve component forces from what they have been since colonial times — a strategic reserve — into being an operational reserve. That’s military-speak for our having used the reserve components to make up for deeply felt shortages in the active force. Nowhere is this more dramatically reflected than in the rate of deployment-to-overseas duty of the average reservist, now about once every 3.8 years.

Such an operational tempo causes extreme problems for both civilian employers and for National Guard and reserve units. What employer, for example, wants to hire a young man or woman who will be gone for a year every four years on average, when that employer can reach out and hire someone from the 99 percent who will likely not be absent?

Moral:

If the sons and daughters of members of Congress, of the corporate leadership, of the billionaire class, of the Ivy Leagues, of the elite in general, were exposed to the possibility of combat, would we have less war? From a socio-economic class perspective, the AVF is inherently unfair.

In its last years the Roman empire hired barbarians to do its fighting for it, instead of using soldier citizens.

hat-tip Stephen Neil