Small Wars Journal

The key to building an effective military that we can afford: Bring Back the Militia!

Fri, 01/27/2012 - 4:23pm

The key to building an effective military that we can afford: bring back the militia!

Fabius Maximus

Reposted with Full Permissions

Summary:  Slowly realization spreads that we cannot afford our current military forces.  This forces us to consider new forms of organization.  In this, as in so many things, the Founders give us sound advice.  Militia can provide a key component of our military.

Going Back to the Future – Militia Model Could Cut U.S. Expenditures“, Ron Fogleman, DefenseNews, 16 January 2012 — Excerpt:

Throughout my career, I spoke frequently about the kind of defense America deserved — that is, a modern, balanced and ready force. … In its current form, the force has become unaffordable. … The big question is, how does the department reduce its budget and continue to provide a modern, balanced and ready defense when more than half of the budget is committed to personnel costs?

The all-volunteer force has provided the nation with the most capable and experienced force in our history. We need to preserve that capability; however, we cannot afford the imbalance of resources stemming from the size and composition of the force.

The answer to that question is right before us: We should return to our historic roots as a militia nation. …  we should return to the constitutional construct for our military and the days when we maintained a smaller standing military and a robust militia. … This concept worked well for our country for the better part of two centuries. … The fiscal environment and emerging threats demand it. To do otherwise is to allow the budget to drive the future capability in a way that fails to meet the needs of the nation.

This is a great idea, one whose time may come soon.  What kind of military does America need in a world with many nuclear power and few conventional threats (no superpower actively threatening to start WWIII, as the Soviet Union threatening Europe)?  A world in which foreign armies are usually stalemated or even defeated by local forces, so that imperial adventures are dangerous and unprofitable (see here for details)? A world in which we face many enemies, but find a global program of bombing and assassination only generates still more enemies?  Where growth and militarization of police and security services threaten our liberties?

Imagine a military composed of special operations units (training/support for allies; raids),   navy & air force (transport, firepower), marines (light expeditionary forces), army (a small core of heavy land forces), and militia (several levels of trained citizen-soldiers).  The first four are well-understood.  Here is a sketch of how militia might work for us, from September 2005.


Summary:  Militia might be our most reliable defense against fourth generation warfare (4GW).  They have deep roots in western history, and many of these advantages can work for America today.  Militia also are problematic for several reasons.  These issues must be considered when designing their recruitment, training, and organization. 


  1. Why militia?
  2. Strategic Implications
  3. The right tool for the right war
  4. History of the Militia
  5. An American militia for the 21st Century
  6. Role of an American Militia
  7. Who controls the Militia? What can Militia do for America?
  8. What can Militia do for America?
  9. Politics of Militia
  10. Militia as a Dangerous Innovation
  11. Militia as nucleus for vigilantes
  12. Private Military Companies (aka mercenaries, in a new form for the age of 4GW)
  13. Decline of the State
  14. Conclusions
  15. For more information

As a follow-up see Lawrence Korb of CAP and CDI advocates a militia, 4 June 2008.

(1)  Why militia?

{Click here to read this essay}



Mon, 01/30/2012 - 11:10pm

I think the Army does have its place in responding to homeland security issues and disasters. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 states what the military can do on American soil however this agreement is frequently changed from President to President and yes President Obama has addressed this issue. Hopefully, President Obama will not have to respond to a national crisis that requires the military to intervene. However, how many people were killed by the Army as they restored peace in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? The military often trains for these missions frequently and these missions are known as Operations Other Than War (OOTW). Since 1990, the United States military has been deployed over 150 times. These missions are just not well publicized and are frequently overlooked.

These OOTW did not help in Iraq as our exit strategy was not well planned. President Bush did establish a post war plan and committee prior to OIF but this committee did not calculate for these post war operations. I just hope these committee members found a new job because they definitely failed in their calculations. The military doctrine that was used in OIF was designed for traditional Soviet warfare. Fighting a different type of war comes with a learning curve and often this curve is steep and earned in blood. Clausewitz defines war as the “continuation of politics by other means” but today’s military can serve many different purposes besides just war. Just a thought…

MAJ Brett Evers, Student CGSC, Fort Belvoir, VA
Mandatory disclosure: “The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government”


Sat, 01/28/2012 - 12:45pm

Don't think Fabius had to hope that people would volunteer for the militia but not sure.

I am sure that the USAR and NG we trained at Hood (for Vietnam) were not anywhere near as competent as the regular units. and not very eager...The troops today go where they are sent and do their best in spite of ludicrous ROE and anal retentive command structure. The 3+ tour guy in Vietnam was unusal (excepting Marines) but the norm today.

Feel that militias make sense for home defense (and should be part of the mix in that sense). The US has shown a preference to fight on the opponents turf, not ours and so the milita is not useful in such a scenario. Getting DA to fund militias so that they are worth a hoot would be a challenge and taking those decisions away from DA is self defeating.

My suggestion to avoid conflicts with no end game is simple. When we send the guys out, the eldest child of the Chief Executive (or VP or Speaker or all of em) rides in the lead vehicle. Then you can be darn sure we'd have an exit strategy and adequate resources.

Finally, respectfully suggest we dispense with the "wars of choice" stuff. All wars are "wars of choice" or "wars of necessity" depending on the intel at hand and your job description. No sane person commits troops if they see another way. GWB might not know how to pronounce "nuclear" (or "corpsman") but he isn't the cartoon troll that is so popularly construed. Characterizations of Iraq (for instance) as a "war of choice" indicates certain assumptions about what the CiC saw and thought that very few people here have any real knowledge of.

I fail to see what security gap these militias would fill? When our nation relied on militias we were a different nation, an immature nation without the means to sustain a standing army, and the colonies' and later the State's law enforcement capacity was limited, but now we have rule of law and multiple levels of law enforcment (city, county, state, and federal) to enforce it. The Governor can further direct the National Guard to augment when necessary, and the President can deploy the federal military forces if needed. The proposal to field untrained and undisciplined militias into this fray simply creates unneeded complications and serious risks.

We have armed citizens that have the right to self defense, and these citizens can be organized by law enforcement if there is a requirement to do so, but in most situations simply organizing the citizens to report suspicious activity is adequate. What possible scenario would we need to rely on militias for? Local law enforcment enjoys the home turf advantage as much as any militia member would.

To pursue national defense objectives beyond our borders the National Guard and Army Reserve are not equal in capability to active duty forces for a number of reasons, so they cannot be relied upon to provide a credible capability rapidly; however, in response to an enduring conflict when they have time to activate and train up they'll continue to play a critical role in our overall defense posture as they have over the past few decades from Vietnam, to Bosnia to Iraq and Afghanistan. They will not be the force of choice for Grenadas, Panamas, and special operation direct action missions of limited scope and duration.

Assuming that it is true that we can't afford our current military (and that is arguable), that doesn't mean we need to raise militias to replace the shrinking military. What it does mean is we need to be more careful about picking our fights (some of our wars were wars of choice, others were wars of necessity), to appropriately scope our objectives, and pursue new doctrines and technologies to help us address projected future threats.

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 01/27/2012 - 7:58pm

In reply to by Steve Blair

The wartime draft is just a wing of the militia. Both have served us well, and will continue to do so.

Not having a regualar army sitting on the shelf saved us from horrible decisions in both 1914 and 1939. Millions of US lives were saved, and yet we still employed US ground power to decide both WWI and II in our favor on our terms.

We have a geo-strategic treasure in our position on the globe. The Cold War forced us temporarily to have to adopt a continental perspective. We are free of that problem now. Time to get back to our roots.

Recently announced Army cuts are a half-measure. To parallel those cuts into the Marines makes no sense. The Marines have a peace time mission that the Army lacks. Both are critical to our national security, but the Army is much more a Wartime force than any other aspect of DoD.

Steve Blair

Fri, 01/27/2012 - 4:49pm

The funny thing is that for all the romantic talk, militias have never really worked well for the US in practice. They typically proved much more expensive to muster into Federal service (due in no small part to inflated officer corps), were poorly-trained, and lacked in the most basic equipment. There were obviously some exceptions to this, but the expanded military and reliance on conscription for our wartime expansions after the Spanish-American War are in no small part due to the failings of state units and militia to meet the needs of those conflicts. It's also interesting that such discussions tend to ignore the National Guard, which was intended to take the place of ad-hoc militia organizations.