Small Wars Journal

The Military We Need: Maintaining the All-Volunteer Force

The Military We Need: Maintaining the All-Volunteer Force - Tom Donnelly, AEI Center for Defense Studies.

Col. Paul Yingling is one of the most thoughtful soldiers of his generation. In particular, his articles in Armed Forces Journal on the failures of military leadership and the compact between the United States and the men and women who fight the Long War have provoked much needed debate. The second of these pieces, "The Founders' Wisdom," a call for a return to a conscript military as the most effective and equitable way to raise forces for this struggle, has merited particularly close attention, rebuttal, and now, thanks to the folks over at Small Wars Journal, an invitation to further discussion. An offer I can't resist.

Yingling makes three arguments for abandoning the current All-Volunteer Force. The first argument is based on the experience of the two world wars of the 20th century and based upon Yingling's reading of the American tradition. Both these points are suspect. Take the analogy between the world wars and the Long War. The world wars were, relatively speaking, large and short, overwhelmingly conventional and decided by firepower. The Long War is, well, long, and though it has taxed the current force nearly to its breaking point, it is still rightly regarded as a series of small wars or campaigns. And the "American tradition" must account for the Civil War as well as the world wars. While the Civil War marked the first use of conscription in America, both Federal and Confederate armies were volunteers; conscripts accounted for about 6 percent of the total Union army.

But Yingling also extends his reading of this tradition: "[T]his approach demands popular participation in national security decisions and provides Congress with powerful incentives to reassert its war powers. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force of citizen soldiers would ensure that the burdens of war are felt equally in every community in America." This is a revealing quote, echoing two laments often expressed by American officers...

Much more at AEI's CDS.


oldpapajoe (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 1:56pm

Hmm, conscript versus volunteer? MOst Conscripts serves for 12, 18, 24, 36 (the latter in ROK and Israel) months. Not a lot of time to get a well trained soldier, especially for the shorter terms of conscription. I suspect we would sign up for the old 24 month conscription. I guess you get what you pay for. In WWII the conscript was in "for the duration". For my Dad that was from 1940 (first wave of draftees) until 1945. So, for the long-war of today, I am not sure the conscript is the way to go. Then again, if you only want a military for the "Big One", and nothing beyond the absolute defense of the homeland or a repeat of the Gulf War in 1990. I guess that would mean the USMC would be in high demand. The Army would be the supporters of the Army SOC, and the USMC for logistics and the like. Interesting proposal. Who knows, with a conscript maybe we could follow other nations with conscript armies and introduce a military union to boot. Why not? Go all the way, if you want a real civilian aspect to our military.


Sat, 07/10/2010 - 9:16pm

Frankly, I think the comments responding to Yingling's post on the other thread make a stronger counter-argument than Donnelly does.

I suspect Donnelly deliberately misunderstands Yingling on the popular participation in security decisions. The Vietnam war was front and center on everyone's agenda while it was underway largely because everyone was at least theoretically subject to the draft. Yes, the well to do managed to avoid it pretty often, but some slipped through and I am not sure we abandon the idea because its implementation was poor. (Perhaps if reimplemented we could make those who get more than 2 deferments ineligible for public office?) As soon as the draft was ended, the war dropped out of the public mind.

On economics, Donnelly's plan seems to be unlimited spending. Hope he has a viable revenue plan.

Vito (not verified)

Sat, 07/10/2010 - 6:07pm

As long as Congress pulls the purse strings (as it should, but responsibly) DOD can't kill any high-ticket items, be they almost criminal in nature or not.

And as a side note on conscription during the Civil War (and not really germane to this debate), one of money could purchase their way out or pay for a substitute IIRC.


Sat, 07/10/2010 - 5:59pm

"conscripts accounted for about 6 percent of the total Union army"

Agreed; but nearly all Union volunteers were extended beyond their initial 1-year or 2-year enlistment based on a 'for the duration' clause. Desertions and ill-discipline were the norm in the War Between the States.

Today we call this stop-loss, a policy which invoultarily extends the service member in his unit based a Global Force Management deployment timeline. Having lead stop-lossed Soldiers in DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM, OEF, and OIF (in arguably elite units), I state these men and women feel conscripted--and continue to perform at a very high standard.

Paul Yingling is correct; the quality of the AVF cannot be sustained. The Nation must stop fighting the Long War as if it's an aquisition program in the POM. If OIF or OEF were the F-22 or FCS, DoD would have killed it by this point in the life cycle.