End Selective Service


Women have won the right to serve alongside men on the front lines of America’s wars. That has caused some people to ask: Shouldn’t women have to register for the draft, just like the men they serve next to? A better question: Isn’t it time to end the Selective Service altogether?

The United States once considered it the duty of every male citizen to serve in a national emergency. Young men were conscripted into the military during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

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The draft ended in 1973, and draft registration stopped in 1975. The Selective Service, but not the draft, was reinstated in 1980 to show American “resolve” after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The National Organization for Women opposed the draft and registration, but it also opposed excluding women from registration as an unconstitutional denial of rights of men and women.

Today, every man between the ages of 18 and 25 is supposed to register with the Selective Service. Young men who don’t register are denied federal loans or Pell grants to attend college. Failure to register for the nonexistent draft is a felony that can destroy careers.

For what? To perpetuate an unnecessary federal agency, protect about 130 jobs, and shield lawmakers from appearing to be weak on national security.

Times have changed. There is no serious shortage of recruits for America’s volunteer military, despite protracted U.S. engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Registration and the draft are archaic remnants of a time when huge armies fought wars along delineated battlefronts. Today’s military more often consists of small, specialized strike forces, air strikes, and, increasingly, targeted attacks by unmanned drones.

Today’s enemies are more likely to be terror cells or bands of insurgents. Their preferred weapons are roadside bombs, ambushes, and suicide attacks.

Nearly 20 years ago, a Pentagon report called it “highly unlikely that we will have to reinstate the draft in the foreseeable future … Peacetime draft registration could be suspended without irreparable damage to national security.”

This week, Melvin Laird, President Richard Nixon’s Defense secretary, called the volunteer force “more intelligent, fit, committed, and representative” than the conscripted military it replaced.

Maintaining the Selective Service system costs taxpayers $24 million a year. That’s a tiny amount within the federal budget, but still a potential savings.

Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, favors registering women for the draft as a matter of equality. A proposed House bill would create equality between the sexes by ending the fiction that the Selective Service is effective insurance against a national emergency.

America’s all-volunteer military has been a resounding success. Ending the Selective Service system would merely recognize that reality.