Defense experts counter GOP report: Budget cuts won’t bring on new draft

A House Republican report’s warning that deeper Pentagon budget cuts would force Washington to institute a military draft has little credence, military experts say.

A House Armed Services Committee study that surfaced Monday warns if a special congressional panel fails to find $1.5 trillion or more in federal cuts, the Army and Marine Corps would be forced to slash 200,000 troops.

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“These cuts would destroy jobs and stall the economy, they could force America to return to the draft, and we would incur more casualties as we defend our freedom,” a summary of the HASC report states.

That was the second warning about the re-institution of conscription from the committee in several days. During an interview last Wednesday with Fox News, panel Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) first uttered the controversial ‘D’ word.

“We also need to understand what it’s going to mean to keep an all-volunteer force,” McKeon said. “Do we want to re-institute the draft? Some of the cuts we’re talking about would take over 200,000 out.”

The draft warnings have raised eyebrows in defense circles because the controversial practice was scrapped after the Vietnam War. The military decided to create the current all-volunteer force.

So what to make of the House Armed Services Republicans’ seemingly solo drumbeat about conscription returning? The GOP committee members contend that the draft will be required should Pentagon cuts beyond the $350 billion through 2023, called for in an August deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, be forced as a result of the superpanel's failure.

“Sequestration would be a nightmare, and a dereliction of duty by the Congress, but it would not in my judgment lead to a renewal of the draft — unless, that is, North Korea attacked or something similar happened just as we were drawing down precipitously,” said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.

The HASC report fashioned its conclusions on moves made by Pentagon and Obama administration officials to meet modest defense budget reductions in recent years and what the panel is hearing about their plans to meet the $350 billion cut target, a committee aide said.

Shedding 200,000 soldiers and Marines — and likely thousands of sailors and airmen — would essentially return the military to pre-9/11 levels.

Those force levels “were insufficient to respond to current contingencies,” the HASC report said, referring to the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

The HASC staff report contends a pre-9/11 force could not “decisively win” a war in one region “while defending vital national interests in another.” It also says a U.S. military of that size “jeopardizes [the nation’s] ability to respond to potential contingencies in North Korea or Iran, and adequately defend allies (including Israel and Taiwan).”

But Gordon Adams, who oversaw national security budgeting for the Clinton administration, said even a pre-9/11 force — after a number of weapons program cuts the panel’s report calls likely under sequestration — “would be a globally powerful military.”

The House Republican report says if the Pentagon is forced to take on the bulk of an automatic $600 billion cut that a supercommittee failure would bring, a number of hardware programs would be axed or trimmed. The F-35 fighter, a new aircraft carrier, a new bomber aircraft fleet, and ground vehicles made the panel’s “at-risk” list.

“If you put the military the report describes — with the end strength and program cuts — we would be scared to death of that military,” Adams said.

Even a defense analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has increasingly been in lockstep with McKeon and his committee on military policy and budget issues, called the draft warning far-fetched.

“I think it’s nutty talk,” said Heritage analyst Jay Carafano. “It's an idle threat. There’s not a practical way they could institute a draft. For starters, the country couldn't afford it.”

The military would have to beef up its training for non-volunteers and build barracks to house the thousands of single draftees — and both would bring big bills, Carafano said.

Plus, “there would be so many deferments that it would become a politically and culturally incredibly derisive thing,” he said.

Asked under what kind of scenario Washington would be forced to go back to conscription, Carafano said it would take “World War III and 10 million men under arms.”

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