Chaining the Dogs of War: How a Permanent 'Ten Percent' Draft Will Repair the Constitutional Links between the Government and the People
Geoffrey S. Corn
South Texas College of Law
November 11, 2012
War. Our nation was borne of war, and wars since the inception of our nation have in many ways defined us as a people. As the United States enters the tenth year of its longest war, our people should be reminded on a daily basis that the cost of such endeavors in blood and treasure requires careful deliberation on the decision to commit the nation to hostilities. However, as recently highlighted by U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General John Kelly (the only General officer to have lost a child in combat since September 11, 2001), Americans are increasingly attenuated from the consequence of war, with less than 1 percent of Americans serving in uniform. Kelly’s speech exposed the proverbial white elephant in our collective national room: the troubling inverse relationship between the duration of our most recent wars and the level public interest in them. While there are numerous plausible explanations for this phenomenon, this lack of meaningful public interest in warmaking endeavors calls into question the underlying assumptions that ostensibly lie at the core of our Founder’s vision that the will of the American people must always animate the political decision to ‘unleash the dogs of war.’ In short, the continued attenuation between the interests of the American electorate and the human, financial, and strategic consequences of war has enabled the political leadership of the nation to wage long-term and extremely expensive wars with increasingly little public scrutiny and even less public ‘skin in the game.’
The article will avoid value judgments on the wisdom of engaging in long-term military commitments, or the validity of the contemporary method of heavy reliance on implied congressional authorization for war, a method consistently validated by both inter-branch practice and periodic judicial decision. Instead, it will proceed on the premise that re-invigorating a connection between the people and the decision to engage in hostilities is not only consistent with our Founders vision of the American way of war, but is strategically beneficial for two reasons. First, it will limit the ability of the government to commit the nation to hostilities absent widespread popular support. By animating more significant popular interest in such decisions, such a re-invigoration will contribute to the probative significance of congressional silence or action, thereby enhancing the cooperation between the political branches. Second, when popular support exists and the nation does engage in military activities, it will increase the pressure on the political branches to ensure that war is effectively resourced and executed in order to achieve the national strategic objectives. In short, increasing popular involvement in war-making decisions will produce positive benefits irrespective of whether that involvement favors or disfavors the policy decisions of the nation’s leadership.
Accordingly, I will propose a cure to reverse the ongoing dilution of the popular connection to war-making decisions: a constitutional amendment requiring that ten percent of the end strength of the armed forces always consist of conscripts. This “ten percent draft” will accommodate two competing interests. The first is to re-establish a meaningful connection between war-making decisions and the electorate. By creating a permanent risk of mandatory service by the nation’s young men and women, the potential human consequence of war will become far more palpable to the people than produced by the current self-selected consequence distribution resulting from the all-volunteer force. The second is to preserve the effectiveness of a primarily all-volunteer force. By limiting the required percentage of the force composed by conscription to ten percent, the proposal will be responsive to those who contend that a return to widespread conscription will diminish the validated effectiveness of the all-volunteer force.
Date posted: November 13, 2012 ; Last revised: November 23, 2012