Congress is considering polar opposite proposals for the future of compulsory military service—one that would expand the duty to women, and another that would suspend registration requirements altogether—in what could be the most significant decision on the issue in decades.
On Sept. 1, the House Armed Service Committee (HASC) is set to mark up its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision that would effectively put the Selective Service System in limbo. Rep. Jackie Speier’s (D-Calif.) Selective Service Standby Amendment would suspend draft registration requirements and eliminate sanctions for past or future non-registrations.
The House proposal stands in stark contrast to the Senate’s version of the NDAA, which would expand draft registration requirements to women. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved this version in July, sending the proposal to the Senate floor.
The competing proposals could result in the most significant changes to the Selective Service System since 1980, when President Jimmy Carter revived registration requirements. During the five years preceding Carter’s decision, the compulsory registration requirements had been suspended due to backlash over the war in Vietnam—the last time the government held a draft.
The ongoing debate hasn’t fallen along usual partisan lines, instead resulting in some motley political alliances.
Those who want to abolish or scale back the draft include the usual antiwar leftists and libertarians, but they have also been joined by MAGA conservatives who argue that forcing women to fight is feminism gone awry. Their opponents include national security officials and leading lawmakers, who want to expand registration requirements in the name of gender equality and national defense.
“I think it makes total sense for women to register for the draft,” Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies for the Center for the National Interest, told The Epoch Times.
“When we think about the era of great power competition, a war with Russia or China could generate millions upon millions of casualties, creating the need for a massive pool of capable and quality warfighters,” he said. “I see no reason why any sort of draft or mass mobilization should not include all members of U.S. society.”
The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service—a body established by Congress to study the issue—made similar statements in its March 2020 final report. The commission recommended that draft registration requirements be expanded to women, largely out of concerns that a male-only talent pool is too shallow—with high obesity rates being among the reasons why.
“The bottom line remains that neither the nation nor DoD will know for certain what a future conflict may entail, what skillsets will be necessary, or who would qualify for draft induction under specific qualification criteria,” the commission stated. “Therefore, enabling DoD to utilize all the nation’s talents and abilities is essential to mitigating the risks imposed by an uncertain future.”
The commission, which is now defunct and planned to shutter its website on Aug. 31, also noted numerous objections to expanding the draft.
“Some combat veterans feel that their confidence is being tested,” the report stated. “They firmly believe that combat physical readiness standards, critical to the lethality of the force, must be realistic and rigorous; and they acknowledge that many men and women may not be able to attain those standards.”
Some Republican senators cited these concerns when voicing their opposition to their colleagues voting earlier this month to expand registration requirements.
“Forcing our daughters into the draft creates a burdensome and disproportionately increased risk of injury and fatalities for our nation’s women, as readiness data shows,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). “This policy change is rushed and unnecessary in our current time of peace, and unduly harms women more than advancing any notion of equality.”
Republican senators like Lee want to maintain the status quo with the Selective Service System. Others want it scaled back or abolished entirely.
Sen. Rand Paul, for instance, co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would “finally put an end to the expensive, wasteful, outdated, punitive, and unnecessary military draft registration system.”
“We believe that a better way to achieve equality under the law would be to end military draft registration altogether and scrap this needless and expensive bureaucracy,” Paul and Wyden stated in a July 23 letter also signed by Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
With little hope that a proposal like Paul’s to abolish the draft will be included in the NDAA, antiwar advocates have thrown their support behind the proposed Selective Service Standby Amendment set to be contemplated on Sept. 1 by the HASC.
“The Selective Service Standby Amendment is not nearly as good as the Selective Service Repeal Act, but it is much better than continuing the status quo, and even more better compared to expanding registration to women,” wrote Edward Hasbrouck, an activist who spent about four months in a federal prison camp in 1983 for refusing to register for the draft.
“The Selective Service Standby Amendment is our best chance to avoid having Congress expand draft registration to women.”