Adam Yefet has a Master’s degree in International of Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is based in Israel. He can be found on Twitter at @YefetGlobal. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Editor’s Note: This article is an entry into our 70th Anniversary Writing Contest: Options for a New U.S. National Security Act. The author submitted this article under the contest heading of Most Disruptive.
National Security Situation: A revised National Security Act of 1947 could create a national service requirement.
Date Originally Written: September 30, 2017.
Date Originally Published: November 20, 2017.
Author and / or Article Point of View: Adam Yefet has a Master’s degree in International Affairs from George Washington University. He writes here as an American concerned with U.S. National Security.
Background: Seventy years after the signing of the 1947 National Security Act, the world is still an unpredictable and dangerous place, but it is not governed by the same fears. In 1947, the chief concerns of U.S. national security professionals were re-establishing European stability, and preparing for the coming Cold War with the Soviet Union, and ensuring the United States remained atop the new post-war order in an age of industrialized, mass-produced warfare and nuclear bombs. The urgency of a threat could be measured in the number of troops, tanks, ships, missiles etcetera that enemy states could marshal. As such, the 1947 National Security Act established an American military and intelligence complex meant to sustain American interests in the face of these challenges. Today, conventional warfare remains a primary concern, but not the only one.
Significance: The modern American political environment has revealed intense cleavages in American socio-politics. Social trust seems on the verge of breakdown as citizens retreat to curated information bubbles not limited to of-the-day political commentary but expanding into the very facts and analysis of events both modern and historical. Shared truths are shrinking and becoming a thing of the past. Internal divisions are the greatest existential threat to the United States of America. A 2017 National Security Act that includes provisions to bridge this divide could reunite the American people behind the values that helped shape America.
Option #1: Mandatory National Service.
A new National Security Act could include a provision for one year of mandatory national service to be required of all Americans to be completed between a certain age rage, for example between the ages of 18 and 25. There would need to a be a number of service options, some existing, some needing to be created, including service in any of the military branches (which would require longer service) or one of several national organizations such as Peace Corps, Teach for America, and City Year. New services to be created could involve public, local community, and international development, such as public works projects, agriculture development, vocational work, early childhood development, and senior care. National service will affect all Americans equally, across socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, gender, racial, and religious lines. No one can buy their way out of the program.
Risk: The creation of a national service program in peaceful and relatively prosperous times would be a massive economic and political endeavor that would reshape several industries with an influx of cheap labor. The financial investment on the part of the government to train, house, and pay even a meager salary would be enormous. The transition process within affected industries would be long and complicated and would face a winding legal path. The executive power to do so and the consent of the government and the governed to receive it may be impossible to create outside the aftermath of a sharp crisis like World War II and the ensuing Cold War that brought about the original National Security Act.
The gaping political divide and widespread political disillusionment the program seeks to solve would be two of the greatest threats to undermine the program before it got started. A requirement of national service would be anathema to many Americans as an assault on their principles of limited government and freedom. Bipartisan political support may not be enough in the current political environment. Prolonged resistance to service could be politicized and create another ugly divide within the nation. A program plagued by political divides and undermined from the beginning would risk doing more harm than good.
Gain: This requirement to serve would be an opportunity for young Americans to live, work, and consociate and will bind them to each other in common national cause. Service will create an equal opportunity for American citizens to work and learn in a team environment with a sense of national purpose.
Americans found a significant common bond in the 20th century in the course of winning two world wars, crossing the Depression in between, and living the fears and competitions of the Cold War. Success in these endeavors came from a sense of purpose, for American victory, and required massive government investments in people, jobs, infrastructure and science that paid off in the creation of our modern state and economy a modern global order that has delivered peace and prosperity to more people than at any previous time in human history. A mandatory national service program would give all American’s a common bond of shared burden that comes before political divisions.
Option #2: Re-Instate the Draft.
The United States military is stretched thin from the two longest wars in the country’s history, and the global deployment of troops and resources. If these conflicts are going to be seen to a successful end while maintaining the U.S. military as the strongest in the world, the United States must ask more of its citizens. Global politics are entering a transitional period heralding the decline of the American-led global order established after World War II. Interstate and intrastate conflicts are spreading across the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe. The future of international relations and affairs is unknowable but the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus should be prepared for catastrophic events. The Selective Service and Training Act already requires young men, and now women, to register. The foundation already exists for America’s men and women to be called to service.
Risk: The peacetime draft of potentially millions of citizens will require the enlargement of the already massive Defense Department budget. The long-term increased costs for veteran support areas of the government, especially health care, would be significant. The influx of potentially millions of troops, many of whom do not want to be there will demand experienced leadership from military and political figures who may not be up to the task. The draft may have the effect of lowering the standards of the military branches as they seek to find places for new soldiers and retain them into the future to meet the demands of American foreign policy.
Gain: All Americans will share the burden of America’s global role as a military and economic superpower. Service will give the United States government the manpower it needs to be prepared for the conflicts of the present and future. The American people called to service will have a greater appreciation of their responsibility as citizens in the management of American democracy and American foreign policy. The draft would pull in America’s best and brightest for service to the nation’s security.
Other Comments: None.
 50 U.S.C. – SELECTIVE TRAINING AND SERVICE ACT OF 1940. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2017, from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/USCODE-2009-title50/USCODE-2009-title50-app-selective-dup1