Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, April 02, 2003
The strange mood I'm in this morning prompts me to write a strange post.

Stanley Kurtz, one of my favorite pundits, has been pounding the table for some time about the need to increase the size of our armed forces. He points out that we now face a couple of acute crises that have or could quickly turn into wars (Iraq, North Korea), an ongoing war on terror that requires significant deployments all over the world (Philippines, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Georgia, Colombia), peacekeeping and nation-building missions that require significant deployments for both the core mission and force protection (Bosnia, Kossovo, Sinai, Afghanistan, soon to be Iraq), and looming threats that, while not acute, could develop into major wars quickly under certain circumstances (Iran, Taiwan). We have an official doctrine of being able to fight two wars in different theaters simultaneously, but no one really thinks that today we could fight full-scale wars in Iraq and North Korea at literally the same time, not without straining our resources to the limit and leaving us very vulnerable to any other crisis that might erupt. And even if the "transformation" enthusiats prove right about our ability to win battlefield victories with much leaner forces than the Army brass imagines, we cannot achieve the political aims of war without substantial forces on the ground for occupation, and those forces will themselves need protection. Once Iraq is won, we'll need to leave a lot of troops there to prevent it from turning into Bosnia, but those troops will be wanted elsewhere for warfighting missions.

But the proposed solutions to this manpower crisis all have their drawbacks. Kurtz has flirted with advocating reinstatement of the draft. But the draft is an extraordinarily inefficient means of staffing the armed forces. It maximizes economic disruption, delivers less-motivated and less-prepared recruits, and would likely degrade readiness for months or years while the armed forces adjusted to the influx. Kurtz argues that, over the long haul, a draft would reduce costs because we would need to pay draftees less than we would need to pay to entice additional volunteers. But I'm not sure he's right - or, rather, I think those "economies of scale" only kick in if we need to field a 5 or 10 million man army, which cannot be raised by any other means than conscription; they do not obtain if we need to increase our forces by, say, 50%, which I think is closer to the mark. There are cultural arguments for conscription (arguments I am critical of, by the way), but these are not really germane to the question at hand. The alternative to a draft, however, is quite expensive: raising pay is the only sure way to increase recruitment. Yeah, the President could issue a "call for volunteers" or otherwise attempt to effect cultural changes that would encourage more youngsters to join up. But these are unlikely to have effects other than at the margin in the absence of a national emergency.

Hence the following modest proposal: why not do for the Army what we do in every other "industry" where unit labor costs are too high to perform the mission, and employ foreigners?

According to an article in today's WSJ, there are about 30,000 non-citizens serving in our armed forces today. Only resident aliens can currently join, but it's not clear to me why that restriction serves our interests. Why not open the doors? How hard do you think it would be to recruit, say, 300,000 Mexicans and Filipinos (the nationalities with the greatest current representation in the U.S. armed forces) directly from their native countries to serve in the American armed forces, if the carrot dangled were a fast track to U.S. citizenship?

I'm sort of serious here. The big drain on manpower is not at the top of the skill chain. We need more boots on the ground to do occupation duty. We could rely on foreign armies to do this, but that means inviting these foreign powers into the decisionmaking process. It likely means handing over custody of places like Iraq to the United Nations, which does not obviously serve American interests; at the worst it means losing the peace altogether. We could achieve the same effect on a small scale by handing over some responsibilities to private contractors, something we're already doing in Afghanistan. Why not take control of the process by beefing up our armed forces with low-cost, high-motivation foreign recruits from countries that already have strong cultural ties to America?

Whaddaya think, Stanley?