Since the last draft was in 1973, has mandatory registration outlived its usefulness?
If the U.S. enters a war without enough active-duty troops available for the mission, the military turns to a draft, enacted by Congress and run through a government agency called the Selective Service. With only a few exceptions permitted, most American men are required to register for potential conscription upon turning 18.
Currently, the database of potential draftees aged 18 to 25 includes almost 17 million men. However, the last actual draft was in 1973, near the end of the Vietnam War. For almost half a century, the number of active-duty personnel — currently around 1.3 million — has sufficed for America’s military objectives.
With more than a million active-duty servicemembers and a shift in recent decades to more drone-based and cyberwarfare rather than hand-to-hand combat, is the Selective Service still necessary? After all, 85 countries don’t have laws even allowing for a potential military draft at all.
What the legislation does
The Selective Service Repeal Act would formally end the Selective Service, foreclosing the possibility of a future military draft.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the Selective Service no longer serves its original purpose, and should be discontinued to reflect the realities of modern warfare and military.
“No young person, regardless of gender, should be subject to a military draft or be forced to register for a draft in the United States,” Rep. DeFazio said in a press release. “The military draft registration system is an unnecessary, wasteful bureaucracy which unconstitutionally violates Americans’ civil liberties and unfairly subjects individuals who fail to register for the draft to unnecessarily severe, lifelong penalties — penalties which disproportionately affect low-income Americans. We should be abolishing military draft registration altogether, not expanding it.”
“The Selective Service has far outlived its expiration date, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars per year to prepare for a draft is no longer relevant to our military,” Sen. Wyden said in a separate press release. “Congress hasn’t come close to reinstating a military draft in 50 years, and I can’t imagine a scenario where it would. With the success of our all-volunteer force, this arcane system, which disproportionately harms disadvantaged young men, should be officially abolished, once and for all.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the Selective Service may not have been truly used in 48 years, but that’s why it’s there: as a fallback plan in a worst case scenario. Would the Allies have defeated Hitler in World War II if not for the draft?
“The Selective Service is the third tier of defense, behind the active military and military-reserve,” President Trump’s Selective Service Director Donald M. Benton said in 2019 testimony. “It is a keystone to our readiness capabilities and sends a continual reminder to our allies and detractors alike: we are united. United in our resolve to protect our freedoms, knowing that freedom is not free, the cost is vigilance and preparation.”
“Emergencies happen, and it is the responsibility of the U.S. government to be prepared for the next unexpected emergency. The Selective Service is that preparation,” Benton continued. “But like the rest of you, I hope our country never again has to respond to a national crisis and institute a military draft. That said, I sleep better at night knowing that we are ready.”
Odds of passage
Rep. DeFazio’s prior 2019 version attracted seven bipartisan cosponsors, five Democrats and two Republicans, but never received a committee vote. The current version has attracted an identical seven bipartisan cosponsors, five Democrats and two Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Armed Services Committee.
Introduced by a Democrat, the Senate version has attracted one cosponsor, a Republican: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee.