By Brian Brinker:
The Heritage Foundation found that American military preparedness has declined to historical lows. According to the Foundation, the United States lacks the capacities to fight two major wars at once, and thus isn’t prepared for the brave new world. The relevancy of this ranking is debatable, but regardless there is increasing worry over America’s military might. In a multi-polar world, maintaining military preparedness is a must, and yet with public debt compiling and deficits projected for years to come, the United States must also tighten its belt when it comes to spending.
So how then can America increase its military capacity while also keeping costs under control? Instead of fielding an ever more massive and expensive standing army, the United States could shift towards ensuring that a large number of its citizens are “operationally ready” to be quickly called into service. One way would be to offer Americans a chance to undergo military training, and to then be placed on a “draft first” list. Should America need to institute a draft, these citizens would be the first called into action, and owing to their previous training, would be able to deploy more quickly than citizens who had received no training.
In exchange, those who agree to undergo training and join the “draft-first” list could be offered free tuition at public universities. With tuition prices skyrocketing, this benefit would be very attractive for many young Americans. Training a large portion of Americans to be ready for war would increase the United States’ readiness to go to war, while keeping costs low, and would also increase overall education levels, thus making America more competitive in the global economy.
The concept of focusing on operational readiness isn’t new, and has been used by other countries, such as Singapore. The tiny island-nation has emerged as one of South East Asia’s premier military powers, in spite of its small population. One of the key aspects of the country’s military capacity is ensuring that most of its male citizens are operationally ready for combat.
Follow the “Singapore” Model & Build Fortress USA
Singapore is a small-city state that lies just off the coast of Malaysia. The prosperous and vibrant island-nation has the distinction of being the only nation to be forcefully expelled from its motherland, having been kicked out of Malaysia in 1965. Back then, the once poor backwater port found itself facing a skeptical (and much larger) Malaysia just across a short causeway, and the increasingly hostile behemoth of nearby Indonesia, while also coping with a simmering communist threat at home.
Singapore had to deal with these grave security threats just as the British military was winding down its support, leaving the future clouded in uncertainty. Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew recognized that he had to fully utilize as much of Singapore’s limited resources as possible. Lee knew that his tiny city-state would struggle to rival Indonesia or even Malaysia in total military potential, so instead he sought to make his island far too costly and difficult to invade.
Lee’s idea was simple: compulsory military service for all young able-bodied male adults. This would not only allow Singapore to raise a large standing army, but it would also ensure that a huge portion of the population was trained for military service even if they weren’t in active service. If Singapore ever needed to institute a draft or draw soldiers directly from its civilian population, millions of male Singaporeans would already be “operationally ready”.
Thus, if a hostile force were to attempt to invade tiny Singapore, the national military would be able to quickly mobilize not only its standing army, but also its trained civilians. As a result, any would-be conqueror could expect to fight house-to-house, and city-block-to-city-block. Given that Singapore has no valuable natural resources, any invasion would simply be too costly for most nations to contemplate.
The British tried to turn Singapore into a fortress during World War II, but failed miserably. Where the Brits failed, however, Lee Kuan Yew succeeded. Now, the United States could implement a similar model, focusing on training “operationally ready” soldiers, rather than increasing the size of its already large standing army.
Build Fortress USA By Giving College Students Free (or reduced) Tuition
The United States doesn’t need to and probably couldn’t afford to install compulsory military service for all of its young citizens. Wages would have to be paid, tax revenues would be lost, and delaying people from going to college isn’t necessarily a good thing in the modern economy. Yet training a larger number of civilians to be ready for war would be prudent, at the very least, and would ensure a quick response should the need arise.
One way America could accomplish this is by offering students free (or at least substantially reduced) public college tuition in exchange for undergoing summer military training between each year of their higher education. These students, male & female, would then be placed on a “draft first” list and should the United States ever have to reinstitute the draft, a large pool of candidates would already be trained for service.
What would this look like? Students could spend six or seven weeks during their summer breaks receiving military training, and in exchange they would receive a tax-free scholarship to cover in-state tuition at a public university. Unlike current ROTC programs, students wouldn’t be required to serve several years of active service afterwards. Instead, they could be placed on a draft ready list and would be the first eligible for a draft should the need arise.
The exact set-up could be determined by military leaders, but one way to structure it would be to set up six to seven week training courses between freshmen-sophomore, sophomore-junior, and junior-senior years. The first two summers could focus on general infantry training, and the last summer could focus on specialized training.
Having already been through boot camp, these soldiers would require less training to get up to speed if they are drafted. Most likely, if these citizens were called into service, they’d require some catchup training, but wouldn’t need the full 8-11 week training program required to instill new enlistees with just basic training. Specializations usually require several more weeks of training.
Graduates from the program could also be fast tracked to Officer Candidate School, full-time service, or National Guard service, allowing them to pursue a further career in the military if they so choose. The military, meanwhile, would have more opportunities to identify promising candidates for a future career in the military.
No program, including the one described above, is perfect. One immediate criticism of this program is that the burden of war would once again be placed primarily on poorer citizens. The children of rich citizens wouldn’t have to bother with military training, and thus would be less likely to be drafted in the future. Regardless, it’s better for poorer individuals to be offered another opportunity to secure an affordable education than to deny them the chance.
For the record, I am an advocate for affordable tuition for all, but right now that is politically and perhaps even economically unfeasible. If affordable tuition is ever offered, students could still be offered a stipend for enlisting in military training. Various other incentive models could be explored, with the overarching goal simply being to increase operational readiness of a large portion of the population.
Another criticism: after college many Americans would grow out of shape and perhaps out of touch with their training for the draft model to be effective. America’s obesity epidemic is already threatening national security, however, and while the above model wouldn’t solve that problem, it likely wouldn’t make it worse either. Further, to ensure that potential draftees stay up-to-date in their training and health, individuals could be offered to undergo a physical and a short (7-10 day) training program once per year. In exchange, they could be offered a stipend or tax credit or other incentive.
Regardless, no solution will be perfect. The above program, however, could kill two very big birds with one stone. Young Americans would be given a chance to pursue an affordable education, and the United States would increase its military preparedness. Affordable education in-and-of itself would bolster the United States’ economic, scientific, and military capacities, while a trained pool of potential draftees would also allow America to respond quickly to any full-scale war that might break out.
Brian Brinker is an OpsLens Contributor and political consultant. Brinker has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.