Opinion: A Counter to Fortress USA

By Morgan Deane:

Brian Brinker penned an informative article discussing a fortress USA strategy suggesting America offer free or reduced college education in exchange for a better trained pool of soldiers who can be drafted into service in a timely and cost efficient manner. I thank him for the good ideas. I strongly disagree, however, in a few areas: effectiveness of this training in reducing the time it would take America to draft soldiers, the likelihood of such a draft, and other factors affecting the potential for future conflicts.

Mr. Brinker offers his plan as an alternative to “fielding an ever more massive and expensive standing army.” He doesn’t define what exactly is massive, but the logic of war and peace suggests that unilateral downsizing of a military can be dangerous and lead to further conflicts. For example, when President Obama declared that force is off the table during negotiations with Iran, it made force more likely. Without the threat of force, negotiations are much less effective.  When negotiations attempting to stop a state sponsor of terror from obtaining nuclear weapons fail, the only other option — besides letting them obtain it — is the use of force. Thus, the rhetoric and desire for peace actually makes warfare more likely.

In other cases, a warlike and militant response from the U.S. could have prevented warfare. For example, in early 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson tried to limit U.S. involvement around the world by declaring limitations to U.S. strategic interest. This statement left South Korea outside of the U.S. defense perimeter.  A few months later, the Soviet Union gave the green light to a North Korean invasion, a few months after that U.S. forces were fighting in the Korean War.  The United States almost lost in the first few months of the war as they were ill prepared for the intensity of the conflict.

In contrast, a larger American force can make the necessary patrols to dissuade the Chinese from seizing islands and bullying allies. Or they can better prevent piracy and allow freedom of trade which also acts as a stimulus for peace. It might be worth the cost of a few extra destroyers, F35s or “aggressive” patrols in the South China Sea to avoid the need to utilize the draft in the first place.

Mr. Brinker then discusses a solution “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.”

Unfortunately, there are numerous historical examples which show how quickly drafting and sending soldiers into battle is unlikely to work.  When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the Americans had to assemble forces from across the Pacific. The motley crew they deployed had some units which suffered an 80% casualty rate.  These forces, mind you, were experienced active duty soldiers, NCO’s, and officers who fought in World War II. They performed poorly because the peace time government was afraid of a standing army, which gutted the armed services and further relied upon draftees to fill the gaps.

During such an invasion like South Korea’s, the United States did not have the luxury of fielding operational infantry units– our nation had to go to war with the active duty personnel on hand at the time.  An expedient pool of draftees would not have helped and likely will not help in the future. Even in a relatively stable theatre like Iraq, it took over a month of pre-deployment exercises for active reservists in the Marine Corps who regularly trained, and several more weeks of intra theatre training before they were considered combat ready.  When utilizing training schedules for activated reservists, it takes almost two months before they are combat ready and it is extremely unlikely that a ready pool of draftees would be operationally capable any faster or perform any better.

Mr. Brinker suggests increasing readiness by “offering students free 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.”

As good as these policies sound in theory, there is significant doubt that a draft will ever be instituted in the first place.  American policy makers recognize their all-volunteer military have enough incentives to fill its man power needs. College tuition is already heavily subsidized through Pell grants, low interest VA loans, and the GI Bill.  The fortress America approach advocated by Mr. Brinker seems like a large expenditure to obtain just a few more marginally effective soldiers for a draft that will most likely never happen.  Mr. Brinker freely admits this when he relays that “draft first soldiers” would still need refreshment training before they are combat ready.

The money used to fund college for soldiers would be better earmarked for military equipment and more active duty personnel, which would do a better job of deterring war anyway.  Soldiers don’t fight with a college degree, but they use equipment, ships, airplanes, and other systems that are developed and deployed. The strategic situations in which they fight also depend on the political decisions that are made prior to any engagement. The American tendency to decrease the size of the military and parsimonious spending during peace time means that soldiers are often thrown into combat with obsolete and ineffectual equipment in disadvantageous strategic situations.  The Devastator torpedo bombers used by American forces at the beginning of World War II were basically flying coffins against the Japanese Zero. The initial delivery of Sherman tanks to Africa had guns that plinked off German armor. And the American units in Korea operated as a fireman force stemming one breakthrough after another around the Pusan perimeter.  A modest investment of funds injected into keeping skilled personnel on active duty and keeping a stock of equipment from World War II would have done far more to prevent conflict in Korea in the first place and presented American forces with a better strategic situation in which to fight than slightly better trained draftees.

Overall, the fortress USA concept seems a bit misguided, and is an attempt to justify more social spending.  Lowering the cost of education is a fantastic goal.  A more advantageous one might be to continually assess and reassess potential threats to our country and try to advocate for better policies that will avoid the need for a draft in the first place.

Morgan Deane is an OpsLens Contributor and a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst.

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