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Would Instituting A Draft Get the U.S. Out of Afghanistan?

Would Instituting A Draft Get the U.S. Out of Afghanistan?


The United States has been fighting a war in Afghanistan Since 2001, costing thousands of lives and more than a trillion dollars. Today, many Americans are unaware of our continued presence in the country and much fewer understand why the U.S. is still there. Would a military draft raise people’s awareness of wars fought by their country? How would this change war support in the U.S.?

In the News:

“The single most indefensible and brain-dead aspect of U.S. foreign policy today remains the fruitless but never-ending effort to defeat the Taliban and achieve some sort of meaningful victory in Afghanistan.”

“A quick review: The United States originally sent troops to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, in order to capture Osama bin Laden and topple the Taliban government, which had refused to give bin Laden up…But bin Laden is now dead…So, the original rationale that took the United States into the heart of Central Asia is now irrelevant.”

Unfortunately, the United States and its allies also decided the time was ripe to turn Afghanistan into some sort of Western-style liberal democracy, despite its lack of democratic traditions, deep internal divisions, high levels of illiteracy, poverty, interfering neighbors, and other significant obstacles. And Washington has been pursuing that elusive grail ever since, with about as much success as you’d expect. At last count, that war has cost the United States more than a trillion dollars, and it is still costing American taxpayers some $45 billion per year. More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed and thousands more wounded, along with hundreds of contractors and coalition partners and thousands of Afghan civilians, soldiers, and police. What does the United States have to show for all these sacrifices? Today, the Taliban control more territory than at any time since they were ousted from power. The number of civilian casualties peaked in 2017 and remains on a similar pace this year, and the number of insurgent attacks per year has been rising steadily too. Opium production is at an all-time high as well, despite the billions of dollars the United States has spent on various eradication plans. The Afghan government remains irredeemably corrupt, internally divided, and ineffective.”

“Wars like this continue in part because 1) no one wants to fess up and admit the United States is not omnipotent, 2) they are being fought by volunteers rather than draftees, 3) U.S. casualty rates are now quite low, and 4) because it is easy to get distracted by Trump’s latest outrage and forget about a distant war that is rarely mentioned on radio or TV and is mostly confined to the back pages of the newspaper. And so, the war drones on, no pun intended, with little hope of either victory or withdrawal.”

Insight from Peace Science:

  • Instituting a draft would decrease support for war as it would leave fewer people insulated from war’s costs.
  • Democrats are more sensitive than Republicans to a change to the draft, as well as to information about whether the draft (and/or the AVF) makes military sacrifice more or less equal.
  • Partisan lenses matter to the public’s interpretation of questions of war and peace, specifically whether they will support a war in light of the institution (or non-institution) of the draft and concerns about inequality

With the advent of the U.S.-led ‘Global War on Terror’ in 2001, and the age of seemingly unending military engagements it brought with it, fought by members of an all-volunteer military, there is concern that much of the U.S. public has the luxury of insulating itself from the warfare it is supporting (or at least enabling) abroad. This study investigates the important question of whether decisions to go to war would change if those called on to fight came more equitably from families across the socioeconomic and geographic spectrum.

The practical implications of this research are ambiguous and potentially troubling: 1) According to this research, the policy that would most diminish public support for war—and therefore potentially make war less likely—would be bringing back the draft and making it unequal in its requirements for military sacrifice across socioeconomic classes, which is not a policy many people would want to entertain. 2) Instead, however, activists can engage in public education efforts to highlight current inequalities in military sacrifice under the AVF, as this might decrease public support for war, even in the absence of the draft. 3) More broadly, this research brings to light the central fact that in order for war to be fought, there must be soldiers to fight it. Countries have certain “manpower” requirements to carry out their military actions, therefore those troops actually wield an enormous—if under-recognized and under-utilized— amount of power to resist war-making. As the old saying from the 1960s goes, “suppose they gave a war and no one came?”


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