Political Theory, US Politics

Universal Draft.

The whole Iraq thing makes me think about draft armies.

Going into Iraq or not is not simply a question of removing Saddams WMDs or his entire regime [ note: did anybody see today’s Dubya footage on CNN? He said, and I think I am quoting, “that guy has WMDs. Those are the worst weapons available”. Seriously, I am willing to try not to underestimate W because of his apparent lack of eloquence and good marks in college (like, eg, Norman Mailer and about 95% of Europeans do) but there is a limit to what I can bear in the name of populistic simplification. Quotes like the one above are way beyond that threshold. ] long term energy supply or even helping one of the many oppressed peoples of this world to rid themselves of those villains who pose as their government. It is also a question shaking some of the core values of liberal democracy.

War cannot be regarded as a just another cost category in a diplomatic game. It is not barely an extension of the political – the times of von Clausewitz have long passed. Or so most people, and I think, politicicians, used to think.

The changing geo-strategic landscape during the 1990s led me to the conclusion that large universal draft armies will likely be worse than smaller, professional volunteer armies when it comes to providing international security in a rapidly changing environment. In a world surprised by new varieties of mostly ethnically, nationally, or religiously motivated armed (often distributional) conflicts. The nature of threats to national security had changed, as was most dramatcially illustrated on September 11, 2001. As a consequence, a universal draft seemed no longer justified to many. The most prominent example thereof is certainly the French draft abandonment in 1997.

Small, mobile volunteer armies (navies, air forces) clearly are better equipped and trained than a draft army could ever be. Their professionality allows a peace-keeping and peace-making deployments in areas and conflicts unconceivable for draft armies whose predominant task was to defend their own country.

However, in conjunction with the public’s perceived virtualisation of war (just think of this one image of the flat-screen laden US control cetre in Quatar that CNN airs all the time), a lowered individual risk for the soldiers involved reduces the political risk associated with the pursuit of armed conflicts. Sure, moral convictions will matter to most – to some extent. Chances are, we are wittnessing that war is again becoming publicly perceived of as just another means of politics, just as it was – a long time ago. Of course, from a perspective of Realpolitik (one of the few non violent German contributions to the English language…) the use of military power was, and will probably always depend on a political and economic cost/benefit calculation. But, among many others, the very fact that this was not an acceptable argument kept the costs higher than they seem to be today.

I doubt this sentiment is uniquely American, although the US is clearly the concept’s most prominent advocate at the moment. But I suppose things are going to change in Europe, too. On New Year’s Eve, I bet a German officer that Germany is going to build a first Aircraft Carrier until 2010. This is troubling, of course. The kind of conflicts we are facing today are unlikely to disappear in the near future. Volunteer armies clearly are the best military response – should response be deemed unavoidable. Thus the problem – is the disappearance of draft armies indicating an inflation of “unavoidable” conflicts? Just as the Vietnam experience demonstrated to the US that non defensive draft soldier deployments are almost unfeasable in a democracy because of societal opposition.

As said above, draft armies would be far less effective in most modern kinds of conflict (well, according to those who pretend to know about these things). So universal draft would not actually solve the problem at hand – how can today’s liberal democracies keep a professional army as well as create new cost categories for decision makers to increase the political risk associated with armed conflicts without a unversial draft?

I have no idea. But I think that is actually a very important question.