The United States Military Crisis in Personnel Strength

While the United States is regarded as having the most lethal military in the world, it is facing a crisis in recruiting enough personnel to fill its ranks. Ever since the United States transitioned to an all-voluntary military, there have been periods when the military had difficulties meeting its recruiting goals. While the US was heavily engaged with fighting in Iraq, it was still able to meet its personnel strength goals. There have been a handful of years that the military was short on recruitment, 1999, 2005 and 2018, but 2022 is shaping up to be its most challenging recruitment year yet.

While every service branch is facing headwinds in recruiting enough people to fill their ranks, it is the Army that is facing the stiffest challenge in meeting the Army’s personnel needs. The crisis is bad enough that the Army will have to cut 12,000 personnel slots because of a shortage of volunteers.

The Army has reduced its education requirements and is now accepting those personnel who have not graduated from High School or achieved a GED.  The Army has set an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) score of 50 to qualify for entry into the Army ranks. A score of 50 is a low score. With the increasingly technical aspects of modern warfare, these new recruits will have to be educated to the level where they can be able to use the sophisticated weapons systems that the Army deploys. This increases the training times for these troops and increases the cost of fielding an adequate force.

The issues driving the low recruitment numbers are a variety of factors. Chief factors are the lack of the physical ability of American youth, many who are considered too obese to enlist, prior criminal records, drug use (With marijuana becoming increasingly legal in the associate states, it is possible that the military may start to waive the use of marijuana), and the lack of education.

One senior Pentagon official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that…”This recruiting crisis is like a slow-moving wave coming at us.  As the military has gotten smaller and the public have gotten less and less familiar with those in uniform, it has grown. And Covid accelerated it.”

To make matters worse, there are more lucrative opportunities available to American youth than ever before. Starbucks and Amazon now offer their starting employees $15 an hour. That is an annual income of $31,200. An E-1 makes $1,833 a month which is $10.575 an hour which is an annual income of $21,996 a year in starting pay.

Is Conscription a Politically Viable Solution?

From 1940 to 1973, the United States practiced conscription to fill the ranks of the United States military. On September 16, 1940, the Selective Training and Service Act was passed.  From then until Congress ended the Act in 1973, the United States military depended on the draft to meet its personnel need

Richard Nixon during his 1968 presidential campaign promised to end the draft. After he was elected president, instead of ending the draft, he formed a study group headed by Thomas Gates Jr. Gates initially did not favor ending the draft, but later changed his mind and switched his support to ending the draft and switching to an all-volunteer force. The commission recommended that the Selective Service Act be abolished, but Nixon kept the draft alive until January of 1973. It was on January 27, 1973, that the Selective Service Act was allowed to expire and the all-volunteer military came into existence.

As noted above, the volunteer force has been successful except for a handful of years. With the end of the Cold War, the need for a large military ceased to exist. The military experienced a military personnel drawdown, and bonuses were offered to military members to leave the military. By 1993, the United States Army had reduced its ranks by 25%.

With the shortfall in qualified personnel to fill its ranks, it would be possible to reinstate the draft, and solve the strength issue facing the United States military. However, the majority of Americans who would be eligible for a draft, oppose reinstating the draft.

With the increased political tensions in the world, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and the increasingly aggressive behavior by China, the United States military finds its strength levels being reduced at a time where the possibility of military conflict is growing.

There is another possibility that the United States could consider, and that would be recruiting men and women from other countries to fill the shortage in the US military ranks.

Foreigners Joining Another Countries Military

While non-US citizens can join the US military, they must be legally living in the United States. Under current law, non-citizens who do not have the legal right to live in the United States cannot join the United States military at this time.

There are several countries that do allow enlistment into their country’s military:  There is Australia, France, India, New Zealand, Russia, and several other countries allow for the enlistment of qualified personnel to enlist into their militaries.

There is one exception to the rule of not allowing non-citizens joining the United States military. Currently the United States Navy allows 2,000 citizens of the Philippines to join the US Navy each year.

It would be a simple legislative matter to permit the enlistment of Filipino citizens to enter the United States military, contingent of course with the concurrence of the Filipino government.

A Cautionary Tale from History of a Voluntary Military

History teaches us that a professional military who becomes isolated from the general populace can become a dangerous issue for representative government.

Witness the fall of ancient Greek democracy, and the end of representative government of the Roman Republic.

At a time of a deeply divided populace, and a military which is increasingly becoming dis-associated with the civilian population, the conditions for the end of a representative form of government are present. The example of the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021, in the

United States capital is only the symptom of a larger malaise of democracy in the United States. Had the mob succeeded in stopping the counting of the electoral ballots, it is conceivable that the United States military might have interceded and established a military government in order to prevent chaos and protect the polity of the country from a hostile foreign power.

Richard E. Caroll
Richard E. Caroll
I am a retired economist, and a retired soldier. I have a degree in Economics and a degree in Liberal Arts. While in the military my specialty was in Intelligence and Administration.