27 September 2023

UNITED STATES: National service register under review

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The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service has held public hearings on the US Selective Service System, including whether to add women to the list, increase the role of the civilian Public Service, or scrap the whole thing entirely.

Selective Service was set up after World War II with the aim of keeping tabs on citizens potentially subject to military service.

It requires all male US citizens and immigrant non-citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 to be registered.

In practice, the Selective Service has minimal practical effect today since the US military operates on a volunteer basis.

Nevertheless, it is seen as a contingency mechanism if conscription should someday become necessary again.

Chair of the Commission, Joseph Heck said the goal of the work was not to find a popular consensus on changes but instead “what is the best answer for the needs of the nation”.

The idea of registering women for a possible future draft has drawn heated debate in recent months, particularly since a Federal District Court ruled in February that the male-only draft was unconstitutional.

The White House says it will appeal that decision.

In hearings, Acting Under-Secretary for Personnel, James Stewart put the case for continuing the system.

“While the military has no battle plans that envision mobilisation beyond the all-volunteer force, having a contingency draft process in place in case of a catastrophic emergency represents an important safety net for the country,” Mr Stewart said.

Supporters of the idea that women should be included in the draft say it should be a non-issue as female military volunteers are already performing in combat.

Opponents say conscripted women are less likely to meet physical fitness requirements and are more likely to face injury in military training.

Panel members have discussed replacing or supplementing the draft registration process with other opportunities in Public Service–related organisations such as the Peace Corps or Teach America.

Washington, DC, 28 April 2019

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