The Universal Military Training and Service Act of 2001 (H.R. 3598), proposed by Representative Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, and Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania, seeks to
require the induction into the Armed Forces . . . young men registered under the Military Selective Service Act, and to authorize young women to volunteer, to receive basic military training and education for a period of up to one year.1
If made law, this bill would require male United States citizens and residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands aged 18 to 22, already required to register with the Selective Service, to become conscripts in the United States military for a term of not longer than one year. This bill would also allow female United States citizens and residents of the aforementioned American possessions aged 18 to 22 to volunteer for such service, but does not compel them to do so. A number of problems arise from the intent and wording of this bill, all of which will probably (and hopefully) prevent its passage or cause it to be overturned by the Supreme Court in the event the bill becomes law.
Firstly, the law would make conscripts out of many thousands of young men. If someone does not volunteer for the often dangerous profession of being a military servicemember, it is often because they have no desire to or feel no calling to serve their country in that manner. Why would a highly trained, professional military force want to take thousands of unwilling soldiers into its ranks? It is likely hard enough to fight a war without having to prod the reluctant conscripts into the fray. Perhaps it is better to have a force of motivated, dedicated volunteers than a lumbering, unwieldy army of draftees who are loath to fight. I may be generalizing, but I don't think most American men aged 18 to 22 would care to be drafted. Whether they're aware of history (and thus remember how conscripts' normal civilian lives were ripped apart when the Vietnam war draft call came) or not (and thus simply wish to enjoy the freedom of being an young American adult), men not inclined to join the military ought not be there. These young men might well make a better contribution to society by spending that year in college, or working and consuming like every other patriotic American.
Secondly, spending "up to one year" in military training and education provides very little useful knowledge to the conscripts. Basic military training takes upwards of two months, wherein the military indoctrinates trainees into military culture and prepares them for advanced training. Advanced training can take anywhere from less than a year to several years, depending on the level of expertise required in the field. The most advanced, complex duties in the military require the most school; accordingly, these skills are the ones most transferrable to the civilian world (e.g., paralegal, electronics, heavy equipment maintenance, chaplaincy). If unwilling soldiers only plan to be in the military for the required one year, they leave the service having trained in the infantry, ordnance, naval gunnery, or other skills that, while necessary and worthwhile in the military, do not transfer easily to the civilian world. There isn't much call in the corporate or non-profit world for someone who knows how to load AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles onto an F-15 or can field-strip a SAW blindfolded. Additionally, the conscripts are paid less than what other servicemembers make: "the monthly basic pay of the person may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of an enlisted member in a regular component in the pay grade E–1 with less than four months of service."1 Currently, according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, servicemembers of the rank E-1 receive $964.80 a month in basic pay2. The most a conscript would then make is around $338 a month, which at the time of this writing is well below the national poverty line. At the end of their term, conscripts would receive a bone in the form of a pro-rated GI Bill. At the end of the day, the compensation (whether educational, vocational, or monetary) conscripts receive is hardly worth the year the government would be extorting from them.
Thirdly, the military would not see much of a win out of this situation. Aside from having a very large standing army at any given time, the military would be spending a great deal of money without getting much of a return on its investment. I have no numbers to illustrate how much it costs to train an individual to be a soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or coast guardsman, but I'm sure it takes quite a bit for the military to house, clothe, feed, and train a reluctant conscript for an entire year. By the time the military would ordinarily have a useful servicemember to work with, that conscript can just leave and try to pick up some semblance of a civilian life. The only win for the military is having a large supply of warm bodies in the event of a war, being able to meet its metrics for new recruits, and keeping the handful of conscripts who might decide the military is right for them. Even with those marginal victories in hand, the military isn't exactly getting a plum deal out of H.R. 3598.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly in terms of legality, is the problematic Constitutional issues surrounding the bill. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.3
Because this bill targets young men aged 18 to 22 for compulsory military training, yet does not require the same of young women aged similarly (though it does provide an opportunity for them to volunteer), it does not provide the equal protection or due process required by the Amendment. Sexist laws can cut both ways. Assuming American lawmakers have forgotten how the Constitution works and this bill can survive the House Armed Services Committee, make it through the full House, and actually make it into law, the Supreme Court will likely have it's hand at it. With any luck, SCOTUS will find it unconstitutional. Hopefully, it won't have to get that far.
At the time of this writeup, this bill is making its way through the House Armed Services Committee. I will update this writeup with further details as they arise.
1. U.S. House of Representatives, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c107:H.R.3598:
2. Defense Finance and Accounting Service, http://www.dfas.mil/money/milpay/pay/01-2001.pdf
3. US Constitution, Amendment XIV, http://www.house.gov/Constitution/Amend.html