April 28, 2020

CNAS Military, Veterans, and Society Program Launches New Initiative: Unfit: Addressing the Military's Eligibility Crisis

The CNAS Military, Veterans, and Society Program today announced the launch of “Unfit: Addressing the Military's Eligibility Crisis,” an initiative examining the national security risks of the United States’ diminishing pool of eligible military recruits. In a series of briefing papers, CNAS researchers will outline the inherent structural trends contributing to the shrinking pool of eligible recruits and assess what policy changes at the federal, state, and local level could ameliorate these issues.

Since the end of the military draft in 1973 and the transition to the All-Volunteer Force (AVF), the U.S. military has significantly professionalized and increased the quality of its service members. However, despite the overall quality and strength of the military, the AVF has displayed significant fragility when it comes to recruitment. The Department of Defense requires specific age, education, physical, mental, and moral standards for joining the armed forces.

Unfortunately, the convergent demographic and structural trends in American society have diminished the pool of potential recruits who can meet these high standards: an estimated 71 percent, or 24 million out of a population of 34 million 18-to-24-year-olds, are ineligible for military service. As these trends persist, they will continue to pose challenges for recruiting the high-quality personnel needed in today’s military.

MVS will release a five-part series of briefs covering the major disqualifiers of obesity, education, criminal justice, health, and lack of interest in service. Briefs will address the scope of each problem, what federal and state/local policy and legislative changes could address the first four of these trends, as well as how the military could address these issues either through modifying standards or other options. The final brief will consider how to increase interest in military service.

“Addressing the trends reducing the pool of those eligible to serve is a vital component of our military strength, which ultimately undergirds America’s global posture,” said MVS Director Kayla Williams. “Ensuring the strength of the All-Volunteer Force is an essential component of American competitiveness.”

For more information or to request an interview with the project leaders, contact CNAS Communications at comms@cnas.org or (202) 457-9409.