June 18, 2024

New CNAS Report Assesses U.S. Mobilization Capabilities

New report explores the U.S. capability to implement a draft in a 21st century near-peer conflict

Washington, June 18, 2024 – Today, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a new report, Back to the Drafting Board: U.S. Draft Mobilization Capability for Modern Operational Requirements by Katherine L. Kuzminski and Taren Dillon Sylvester.

The report emphasizes that while no American president, member of Congress, or citizen desires the level of conflict necessary to require a conscripted military force, it is precisely for this reason that the laws, policies, and processes to enact a draft must work if needed.

The report explores the U.S. capability to implement a draft to meet the military requirements of a 21st century near-peer conflict in which the professional all-volunteer force could be rendered combat ineffective. It discusses whether the systems and mechanisms to mobilize the nation, untested since the elimination of conscription in 1973, are still functional and sufficient to ensure the nation’s defense.

The report highlights the deterrent effect a robust, effective mobilization infrastructure can have on U.S. adversaries. The authors drew on lessons from the history of conscription in America, past U.S. mobilization exercises, and expert interviews with government officials, uniformed military leaders, and policymakers to design a tabletop exercise aimed at identifying realistic obstacles to mobilization under current law and policy.

To address the challenges to effectively implementing a draft to meet the mobilization requirements of a future conflict, this report proposes that:

  • The U.S. government should conduct regular mobilization exercises across the whole of government to test the preparedness and resilience planning for enacting a draft;
  • The Department of Defense (DoD) should appoint and empower an executive agent for national mobilization, in accordance with the FY2022 NDAA, to act as the singular head of coordinating all mobilization efforts;
  • Congress should preemptively identify and address likely legal challenges to a future draft, such as the expansion of the Selective Service System (SSS) registration requirement to include all Americans, before conscription is needed;
  • The SSS should educate the public on the meaning and service requirements of conscientious objector claims to alleviate misconceptions; and
  • The DoD should assess the military operational requirements of a future conflict and how a conscripted force might best integrate with and support the professional all-volunteer force to ensure U.S. victory.

By addressing the gaps in current mobilization structures, the U.S. can increase its deterrence and resilience against near-peer adversaries.

Tune in today from 12:00–1:00 p.m. ET for a virtual event featuring report author, Katherine Kuzminski, CNAS Fellow Andrew Metrick, and Vox’s Senior World Correspondent Joshua Keating, who will discuss the report’s key findings. Register here.

For more information or to schedule an interview with the report authors, please contact Alexa Whaley at [email protected]. 

Military, Veterans & Society

Back to the Drafting Board

Executive Summary For the first time since the Cold War, the United States faces threats from great power competitors. These advanced threats—particularly the pacing threat of...

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