National Commission Recommends Extending Draft Registration to Women

This morning the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS) released its final report, recommending that Congress amend the Military Selective Service Act to require that young women, as well as young men, register for the draft when they reach 18 years of age, and inform the Selective Service System each time they change their address until their 26th birthday.

In my testimony to the NCMNPS in April 2019, I told the Commissioners:

Any proposal that includes a compulsory element is a naïve fantasy unless it includes a credible enforcement plan and budget…. How much are you prepared to spend, and how much of a police state are you prepared to set up, to round up the millions of current draft registration law violators or enforce a draft?

The Commission’s recommendations with respect to Selective Service registration are just such a naïve fantasy, completely unfeasible and with no foundation in research or reality. The Commission kept its head firmly in the sand, carefully avoiding any inquiry into whether or how the current (unenforced and widely violated) registration requirement for men, much less an expanded registration requirement applicable also to women, could be enforced.

There’s no mention at all in the report’s 255 pages of compliance or noncompliance with draft registration. There’s been no audit of the registration database since 1982, and the Commission didn’t conduct or ask for one.

The Department of Justice is, and would remain, responsible for enforcement of the registration requirement. But nobody has been prosecuted for nonregistration since 1986, and since then, as I pointed out in my testimony, “the Department of Justice – conspicuously absent from the witness list for these hearings – has made neither any estimate of the numbers of violators nor any plan or budget for how to identify, investigate, find, arrest, prosecute, or incarcerate them.”

The preliminary report the NCMNPS received from the Department of Justice didn’t mention enforcement, and the Commission didn’t bother to follow up with the DoJ about the omission. The Commission never met with the DoJ, and didn’t call any witnesses from the DoJ to testify at its hearings. When Commission staff convened an interagency working group of representatives from 25 other agencies and departments to consult on possible recommendations, the DoJ wasn’t invited. The Commissioners went to extreme lengths to avoid asking any questions about compliance, noncompliance, enforcement, or feasibility – because they knew that even cursory research into these questions would make clear that draft registration of men has failed, and that trying to register women would be even more of a failure.

According to a statement from peace and antidraft organizations and activists, including antiwar feminists:

The issue is not whether women should have to register for the draft, but whether the government should be planning or preparing to draft anyone.

Congress should end draft registration for all, not try to expand it to young women as well as young men.

H.R. 5492 would end the current contingency planning for a future draft as well as draft registration, and would end all sanctions against those who didn’t register. That’s the appropriate choice for Congress and the American public.

The NCMNPS was directed by Congress to consider the “feasibility” of any draft. But registering or drafting women would not be feasible in the face of the likely widespread noncompliance. Women and men will join in resistance to any attempt to expand draft registration, or plans for a draft, to women.

Draft registration for men failed: criminal enforcement had to be abandoned decades ago in the face of pervasive noncompliance. Even the former Director of the Selective Service System testified to the NCMNPS that the current Selective Service System database is “less than useless” as the basis for a draft. Trying to draft women or get them to register to be drafted would be even more of a fiasco.

Making contingency plans for a draft that would include women would be an exercise in self-delusion by the Selective Service System and military planners. Even more women than men would resist if the government tried to draft them.

Congress is under no legal obligation and has no deadline to consider the recommendations made today by the NCMNPS. But if Congress does nothing, draft registration is likely to be ended before long by court order. So Congress is likely to consider both the Commission’s recommendations and the alternative of H.R. 5492 either later this year or at the latest in 2021.

A public forum in Washington, DC, planned by the NCMNPS has been postponed, but you can still register to receive updates when it is rescheduled. A Senate hearing on the NCMNPS report has also been postponed. Only members of the NCMNPS, and not any of its critics or those with other views, were invited to testify at the Senate hearing, but the ranking member of the parallel House Committee suggested in a statement today after being briefed by members of the NCMNPS that he may want to hear from at least some of the Commission’s critics during House hearings.

The NCMNPS report doesn’t mention the bill to end draft registration and preparations for a draft entirely, H.R. 5492, even though that proposal was submitted to the Commission by its initial sponsor, Rep. Peter DeFazio, and endorsed by many antidraft organizations and activists. It’s important that if a bill to implement the Commission’s recommendations is considered in Congress, H.R. 5492 is considered at the same time as an alternative.

The issue isn’t likely to come to head in Congress for months, but it’s important to start mobilizing opposition and raising awareness now that this debate is going to happen. The government doesn’t readily admit failure or acknowledge that the willingness of the people to comply with its orders places limits on what it can do. The decisive factor is likely to be whether, when the time comes for Congress to vote on whether to end draft registration or extend it to women, members of Congress see sufficient visible evidence that young women – as young men have done, but probably in even larger numbers – will resist if the government tries to draft them or get them to register to be drafted, and that many older people will support them in that resistance.

Edward Hasbrouck maintains the Resisters.info website and was one of the expert witnesses invited to testify before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Reprinted with permission from Edward Hasbrouck’s website.