From Bush down, officials say there'll be no draft--but makings are there WAR IN THE GULF

January 20, 1991|By Stephen E. Nordlinger | Stephen E. Nordlinger,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Despite the possibility of a protracted Persian Gulf war with extensive ground action, the Bush administration is ruling out the revival of compulsory military service.

However, calls have been flooding Selective Service offices with questions about the prospects for a draft, and anti-war activists and draft resisters are planning an early February session here to review the outlook for a draft.

"We are getting thousands of calls a week from young men, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers asking whether there is going to be a draft and how it will work," said Barbi Richardson, a spokeswoman for Selective Service.

But there appears to be virtually no prospect for a draft. The administration is using every opportunity to knock down any suggestion that the draft, abolished in 1973, would be resumed to provide manpower for the gulf conflict.

"There are no plans to reimpose a draft," said the chief Pentagon spokesman, Pete Williams. "The Congress and the public made the decision some time ago to go to a professional, full-time army of people who volunteer and receive full training."

Ms. Richardson said "we haven't heard anything from the White House or Congress about a draft."

Pentagon officials said it would take months to train and ship contingents of draftees to the war zone -- far longer than the administration believes it will take to dislodge Iraqi forces from Kuwait. By current law, draftees may not be sent overseas for 90 days after induction.

In addition, officials conceded that the administration has a political motive for opposing a renewed draft since it fears conscription would almost certainly fan the kind of anti-war protests that erupted in the Vietnam War era.

Even though the president's authority to conduct a draft expired in July 1973, three months after the last American soldiers left Vietnam, the machinery remains in place and could be activated quickly if Congress and the president ordered it to be resumed, according to the Selective Service.

Under current law, men must register for the standby draft when they turn 18, and the information is fed into a nationwide computer. Women are exempt.

The data bank -- secretly located near Chicago to avoid sabotage -- contains the names of 15 million draft-eligible men.

Should a draft be reinstituted, those turning 20 the year the call-up began would be the first mustered into service. A lottery would be held to determine draft priorities by birth date, such as March 12 or June 10, and the order of call-up.

Next would come 21-year-old men, and then others by age up to 25. The first Western Union Mailgrams of notification would be sent within about three days after a draft was authorized, and the men would have 10 days to report for induction.

The summons would simply say "order to report for induction," and it would include a travel voucher for the nearest military processing center.

Draftees could seek reclassifications based on hardship or status as conscientious objectors, but they would be required to serve either in a non-combat position or in a civilian job that benefited the nation.

Delays also could be granted for emergencies, such as illness or a death in the family.

But under a change that took effect near the end of the Vietnam War, student or job-related deferments have been eliminated. Students drafted now would be deferred only until the end of their current semester.

Still, debate continues over whether a draft should indeed be revived.

James Webb, Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, says a draft should be resumed "to avoid troop shortages."

Others argue that a draft would be more democratic in broadening the base of the fighting force, which has been criticized by some as including a disproportionate number of minorities.

Influential lawmakers, however, oppose reviving the draft on grounds that introducing non-volunteer servicemen and women would lower the quality and morale of the volunteer force.

Representative G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery, D-Miss., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the current system is more dependable because it uses "people who want to be there."

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