Last week at AEI’s Enterprise Blog, Gary Schmitt reviewed Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ “extraordinary speech” at Duke University on the state of the America’s all-volunteer force. “What was noteworthy,” Gary explains, “was [the secretary’s] willingness to dive into the more subtle, but no less important issue of ‘the relationship between those in uniform and the wider society they have sworn to protect’”:
To start, Gates suggests that “for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction.” The fact is, today, less than 1 percent of Americans serve either in the active duty forces or the reserves. Moreover, as he also remarks, fewer and fewer Americans have ties to those who have served in the military. “In 1988 about 40 percent of 18-year-olds had a veteran parent. By 2000 the share had dropped to 18 percent, and is projected to fall below 10 percent in the future.” The familial ties that bind the military to the country are simply growing weaker.
So too the geographical and social ties. As Gates notes, the services focus their recruiting efforts where they are most likely to have success and that, in turn, means fishing in the waters where young men and women are familiar with the military. In turn, that typically means recruiting in areas where there are existing military bases, that is, where someone is likely to have a friend, a former classmate, a father or mother, who is serving or has served in the military. But precisely because of the last two decades worth of base consolidation, this has meant a smaller and smaller footprint from which the military is drawing recruits. For the Army in particular, Gates remarks, this has resulted in its bases largely concentrated in the states of Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, Washington, and North Carolina, leaving large swaths of the country “void,” in Gates words, “of relationships and understanding of the armed forces.”
These and other issues will be addressed in depth in a forthcoming report from AEI’s new Program on American Citizenship, which Gary directs, on the state of the military’s ROTC programs . Read his full post here.
(flickr/DoD photo by Cherie Cullen)
In the Wall Street Journal this morning, Arthur Brooks, Edwin Feulner, and William Kristol—the heads of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative, respectively—put forward an argument about the vital strategic importance of maintaining robust levels of U.S. defense spending, even as the country enters a period of fiscal constraint. “A weaker, cheaper military will not solve our financial woes,” they explain. “It will, however, make the world a more dangerous place, and it will impoverish our future.”
Read the full article here.