I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Army
The President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force – the Gates Commission – and Selective Service Reform (1969-1970)
We unanimously believe that the nation’s interest will be better served by an all-volunteer force, supported by an effective stand-by draft, than by a mixed force of volunteers and conscripts.
— The Gates Commission1
Acting on a Campaign Promise
Richard Nixon was elected President on November 5, 1968. He immediately set up a transition team that included distinguished economist Arthur Burns, assisted by Martin Anderson.2 Burns and Anderson were both from Columbia University and both had been part of Nixon’s campaign organization. By one account, W. Allen Wallis,3 President of the University of Rochester, approached Burns in December and reminded him of the President-elect’s pledge to end the draft. According to Walter Oi, who had moved to the University of Rochester by then, this is what happened:
Burns said that if Wallis could show how the draft could be abolished at an extra cost of no more than $1 billion in the first year, he would bring the matter before President-elect Nixon. When Wallis returned to Rochester on December 19, 1968, he called William H. Meckling, dean of the Graduate School of Management. Meckling quickly assembled a research team consisting of Martin J. Bailey, Harry J. Gilman, and Walter Oi. In the next ten days, this team prepared a short position paper that developed a plan to end conscription and outlined the steps needed to implement the plan. This paper, accompanied by a cover letter to Arthur Burns, was carried by a messenger to New York City on December 31, 1968. . . . When this plan was forwarded to Mr. Nixon’s transition team on December 31, 1968, a decision was made to establish a presidential commission. It is Wallis’s impression that the idea for a presidential commission came from Arthur Burns. (Oi, 1996, p. 44)4
Anderson’s recollections are somewhat different. He recalls that he and Burns were charged to develop an action plan for the initial days of the new administration. Such efforts always start with a list of campaign promises (Anderson, 2001), and there was no more prominent a campaign promise for Nixon than to end conscription. On January 6, 1969, Burns sent their paper, Suggestions for Early Action, Consideration or Pronouncements, to the President-elect. The section of this report that deals with conscription started by noting that “one of your strongest pledges during the campaign was the eventual abolition of the draft” (Burns, 19690.2 MB).5
Even before that, on December 24, 1968, Anderson wrote secretary-designate Melvin Laird to remind him of “President-Elect Nixon’s . . . policy statements on an All Volunteer Armed Force [and asked for] any early reactions, however, tentative” (Anderson, 19680.3 MB). Laird recalls “it was suggested in Key Biscayne, in the third week of December 1968, that a commission be set up to study the idea of an all volunteer force” (Laird, 2003a, p. 4).6
Five days after the inauguration (January 25, 1969), at a meeting of the National Security Council, President Nixon raised the issue of the Selective Service and the all-volunteer force. From this beginning, the two issues — moving to an all-volunteer force and reforming Selective Service — were tied together in a White House strategy that saw progress on both fronts as necessary and complementary, even though the all-volunteer force would negate the need for the draft. At this point in the new administration, it was not possible to see which military personnel procurement alternative, conscription or an all-volunteer force, would prevail. Reflecting this dual strategy, Nixon asked Laird for two
papers relating to Selective Service. The first paper was to concern itself with the possibility of a transition to an all-volunteer Army, or Armed Forces. . . . The second paper was to provide . . . [Laird’s] views on the draft. (Laird, 1969b0.2 MB)7
1 February 20, 1970 (Gates, 1970, p. iii6.7 MB).
2 Friedman notes that “Nixon appointed Arthur [Burns] counselor to the president as a temporary post until he could appoint him chairman [of the Federal Reserve] the next year. Martin Anderson served as an assistant to [Burns]” (Friedman, 1998, p. 377).
3 For Wallis’s views on the draft and an all-volunteer force see his speech before the Rochester, New York, chapter of the American Legion, November 11, 1968, see Wallis (1976).
4 The Rochester group prepared four “working papers.” A copy of the “Policy Options and Discussion” sent to Arthur Burns on December 31, 1968, was among the papers of former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird archived at the Ford Presidential Library (Wallis et al., 19683.4 MB). The cover letter and two other working papers — “Military Manpower Requirements: FY 1969-71” and “Force Reductions” — are in the archives of the University of Rochester. The working paper, “Military Pay Proposal for FY 1970,” is apparently missing.
5 While Burns’s paper makes no reference to a paper from the University of Rochester, Wallis would be one of the members of the soon-to-be-established Presidential commission, and people from Rochester filled many key positions on the staff.
6 Laird recalls that several alternatives were discussed at Key Biscayne, but those
present . . . decided that this approach — an independent commission — was the best, particularly given the considerable opposition to the concept of all-volunteer service in the military, especially from the Joint Chiefs and the service secretaries. (Laird, 2003a, p. 5)