What to Do with the Selective Service System?

Historical Lessons and Future Posture

by Bernard D. Rostker

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Research Questions

  1. How has the Selective Service System operated over time?
  2. What challenges has it faced, and what challenges might it face in the future?
  3. What alternative solutions might be implemented?

Since the end of conscription in 1973, the question of what to do with the Selective Service System has been asked again and again. The author, a former Director of Selective Service, reviews the history of registration since the advent of the all-volunteer force. He highlights the original decision to place the Selective Service System in "deep standby," the decision to suspend registration, and then President Carter's decision to reinstate registration in 1980. He then considers each of the arguments President Clinton made in 1994: the "low-cost insurance" argument, the "society's link to the armed forces" argument, and the "committed population" and "showing resolve" argument in light of the history and current state of Selective Service. Finally, the author examines the current registration program and offers alternatives.

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute (NDRI), a federally funded research and development center.

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