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Small Minority Says Draft Could Happen

Even if the military needed huge numbers of troops quickly, predicted Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Pentagon first would increase recruitment with new incentives, mobilize all the reserves and take other steps, such as twisting the arms of allies to contribute troops. "At that point, the draft might be instituted, but only after every other work-around possible," Kohn said.

Many more defense experts say the United States would need a draft if its homeland comes under a clear threat. The requirement for new soldiers could then increase sharply because a large crisis in the United States would call upon the National Guard, which is being used heavily to supplement the active-duty U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are 173,172 Guard and reserve troops now on active duty, many of them in those two countries.

These members of the 2nd Infantry Division were among the soldiers moved from South Korea to Iraq. (Kim Kyung-hoon -- Reuters)

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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Lawson W. Magruder III said it might be possible that a draft would be needed to produce soldiers who could "serve as a backfill -- replacements -- for deployed National Guard units, if we have insufficient force to defend our own homeland from looming terrorist threats."

Likewise, a commander in the 82nd Airborne Division said he thinks it is possible that there could be a narrowly focused draft aimed only at filling the National Guard and Army Reserve but that keeps the active-duty Army an all-volunteer force.

Several national security specialists predicted that it would take more than just a vague threat to the homeland to resume the draft. "It will take something very emotion-charged to galvanize those in favor and immobilize those who would otherwise be opposed," said retired Army Col. Ralph Hallenbeck, who worked in Iraq last year as a contractor. But he noted that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the political debate on whether to invade Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Some experts believe that even if there is a clear and urgent need for a draft, political leaders will shy away from the idea.

"There is no question that the growing gap between the supply of U.S. ground forces and the actual and potential demands for them is approaching a condition of unacceptable strategic risk, if we are not there already," said Jeffrey Record, a professor of strategy at the Air Force's Air War College.

Record, who is also the author of "Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq," a scathing critique of the Bush administration's handling of the war, said he expects other steps to be taken, more along the lines of market-oriented solutions. "I can see an expansion of the AVF [all-volunteer force] via major increases in pay and benefits," he said. "I can even see the hiring of foreign mercenaries, which is essentially what we are doing in Iraq. The Defense Department has outsourced everything else. Why not badly needed ground combat forces?"

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