The call for a return to conscription can no longer be ignored. The latest polls, conducted in early July, show that by a margin of 59 to 33 percent, the American people favor a return to the draft. And no wonder: many leading newspapers and national news magazines have written off the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) as a failure, and pronounced the draft a panacea for all of the personnal ills of the military.

Unfortunately, media exposes of the real or perceived faults of the AVF include almost nothing about how a draft would work, how conscription would correct the ills of the AVF or how the military would have to adjust to a force of conscripts. Such an examination is not a defene of the AVF. If the nation is to change the way it mans its armed forces, it should understand not only the failings of the existing system, but also how an alternative might improve the situation and what new problems may develop.

As currently constituted, Selective Service is not designed to correct the problems of the AVF. The reforms of the past decade and current efforts to revitalize the system provide a firm manpower mobilization capability. Such charges as the national lottery for a single prime age group eliminate many problems of the Vietnam era and improve the fairness of any future draft. However, these reforms were directed at considerations of individual equity, not the correction of each systemic personnel problems as skill shortages. Current procedures, which rely upon random selection to help ensure fairness, reduce the discretionary ability to obtain specific skills or provide capabilities that may be needed in the AVF.

Over the past seven years, the Army has averaged more then 97 percent of its quantitative goal for new male enlistees. This goal averaged about 142,000 per year. Even in the Army's poorest year, fiscal 1979, it still recruited 86 percent of its goal.

If the Army continues to enlist men at the current rate, and the need for military personnel does not substantially increase, the draft might have to provide no more than 10 percent of the Army's new male soldiers. As such, the draft would do little to change the profile of today's military accessions, unless we altered current policies to restrict severely the number of volunteers, decrease pay to make the military less attractive or exclude previously acceptable individuals by raising physical and mental standards. Table 1, based upon the ARMY'S LATEST (FY 81) recruiting results, shows the impact of various alternatives.

The past has shown that the American people will not accept conscription unless it is perceived as fair. A system that selects as few as one in 100 20-year-old males could be perceived as arbitrary, even if technically fair.

Yet, if 90 percent of the force continued to be volunteer, fewer than one in 100 men would be inducted. If the system turned away acceptable volunteers, or raised standards to exclude certain classes of people, it might lose the support of the public.

Current efforts to improve quality raise questions of fairness if applied to a draft system based upon random selection. The law now imposes a limit on the proportion of men in the lowest acceptable mental category (Category IV) who volunteer or could be drafted.

If the law were not changed, Selective Service would have to administor a dual system -- one lottery list for persons in Category IV, and another for those scoring higher on written tests. Such a dual system would surely be criticized for creating a favored class in the lowest mental category.

In short, the draft may do little to affect the quality of the force, and it could be pereceived to impose heavy demands on only an unlucky few. It is not the panacea the critics of the AVF are looking for.

The military would also have to adapt to a return of conscription. Under current Selective Service procedures, the draft population would consist solely of men in their 20th year. This has implications for both the maturity of the force and the skills that new people bring.

Another more basis change concerns motivation. A fundamental truth of the AVF is that, at least at the beginning of an enlistee's career, he wants to be in the military. This is not necessarily true of a conscript. In an AVF, some enlistees may conceal drug use or homosexuality. Under conscription, a draftee may seek to fabricate such disqualifying factors. The military would have to adjust its standards to prevent the simple use of marijuana from beginning a major loophole.

If the military continues a liberal "for-the-good-of-the-service" discharge program for "ineffective" personnel, as it has under the AVF, the draft might quickly turn into a revolving door, with only the unaware and unsophisticated remaining. Even for the military, the draft is no panacea.

The draft deserves serious examination as an alternative to the AVF. Up to this point, little attention has focused on the type of draft that might be needed, or to an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.

After full consideration, it may well turn out that the nation should return to conscription. However, that decision should be made on the strengths of the draft, not the weakness of the AVF, lest we find that we have traded one bad policy for another. Table 1 Percent New Male Accessions by Mental Group [TABLE OMITTED]