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Will there be a US draft?

The possibility of a military draft in the United States is a topic that generates a lot of discussion and speculation, especially during times of conflict or heightened global tensions. America has not had an active military draft since 1973, during the Vietnam War. Currently, the U.S. armed forces are made up entirely of volunteers serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and associated Reserve and National Guard units. However, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency plan in case a draft is enacted in the future during a time of crisis.

Many young men in America are still required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18. This ensures a pool of names is available in case Congress and the President decide to enact an emergency draft. There are legal repercussions for not registering as required. However, simply being registered does not mean you will automatically be drafted. The last time a draft lottery was held was on December 1, 1969, for the Vietnam War.

Is there currently an active military draft in the U.S.?

No, there is no active draft in the United States at present. The U.S. military has been an all-volunteer force since 1973, when the draft for the Vietnam War ended. All active troops today chose to enlist on their own accord.

Who has to register for Selective Service?

Selective Service requires most male U.S. citizens and immigrants residing in the U.S., ages 18 through 25, to register with the Selective Service System. People assigned female at birth do not currently have to register. The current registration requirements have been in place since 1980.

When do you need to register with Selective Service?

You are required to register within 30 days of turning 18 years old. You are able to register as early as the day you turn 17 years and 3 months old. If you were born after 1960 and are between the ages of 18 and 25, you should check your Selective Service registration status immediately. Failure to register is a felony and could deny access to federal benefits like financial aid.

How do you register for the Selective Service?

Registration is a fast, simple process and can be completed either online or by filling out a form and mailing it in. You will need your Social Security number and current address. The registration collects your name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number.

Could the military draft be reinstated?

The military draft could legally be reinstated by an act of Congress and presidential approval. The Selective Service System would provide manpower to the Department of Defense as needed. All young men in the U.S. would be at risk of being drafted if their birthdate was selected in the lottery. Some reasons a draft might be enacted include:

  • A need for more troops due to a major prolonged conflict
  • A need to rapidly expand the size of the military
  • A shortage of volunteers enlisting for military service

However, since 1973, even with U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the supply of active, reserve and National Guard volunteers has proven sufficient to meet America’s national security needs. The U.S. military remains focused on attracting and retaining voluntary troops.

Who would be drafted first if a draft is enacted?

If a national draft is enacted, there would be a random lottery drawing of birthdays to determine the order in which registered men are called up. Those with birthdays drawn first would be called in sequence based on the local board needs where they live. 18-year-olds would likely be drafted first, then proceeding in order to 25-year-olds.

Are there exceptions to being drafted?

Yes, there are several exceptions that could exempt someone from being drafted. Reasons include:

  • Being in high school, college or vocational school
  • Having a job deemed critical for national defense like defense contractor, scientist, etc.
  • Physical or mental reasons preventing service
  • Serving in an active role in federal government
  • Conscientious objector status

Can women be drafted in the U.S.?

As of now, the Selective Service law only applies to men. However, a federal judge recently ruled the current system unconstitutional and discriminatory against men by excluding women. The judge declined to require women to register for Selective Service until Congress addresses the issue. There are legislative efforts underway aimed at requiring women to register. Whether women could or should be subject to a draft remains controversial and would require changes to current laws first.

What are the arguments in favor of bringing back the draft?

Some of the main arguments in favor of reinstating conscription include:

  • Needing manpower in a time of large scale conflict
  • Instilling civic responsibility and service in citizens
  • Providing the economic stimulus of jobs and training
  • Improving the quality of recruits when the military cannot meet quotas
  • Enhancing national security by rapidly increasing troop levels when needed

What are the arguments against reinstating the draft?

Some of the main arguments against bringing back a draft system include:

  • The potential infringement on personal freedoms
  • The military prefers motivated volunteers over reluctant conscripts
  • Drafts were often controversial and unfair during Vietnam
  • Modern warfare needs technologically skilled specialists, not raw recruits
  • Conscription is costly and inefficient compared to having an all-volunteer force

Who has the authority to enact a draft?

Only the United States Congress has the power under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution to enact laws instituting a national draft if needed. The President then has the responsibility as Commander in Chief of the armed forces to manage and carry out conscription under laws passed by Congress.

What are the chances the draft will be reinstated?

Most military experts view the likelihood of a draft as relatively low compared to the Vietnam era. However, mandatory national service and other options are sometimes proposed in political discussions or in proposed legislation, so the topic generates heated debate periodically. Unless there was a major crisis requiring rapid expansion of the armed forces, it is unlikely a draft would be imposed given the organized nature of the all-volunteer military.

Historical Background

The United States first instituted conscription during the Civil War in the 1860s using the Enrollment Act to help fill troop quotas. After the Civil War, the draft ended until World War I, when the Selective Service Act of 1917 authorized drafting men again to serve in WWI combat. About 2.8 million men were drafted over the course of American involvement in WWI.

The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 again created the first peacetime draft in anticipation of WWII. From 1940 until 1973, during both peacetime and war, men were drafted to fill vacancies that could not be filled through voluntary enlistment. During WWII, over 10 million men were conscripted. Draftees made up over 60 percent of U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War era.

Popular opposition to the draft grew during the Vietnam War due to concerns about fairness and the risk of the disadvantaged being disproportionately drafted. This led President Nixon in 1969 to request a draft lottery to determine order of call up. Significant protests over Vietnam and the draft continued throughout this period.

In 1973, the draft was ended in favor of creating an all-volunteer military. However, Selective Service registration was reactivated in 1980 by President Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Registration continues today preparedness in case a draft is enacted again. Draftees have not been called to service since 1973.

How many men were drafted during the Vietnam War?

Approximately 2.2 million American men were drafted during the eight years of major U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, beginning in 1964 and ending in 1973. At the height of the war in 1968, the draft saw over 300,000 men conscripted into military service. The Marine Corps drafted 42,633 men during the Vietnam era.

Who was exempt from the draft during Vietnam?

Various deferments exempted men from being drafted during Vietnam, which was controversial in some cases. Those deferred from the draft included:

  • College students if they maintained satisfactory grades
  • Only sons if a family already lost a son in military service
  • Sole surviving sons
  • Those physically or mentally unfit for duty
  • Certain government officials and religious ministers

Wealthy or politically connected people sometimes found ways around being drafted. Many draft boards focused more on young men who lacked means or connections.

How did draft lotteries work during Vietnam?

Two draft lotteries were held at the end of 1969 to determine the order in which men born from 1944 to 1950 were called to report for induction. Capsules with birthdays were picked one by one to assign them a number representing their call up order. Those with low numbers were more likely to be drafted first. The lottery aimed to make the system more fair and random versus the previous selection system that was criticized for being abused.

What were some controversies regarding the Vietnam draft?

The Vietnam draft was deeply unpopular and faced criticisms including:

  • Wealthy, educated men could often defer or avoid service
  • Working class and African Americans were disproportionately drafted
  • Protests and unrest around the draft like burning draft cards
  • Some draftees refused service and fled to Canada and other countries
  • Medical and moral objections were commonplace

Inequities in the system fueled resentment and may have exacerbated racial, socioeconomic and cultural divides. Veterans returning home often faced negative sentiments.

Current Public Opinion

Public opinion polls indicate most Americans oppose reinstating conscription except in the event of extreme national emergencies. Support tends to be higher among older generations who remember drafts firsthand. Younger millennials and Generation Z show less favorability towards national service mandates in general. Here are some sample survey findings:

Gallup 2019 Poll on the Draft

Response Percentage
Favor draft 29%
Oppose draft 68%

This Gallup poll found only 29% of Americans would support a draft system today, a historically low level compared to past decades. Opposition to the draft registered at 68%.

Pew Research 2013 Survey

Response Percentage
Favor draft 44%
Oppose draft 53%

In this Pew Research survey, 53% opposed a military draft while 44% were in favor. Approval was higher among those who were aware the draft was discontinued in 1973.

Selective Service 2017 Survey

Response Percentage
Favor female draft 54%
Oppose female draft 46%

According to this poll from the Selective Service System in 2017, just over half of respondents favored requiring women as well as men to register for the draft. Views were mixed on subjecting both genders to conscription in the name of gender equality.


Based on recent history, current military planning, and public opinion, the odds of mandatory conscription being re-enacted in the U.S. anytime soon seem relatively low. However, the issue is still regularly debated in the public sphere and within government. Events like war, terrorism, or major global threats could rapidly change the landscape regarding perceived military personnel needs. If a national draft is instituted again, it would require an act of Congress and likely face legal challenges around areas like gender. For now, the U.S. seems committed to maintaining an all-volunteer force. But the Selective Service System continues to prepare contingency plans in case a draft becomes necessary during future national emergencies.