On Monday, February 11, I will transmit to the Congress a comprehensive report on strengthening this Nation's capacity for rapid personnel mobilization in an emergency.
The United States is committed to peace—a peace that allows every nation to live in an atmosphere free of coercion or intimidation. We pursue that goal through many kinds of national strength-the strength of our ideals, the strength of our economy, the strength of our alliances and our relationships with other countries, the strength of our national will and unity, and the strength of our military forces.
We maintain a strong military establishment not for aggressive purposes, but as a bulwark to be used against aggression and war. Military readiness may be the best guarantee that military force need never be used. Even in the nuclear age, we must be prepared for conventional conflict—and deterring such conflict may depend on the timely availability of our forces.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan poses a serious threat to a region that is vital to the long-term interests of the United States and our allies. It represents the first time since World War II that the Soviets have used their military force to invade an independent nation outside the sphere of the Warsaw Pact. This brutal act of aggression has called forth the condemnation of the whole world—and a series of firm and measured responses from the United States.
These responses include continuing to increase necessary defense spending, restricting the sale of grain and high technology products to the Soviet Union, and seeking to prevent the summer .Olympics being held in Moscow. We have made it clear to the Soviet Union that it must pay a severe price for choosing the path of violence and aggression.
Registration for the draft is needed to increase our preparedness and is a further demonstration of our resolve as a nation. It will improve our capacity, if circumstances require, to increase the size and strength of our Armed Forces—and that capacity will itself help to maintain peace and to prevent conflict in the region of the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia.
Our objective is plain: to deter Soviet aggression. A vigorous effort to improve our current capabilities will help achieve that goal.
Accordingly, I will take the following actions to allow us to meet personnel requirements in an emergency:
—I will seek from Congress funds to register American young men under existing law.
—I will seek additional authority to register women for noncombat service to our Nation.
—I will take steps to enable the Selective Service System to carry out registration in the most economical and efficient way, using the U.S. Postal Service for the registration process, the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration for computer support, and the Department of State for overseas registration.
—I will develop new procedures for the selection and training of local draft board members. Registration does not require that we reconstitute local boards now, but as part of our effort to revitalize the Selective Service machinery we are developing plans to select and train local board members for availability in the event of a mobilization emergency.
I will request additional funds from the Congress of $20.5 million in FY '80 and $24.5 million in FY '81 for the Selective Service System to carry out this program.
In peacetime, our military manpower policy continues to rely on voluntary enlistment. I will continue to strengthen the All Volunteer Force. My 1981 budget requests $500 million in new authority for better recruitment and retention in our active and reserve forces.
My decision to renew registration is in no sense a move away from the volunteer force, which is performing its mission well. We are maintaining our Armed Forces with volunteers, and recruitment is holding up well.
In developing the All Volunteer Force, we have always recognized that it would have to be supplemented by the draft at a time of national emergency and mobilization. Should that time ever come I am committed to ensure that the .draft would be fair and nondiscriminatory.
Renewing registration for the draft now will save us critical time in the event of mobilization. This additional readiness could range from several weeks to several months, depending on the state of the Selective Service machinery and the nature of the emergency.
The process of registration in peacetime is simple. Individuals will go to their local post office and fill out a brief form. No draft card will be issued. No classification or examination of the person registering will be required. If mobilization is required in the future, the Congress would have to authorize through separate legislation registrants to be inducted into the Armed Forces. We must be prepared if the need arises.
My decision to register women is a recognition of the reality that both women and men are working members of our society. It confirms what is already obvious throughout our society—that women are now providing all types of skills in every profession. The military should be no exception. In fact, there are already 150,000 women serving in our Armed Forces today, in a variety of duties, up from 38,000 only 10 years ago. They are performing well, and they have improved the level of skills in every branch of the military service.
There is no distinction possible, on the basis of ability or performance, that would allow me to exclude women from an obligation to register.
I am very much aware of the concern that many Americans feel about the issue of women in combat. There are almost as many job categories in the military services as there are in civilian life, and many of these categories do not involve combat. In the All Volunteer Force, women are now successfully carrying out tasks which, in the event of hostilities, would involve deploying them in or near combat zones. But women are not assigned to units where engagement in close combat would be part of their duties, and I have no intention of changing that policy.
In every area of our national life, women are meeting the responsibilities of citizenship. That is as true of the military services as it is of the political arena or the economy of our Nation. Just as we are asking women to assume additional responsibilities, it is more urgent than ever that the women in America have full and equal rights under the Constitution. Equal obligations deserve equal rights.
I urge the Congress to act on my proposals promptly. The registration of young people is an important element in our overall response to Soviet aggression. It signals our resolve and enhances our military preparedness. This step, along with the others we have taken, displays our commitment to peace and our readiness to defend it.