Draft sign-up: still a signal

The President says that the foreign situation had nothing to do with his reversing his campaign promise and deciding to continue registration for a military draft. But there is no question that ending registration would have sent out a signal. So does keeping it and, faced with the choice, Mr. Reagan seems to have made the wisest one for the moment.

At the very time that the administration is trying to convey toughness on Poland, dropping registration would have left the US open to a charge of not matching words with action. The US also would have to answer to the West Germans and others who, when asked by Washington to do more militarily, are quick to point out that they maintain conscription - while the US does not. Their point would be all the harder to rebut if the President dropped even registration for a draft.

However, the administration will have to show it means business. The President has allowed a grace period of 30 to 60 days for those thousands of young men who have failed to sign up. It is possible many ignored the law because of Mr. Reagan's known opposition to a draft and uncertainty over what he would do. But now that his position is clear - and he still says he opposes a draft except in a severe emergency - it is to be hoped there will be swift compliance with the law. The prospect of prosecuting those who even so may refuse to register may be horrifying, but the President will have no choice but to begin doing so if he is to keep his credibility. Knowing his record, we suspect he is prepared for such an eventuality.

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