about Forces Watch

We believe that armed forces recruitment practices in the UK are largely unethical and that uncritical support for the armed forces stifles concerns about how young people are recruited and limits debate on alternatives to war.

Targeting the young and vulnerable

  • The armed forces target recruitment campaigns at young people, focusing on the potential benefits of a forces career but failing to properly inform them of the risks, difficulties and obligations. Research has shown that they target vulnerable social groups, including young people under 18 and people from poorer backgrounds.
  • Whilst some people join the armed forces as a career of choice, others join for negative reasons or on the basis of misleading recruitment practices. Expensive advertising and social media campaigns present a sanitised version of warfare and life in the armed forces is associated with glamour and heroism.
  • The military visit thousands of UK schools each year aiming to interest young people in a military career and influence their opinion of the armed forces.
  • The UK is the only EU country to recruit 16-year olds into the armed forces and one of very few EU countries to recruit 17 year olds. The UN and the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights have requested that the UK reconsider its policy of recruitment of children into the military.

Difficult to leave

  • Whilst some are satisfied with their choice, others are dissatisfied and may have no legal right to leave for several years. Terms and conditions for those in the military are very restrictive with long contracts and long notice periods.
  • After leaving, personnel must remain in the reserves for another 6 years.
  • The MoD estimate that an average of 2,400 soldiers go absent without leave (AWOL) each year, risking a criminal conviction and punishment by detention.

Significant risks

  • In addition to the risk of death and serious injury, armed forces personnel face the risk of significant psychological harm. Many struggle to resettle into civilian life.
  • The majority of recent deaths in Afghanistan have been among the infantry, which younger recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to join.

Moral objections

  • Ethical dilemmas involving the justification of killing, the impact on civilians caught up in conflict and the political purposes of military action are not addressed.
  • The military fails to inform personnel about their rights to conscientious objection. There is evidence that many more soldiers have objected to recent military activity than officially recorded.

Lack of critical debate

  • There is concern that some government initiatives, such as Armed Forces Day, seek to manufacture a climate of uncritical national pride in the armed forces in order to garner public support for foreign policy.
  • Unqualified support of the military and foreign policy stigmatises legitimate concerns about how young people are recruited for the armed forces within our communities, and limits debate on alternatives to war.
  • Armed conflict causes enormous damage to all involved; public debate about the role of the armed forces and their recruitment practices is therefore vital.
  • Widespread critical awareness of the risks and legal obligations of an armed forces career is essential if young people are to make an informed, responsible choice about enlistment.

ForcesWatch is a non-profit organisation established in April 2010.

What we do

ForcesWatch develops projects and works with organisations, individuals and initiatives concerned about military recruitment. We are currently working in the following areas:

Challenging military presence in education
The armed forces visit thousands of UK schools each year, providing free resources, presentations and recruitment activities. The Government’s ‘military ethos and skills’ programme includes a number of initiatives that will see more military-led activity in schools. ForcesWatch are concerned about the armed forces being promoted to children within schools and colleges. See more here

Advocating for change
ForcesWatch campaigns for a change in policy to: raise the minimum age of recruitment to 18, make terms and conditions for serving personnel clearer and less restrictive, and for greater recognition of conscientious objection. Recent campaigning led to a change in the law so that under-18s in the forces now have the right to leave, and can hand in their notice any time before their 18th birthday. See more here

The military in society
ForcesWatch observe and respond to ways in which the military is being promoted as a normal part of everyday life. We believe that uncritical support for the armed forces stifles concerns about how young people are recruited and limits debate on alternatives to war. See more here

FAQs about ForcesWatch

Read our responses to questions about our work.

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What ForcesWatch do

  • Raise ethical concerns about military recruitment practices and the rights of serving personnel.
  • Campaign for improvements in recruitment practice in the interests of potential recruits.
  • Help ensure that potential recruits and their families are aware of the risks, difficulties and legal obligations of an armed forces career before they enlist.
  • Campaign for the terms of service for armed forces personnel to fully respect individuals' right to leave after a reasonable notice period, including the right to conscientious objection.
  • Promote understanding and respect for the moral choices and objections of armed forces personnel.
  • Challenge government campaigns that use the armed forces to promote uncritical national pride in the military in order to garner public support for armed intervention overseas.

Our values

Enormous damage is done to all those caught up in armed conflict. It is, therefore, vital that there is wide critical debate about the military and its recruitment practices. This concern underpins our work.

ForcesWatch is committed to:

  • respect for all people, including those we disagree with
  • honesty in how we approach and present the issues
  • fostering critical awareness of the issues among the public and ourselves
  • including and involving a diversity of people, including a range of views and skills

Who is ForcesWatch and how is it funded

ForcesWatch currently has three part-time paid members of staff and is overseen by a Steering Committee:

The Coordinator of ForcesWatch is Emma Sangster.
The Education Campaign Worker is Owen Everett.

ForcesWatch is currently funded by grants from trusts and by donations. Our work covers a range of activities, some of which are categorised as charitable and some as non-charitable; these attract funding accordingly.

The grants fund a shared office space and 2 part-time workers. We are currently seeking donations to fund the development of our projects.