ForcesWatch comment

26/05/2017

ForcesWatch comment

Here is a brief roundup of manifesto pledges on defence and security and some questions for your candidates on their support for a more sustainable and ethical security policy, one that does not result in the promotion of military intervention or military interests within education and civil society.

Defence and security: a quick comparison

The manifestos cover a range of analysis on defence and security - from a traditional focus on 'strong defence' and responding to problems with military action, to a more complex understanding of long-term security and the importance of a wide spectrum of preventative measures. They generally state a commitment to fairness for service personnel and veterans, in terms of welfare and services, but some risk over-promotion of the military. Most commit to maintaining or increasing military spending but not necessarily to looking at how money for defence is spent. All mention Trident, some mention the arms trade - see more below on whether parties are prepared to take an ethical view on them.

Much of the difference in the approach of the parties can be discerned in the detail and the language used, so do take a look at the manifestos themselves. The issues that we focus on at ForcesWatch aren't given a mention but this is an opportunity to raise the profile of the military's involvment in education and raising the age of recruitment to 18 - see below on questions to ask your candidates.

Find your local candidates and their contact details on Who Can I Vote For. This website is updated with candidate details all the time, so please check back regularly.

14/03/2017

ForcesWatch and Scientists for Global Responsibility

The military and arms industries are putting large sums of money into our education system and into STEM educational material for schools. Science4Society Week is a chance to focus on learning from less destructive employers.

This article was first published on The Huffington Post

Children today inherit a world beset with insecurity. Huge losses of biodiversity and major erosion of soils are jeopardising food supplies. Severe weather events and sea level rise, due to global climate change, have already begun to devastate lives; and antimicrobial resistance is spreading. Meanwhile, the threat from nuclear weapons is ever-present, and economic inequality and violent conflict continue to be key contributors to global instability.

While we humans are responsible for many of the threats we face, we also hold the answers. The education system through which children begin to gain the skills, knowledge and willpower to deal with these threats is in many ways the custodian of the future.

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U.S. Navy photo by Chief Yeoman Alphonso Braggs


In British Science Week 2017, it is apt that we are alerted to the role of science and technology as among the most positive forces for change at humanity’s disposal. The priorities and resources of these fields are a determining factor in the health and the survival of the world’s species including our own.

Yet in British schools, Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) learning and STEM careers advice are influenced by and weighted towards industries with agendas and outputs that contribute to some of the very threats the STEM community must answer.

The military and arms industries are putting large sums of money into our education system and into STEM educational material for schools. STEM activities are delivered by various parts of the armed forces, and schools are encouraged to participate in military and arms focused STEM activities through schemes such as the Big Bang Fair and BAE Systems’ ‘Education Roadshow‘ (run in conjunction with the RAF and Royal Navy). The Ministry of Defence are also developing partnership memorandums of understanding with a range of other STEM providers.

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In Yemen, a young woman hopes to become an engineer in order to help rebuild her country. Meanwhile in Britain, BAE Systems, which manufactures weapons used to destroy her country, works with the military to advertise STEM careers to school children.  @UNHCRYemen, @Roadshow_Team

    

Given the recruitment and marketing agenda of military STEM programmes, this exposure to military images and references to military technologies is often given in a sanitised manner. This encourages unquestioning support of British military interventions and is part of a wider integration of military-led activities into national education policy that has gone virtually unquestioned.

07/03/2017

ForcesWatch comment

Our petition lodged at Holyrood along with Quakers in Scotland on military visits to schools has taken a significant step forward.

The Public Petitions Committee (PPC) met on the 2 March and agreed to ask Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education – John Swinney – to respond to questions on the issue.

The petition has been under consideration in Edinburgh for more than a year now (having been submitted in February 2016) and has come before the Committee three times.

At the latest hearing the PPC’s Convenor – Labour’s Johann Lamont – said the Committee was recognising “the very strong views that have been expressed” by people and groups responding to the petition.

She said the Committee had “received a number of submissions since we last considered this petition; most of which express support for the action called for in the petition.”

Specifically the Scottish Government is being called on to ensure greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation with parents/guardians on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland.

This is in order to provide transparency and balance, and in recognition of the unique nature of armed forces careers.

The SNP MSP Rona Mckay said she was on record as being in favour of the petition’s aims adding that military visits were “a big issue and it has to be looked into thoroughly.

“It’s definitely one we should take forward to get more information from decision makers,” she said.

Her words were welcomed by supporters in the public gallery.

The Committee then formally agreed to hear from COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) as well as the Cabinet Secretary.

Members also said they would accept the offer of a briefing on military visits from the Ministry of Defence.

All the information on the petition can be found here.

24/02/2017

ForcesWatch comment

Another important debate was taking place in Parliament as MPs were scrutinising the Government’s Brexit Bill earlier this month.

In the Grand Committee Room of Westminster Hall members of various parties had their say (7 Feb 2017) on The Recruitment of under-18s into the Armed Forces.

Liz Saville Roberts MP, of Plaid Cymru, brought the debate before Parliament with the full backing of her party which supports raising the recruitment age to 18 in line with international standards.

ForcesWatch was present along with representatives from Veterans for Peace and Quaker Peace and Social Witness.

The hour-long hearing demonstrated that the age of military recruitment is very much alive as an issue at Westminster, even amid the sound and fury of Brexit.

Moving the motion Saville Roberts said she was “concerned about the welfare of young people who join the armed forces and the army in particular.”

The purpose of the debate, she added, was “to seek answers from the MoD regarding numerous concerns about the recruitment of young people under the age of 18 to the armed forces and to press for a thorough and independent review.

“Dozens of religious, military, legal and policy organisations, alongside unions and trusted military professionals, have expressed concerns about this policy.

“They include the Select Committee on Defence, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Commissioners for all four nations of the UK”, she said.

Saville Roberts also highlighted the significance of the recent report by the medical charity – Medact – which revealed young recruits to be more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicide.

In an intervention the SNP backbencher, Tommy Sheppard, pointed out that “three quarters of 16-year-old recruits have a reading age of 11 or less”; his party colleague George Kerevan asked about the UK being  “the only NATO member that recruits at the age of 16.”

18/01/2017

ForcesWatch comment

This is a longer version of an article first published by The Huffington Post

A young boy shivers, the steady rain dripping through his hair and down his mud-streaked face. His eyes are wide and fixed. But then, he's not alone. Another joins him, also dressed in combats, and pours him a cup of tea from a flask. More come, and he's surrounded by comrades, sitting silently, checking their rifles. One ruffles the top of the boy’s head affectionately, and he grins.

'This is belonging' says the screen. 'Army: Be the best. Find where you belong, search Army Jobs.'

Another scene follows, with a line of soldiers traipsing up a desolate, snowy mountain slope. The camera zooms in on the line - one trips, and another helps him up. One begins whistling, then sings, 'I'm having the time of my life.' 'You sound like a dying cow,' jests a comrade in a Scottish accent, and they all chuckle, trudging on together.

'This is belonging' says the screen. 'Army: Be the best. Find where you belong, search Army Jobs.'

These mini videos form part of a £3m advertising campaign launched by the British Army at the start of 2017, in an appeal to children (any under eighteen year olds by international standards) and young people.

The theme is belonging, a theme also emphasised for recruitment purposes by sports teams, religious groups, gangs, fraternities and sororities, political organisations and other entities in which conformity and distinction are key. It appeals in particular to adolescent children who are undergoing the most intense phase of their process of social identity formation.

All the confusion, instability and changes adolescents face, are compounded by their under-formed personal and social identities, resulting in their tendency to over-identify with others or with groups in order to gain a sense of security and belonging. These might take the form of love interests, cliques, or even gangs or extremists.

By appealing to the adolescent child's need to belong, the army have therefore latched onto a very popular recruitment tool, powerful in particular among those who feel isolated or marginalised, or who have a sense of non-belonging and potentially low self-esteem.

The army website says: 

'A sense of belonging may sound like a small thing. Yet it fuels you as much as food and water, because it doesn't just feed your body, it feeds your mind and soul.

The stronger the sense of belonging - the stronger you become.

 Sure, you could look for belonging in a football team or a club, but the sense of belonging you'll find in the Army - well, that's the next level...'

The promised reward of signing up is 'belonging' to the army is becoming stronger and stronger by virtue of ‘belonging’. This is tempting indeed for adolescents who tend to crave social acceptance and a feeling of importance in a group context.

The army also claim to offer a sense of belonging stronger and more powerful than any other: 'When you've trained together side by side, learnt things no classroom can teach you and fought with each other, for each other - that creates a bond like no other. A bond that lasts a lifetime.'

But telling adolescents that they can resolve their need to belong by joining the Army is simplistic and one-sided. The reality is many aspects of army life are potentially harmful, especially to vulnerable individuals. The other side of the story needs to be told.