ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch comment

The Defence Select Committee have today released their report of inquiry into the MoD's Future Army 2020 plan. Amid the concerns about the strategy of increasing the proportion of reservists in relation to regular forces (read Defence Committee press release), the report calls on the MoD “to respond in detail to the argument that the Army could phase out the recruitment of minors without detriment to the Army 2020 plans”.

ForcesWatch, Child Soldiers International and the Peace Pledge Union all submitted evidence detailing the arguments for raising the age of recruitment to 18 in line with international standards. The UK is the only country in the EU to still recruit at 16 years. You can read the submissions here.

The Defence Committee report highlights our arguments that raising the age of recruitment will:

  • save approximately £94 million per year on training and recruitment
  • increase operational effectiveness, including improving the ratio of deployable personnel
  • have a positive effect on recruits’ education and long-term career prospects
  • reduce incidence of mental health problems amongst soldiers and veterans
  • ensure “the best interests of the child” are prioritised, in line with international legal obligations
recruitment age

ForcesWatch comment

Many areas of society in the UK have seen a growing involvement and/or visibility of the military and military approaches in recent years - from schools, to local communities, to ‘militainment’ (military-themed films, TV programmes, video games etc). This process of privileging and prioritising the military is often referred to as ‘militarisation’; Cynthia Enloe, one of the foremost thinkers on the subject, states that “To become militarised is to adopt militaristic values and priorities as one's own, to see military solutions as particularly effective, to see the world as a dangerous place best approached with militaristic attitudes.”

See here for videos of 12 presentations 
that were made at the conference

In response to the recent developments in the UK, there has been an increase in critical academic studies, media coverage, and work by campaigning organisations and others on these issues. On 19 October 2013, around 70 academics, activists, campaigners, and writers came together in London at the Militarisation in Everyday Life in the UK conference organised by ForcesWatch.

The main aim of the day was to allow academics and activists to share their work and ideas, through a series of plenary presentations and group discussions, and to develop ideas on how to raise public debate and encourage critical thinking on the issues.

In the introductory plenary, the conflict transformation consultant and writer Diana Francis pointed out that war – organised lethal violence on a mass scale – is a relatively recent development in human history, asserting that we can un-learn militarism, which is closely linked to dominating structures such as patriarchy. Bryan Mabee from Queen Mary University gave an overview of militarism as something that changes over time and regionally. It is driven by nationalism (seen for example in the UK’s Armed Forces Covenant), which makes dissent very difficult, and global dynamics such as the arms trade and liberal ‘interventions’. War itself brings about transformations in terms of what preparedness for it look like which adds to the momentum of militarism. David Gee from ForcesWatch outlined current changes within the armed forces, noting current recruitment difficulties despite the apparently favourable conditions created by the financial crisis. However, he asserted that this is likely to lead to more use of drones and more privatisation of defence, and highlighted the importance of finding ways to communicate a critical analysis to a wider audience.


ForcesWatch comment

On 15 November 2013, the Department for Education announced "£4.8 million to projects led by ex-armed forces personnel to tackle underachievement by disengaged pupils".

ForcesWatch has a number of concerns about the military-led 'alternative provision' being developed in schools: who benefits? the armed forces certainly will; military-led 'alternative provision' targets young people seen to be 'failing' - precisely those who need more options and, if channelled into the forces, are most at risk in warfare; the policy is based on limited evidence and ideological assumptions; will there be space for ethical issues around conflict to be addressed?


The projects that have received extra funding are for pupils who are ‘disengaged/at risk of becoming disengaged’, and are one of a number of schemes in the Department for Education’s Military Ethos in Schools in England programme. Other schemes include fast-tracking ex-forces (including non-graduates) into the teaching profession under the Troops to Teachers programme, the expansion of the Combined Cadet Force units in state schools, and the encouragement of the development of military academies and free schools sponsored by part of the military.

Who benefits?

One of the background documents used to develop the 'military ethos' policy identifies three main benefits of introducing more military-led provision in schools: ex-forces would benefit from more employment opportunities, the reserve forces would benefit from more recruits and young people would benefit as the provision would 'generate hope and purpose' and keep them out of trouble. Another document, looking at the Troops to Teachers scheme, also cites employment opportunities and mentions an increase in support for the armed forces as key benefits.

It is also instructive to look more widely at the reasons why the armed forces find it useful to be involved in education. The Ministry of Defence states that its ‘youth engagement’ work has two 'defence' outcomes - recruitment and raising positive awareness about the Armed Forces - and that some of it 'engagement' with schools, such as cadets, also ties in with governments concerns about social and personal development. The armed forces already make around 11,000 visits to schools and colleges each year – schools provide a ready catchment of young people and a learning environment in which messages designed to promote a positive awareness about the military are validated, away from parents, and other 'gatekeepers'.

Is education an appropriate place for these other agendas to be given space? With the much publicised Reserves recruitment crisis, it is unlikely that young people involved in these military-led activities will not be seen as potential recruits. Indeed, despite the long-stated claim that the cadet forces and other military-related activities in schools are not about recruitment, a government minister has suggested this week that even more money should be spent on the cadets 'to encourage more youngsters to join the Armed Forces'.


ForcesWatch comment

ForcesWatch are among 24 signatories of an open letter to Mark Francois MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

The signatories include the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Unitarian Church and Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker groups, Child Soldiers International and others.

The letter to the Ministry of Defence this week calls for an end to the recruitment of under-18s. The letter notes that as the centenary of the outbreak of World War One approaches, the recruitment and deployment age of British soldiers is lower now than it was a century ago. The signatories call on the Ministry to raise the recruitment age to 18 as a “fitting memorial” to the thousands of young soldiers killed in World War One.

ForcesWatch welcomes the statement by the Government that it "agrees that the Armed Forces should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the recruitment of U18s and work has been set in hand with the Army to look at this." This review was announced in the Government's response to the Defence committee report The Armed Forces Covenant in Action? Part 4: Education of Service Personnel, published on 23 October 2013.


David Gee, ForcesWatch

When I was about seven, my dad took me to the local Remembrance Day memorial. Neatly turned-out elderly men were stood in equally neat rows while The Last Post was played. I wondered why everyone looked so sad. Dad said it was because their friends had been killed in the war; this day was to remember them. I wore a poppy then and I am glad that I did.


A photo from the British Legion website (now removed but available here) showing children wearing 'Future Soldier' t-shirts - the poppy as remembrance or as a recruitment tool?  Contact them if you are concerned by this exploitation of remembrance and young people.

This week, other elderly men are standing in railway stations holding out boxes of poppies for passers-by. The poppy still means something to them and because of that, it matters to me as well, but its deeper significance of lament, remembrance, and the commitment called ‘never again’, is being lost. I think it is being killed off.

The nation’s official custodian of remembrance is the British Legion, which is now a very large, corporate-style charity. The poppy appeal is its main source of income. This year, girl band The Saturdays launched the appeal at a glitzy concert with their song Notorious: ‘I’ve been a bad girl / I’m a bad girl / I’m notorious’. A cloud of poppies fell from the ceiling while the crowd cheered. The Legion has extended the range of poppy jewellery this year. You can even play the Poppy Lottery and win £2,000 every week. The Head of Fundraising says he hopes to raise £37 million.

recruitment, remembrance