Whats the problem?

Military recruitment: unethical

UK armed forces recruitment practices are largely unethical

  • The armed forces target recruitment campaigns on disadvantaged young people, failing to properly inform them of the difficulties and obligations of a military career.
  • The UK is the only EU country to recruit 16-year-olds into the armed forces.
  • Recruits under 18 commit themselves to up to 6 year's service before they are adults.
  • Adult recruits commit themselves for up to 4 year's service with a long notice period, and must join the reserves afterwards.
  • Whilst some people join the armed forces for positive reasons, others sign up as a last resort because they can’t find another job.
  • Recruits are not normally informed about their rights to express moral objections to military operations.
  • Armed forces personnel face significant risks during service, including psychological harm, and many struggle to resettle into civilian life.

Unethical military recruitment practices

Recruiting child soldiers

Children as young as 15 years, 7 months can apply for the Army. The UK remains the only EU country to recruit 16 year olds into the military 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, that ethnic minorities and children of low-income families are not targeted, that parents are included in the process from the outset and that the limited discharge rights for child soldiers are reviewed.

Targeting the young & vulnerable

Non-officer recruitment draws mostly on young people from 16 years of age living in disadvantaged communities, with many recruits joining as a last resort. Increasingly, very young children are being targeted as potential recruits in schools and through the media, games and advertising. Research, and general observation, indicates that children are introduced to the potential benefits of a forces career but not to its risks, and that warfare is glamorised and sanitised

How the military interests and recruits young people

Many recruitment tools capitalise on the impressionability of young people by presenting a glamorous view of armed forces life without the risks, legal obligations  and ethical issues involved.

These include:

  • internet and TV campaigns such as ‘Start Thinking Soldier’
  • recruitment offices and ‘army showrooms’
  • bespoke computer games and access to military hardware in schools and local communities
  • ‘career advisors’, school presentation and youth teams and other free resources offered to schools, youth and community groups
  • the Camouflage Club and Altitude - information websites aimed at under 18s
  • the Cadet forces
  • MoD-sponsored toys and dressing-up clothes aimed at children as young as five. 

Read on recruitment

June 2017

This report from Veterans For Peace UK details how the Army's training process has a forceful impact on attitudes, health, and behaviour even before recruits are sent to war. The findings show that military training and culture combine with pre-existing issues (such as a childhood history of anti-social behaviour) to increase the risk of violence and alcohol misuse. Traumatic war experiences further exacerbate the problem.

The report explains that the main purpose of army training is to mould young civilians as soldiers who will follow orders by reflex and kill on demand. It demands unquestioning obedience, stimulates aggression and antagonism, overpowers a healthy person’s inhibition to killing, and dehumanises the opponent in the recruit’s imagination. Recruits are taught that stressful situations are overcome through dominance.

The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment (70pp) draws on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies, mainly from the UK and US, to explore the effects of army employment on recruits, particularly during initial training.

 

read more >>
May 2017

In early 2017, the Ministry of Defence, and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, praised the social mobility prospects offered by the military. They presented the military as a champion of social mobility for those who enlist in the lower ranks, and for recruits from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds with low educational attainment.

This briefing explores if these claims about social mobility stand up to scrutiny or whether enlisting in the armed forces can have a negative impact upon social mobility, particularly for very young recruits.

read more >>
January 2017

Army adverts don't tell you what being a soldier is really like.

At 17, Wayne Sharrocks joined the infantry. His training made him obey the army completely, until it had control of how he thought and what he did. He says that by the end of his training he could have killed another person right in front of him 'at the flick of a switch' with ‘an insane amount of aggression’. He now thinks army training is 'massively damaging' to the mind of a young person.

After he turned 18 Wayne was sent to Afghanistan. There he saw a friend’s legs ripped off and another friend killed. He was injured in the face. Nothing in his training could protect him or his friends.

He couldn't just ‘switch off’ his army training after he left, he says, which caused him all sorts of problems.

Now Wayne thinks that the army shouldn’t be recruiting 16 and 17 year-olds. While it still does, he believes it's better to wait until you’re 18 before deciding whether to join up.

Find out about Wayne's time in the army in these 3-minute videos:

read more >>
October 2016

Medact’s report on the long-term impacts of the British military’s recruitment of children under the age of 18, presents evidence linking ‘serious health concerns’ with the policy, and calls for a rise in the minimum recruitment age.

The report’s findings include:

  • Child recruits are more vulnerable to PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to adult recruits.
  • Military recruitment marketing takes advantage of adolescent cognitive and psychosocial vulnerabilities.
  • The current practices for recruiting children in to the British armed forces do not meet the criteria for full and informed consent.
  • Those recruited as children, upon turning 18, are more likely than adult recruits to end up in frontline combat roles which carry greater risks than other roles.

The UK is one only a handful of countries worldwide to still allow recruitment from age 16, a policy which has been strongly criticised by multiple UN and UK parliamentary bodies, child rights organisations and human rights groups.

read more >>
June 2016

The Committee on the Rights of the Child recently reviewed the UK's position on implementing the articles and protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They made a number of recommendations relating to the armed forces recruitment of under-18s and the military's activities in schools.

March 2016

Published by Child Soldiers International, this short and accessible booklet addresses questions often raised about under-18s in the armed forces, presenting the facts - based on extensive research - rather than the fiction. Also contains very useful quotes and statistics. Great when talking to your MP or for those thinking of enlisting!

Despite this widespread unease about the policy of recruiting 16 and 17 years olds into the armed forces, a number of common misconceptions still lead many under-18s to leave their education early and enlist. This booklet examines these ‘myths’ in light of the evidence available.

‘The fact that the British armed forces continue to recruit from the age of 16 sets a poor example internationally and impedes global efforts to end the use of child soldiers. The Army surely does not need to make youngsters sign up formally at such a young age – there have to be other, better ways to meet our requirements whilst respecting our human rights obligations.’

Major General (retd) Tim Cross CBE

read more >>
December 2015

This report highlights seven recommendations from the Defence Committee’s report Duty of Care: Third Report of Session 2004-05 which have not been partially or fully implemented, and around which substantial concerns remain.

This report goes on to present additional evidence and arguments about the experience of the youngest recruits.

This report then discusses the concept of 'in loco parentis' and 'moral obligation' with regard to the army's duty of care towards young recruits, noting that the Defence Committee were concerned in 2005 that the MoD distinguished too rigidly between legal and moral obligations, with the latter as less important. 

In 2005, the Defence Committee discussed the lack of balance beween training needs and considerations for operational effectiveness, and thus made its recommendations. Ten years on, it is apparent that operational arguments, and current difficulties meeting recruiting targets, continue to prevent the armed forces from reviewing both their position on enlisting under-18s, and their recruitment practices and materials.

read more >>
August 2015

This briefing is a response to the 2012-13 Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee’s investigation into UK armed forces ‘recruitment’ in schools in Wales. It supports the Petition Committee’s recommendations to the Welsh Government by presenting the key evidence that armed forces visits to secondary schools in Wales:

  • are disproportionately high to schools in more disadvantaged areas;
  • do not present a balanced view of the armed forces;
  • and, are more numerous and more career-focused than visits by most other employers(particularly the emergency services).
read more >>

Ask your MP to support raising the age of recruitment

Thinking of joining up / already in the forces

Before You Sign Up is a vital resource for those with questions about the consequences of enlisting in the military. At Ease is a voluntary organisation providing advice and information to members of the Armed Forces. For more information on these independent sources of advice and for other things to look at, see our before you enlist page.

also see

09/10/2017 Various


A passionate debate was held on Sunday 8 October at the SNP Conference on Raising the Minimum Age of Military Recruitment to 18. The motion was passed!

26/09/2017 The Conversation

This article by Jonathan Parry. Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, explores the dangers involved in miltary activity in schools and for the youngest recruits. It emphasises the moral risks and the 'moral exploitation' involved.

12/09/2017 Various

A letter to the Guardian (12/09/17) from more than 50 academics has called for the age of recruitment ot the UK armed forces to be raised to 18. It backs a conference motion from SNP Youth in support of this.

10/07/2017 The Guardian and The Independent

The Army's latest recruitment campaign focuses on low income families from cities with high deprivation levels.

13/06/2017 Huffington Post

"Joining at 16 is massively psychologically damaging and issues of PTSD, suicide and depression are major issues for veterans, and more so for teenage recruits. I think it is hugely important the recruitment age is raised. I now work with Veterans for Peace as a volunteer educating young people on the realities of war and support advocacy group Child Soldiers International, who recently launched its Declare18! campaign, to get governments to raise the age to 18."  By Wayne Sharrocks, former British Army officer

23/01/2017 The Independent

The UK is one of few countries that allow minors to enlist. Despite calls to cease the recruitment of under-18s the Army is digging in to hold its ground.

23/01/2017 Bella Caledonia

The new British Army advert is astonishing. Organised violence as antidote to anomie.

24/11/2016 Child Soldiers International press release

Figures released today reveal that the British Army has increased its intake of 16-year-olds in the past 12 months, defying calls from the UN, children’s rights organisations and others campaigning for an end to the recruitment of minors.

23/11/2016 ForcesWatch press release

MSPs will consider what further action to take on a petition from ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland calling for increased transparency and scrutiny of armed forces visits to schools this Thursday (24 November).

23/11/2016

Ask your MP to sign an Early Day Motion on The Recruitment of Minors into the UK Armed Forces. If you are in Scotland, ask your MSP to sign a similar motion on the Medact Report on British Armed Forces Recruitment.

22/11/2016 various

Coverage highlights the Scottish Children's Commissioner concerns about the age of recruitment and armed forces visits to schools, and the motion in the Scottish Parliament about the vulnerabilities of young recruits, as discussed in the recent Medact report.

18/10/2016 Guardian

Recruiting children aged 16 and 17 into the British army places them at greater risk of death, injury and long-term mental health problems than those recruited as adults, according to a new report.

16/09/2016 various

On Thursday 15 September, ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland went to the Scottish Parliament to give evidence to the Public Petitions Committee about armed forces visits to schools.

Risks

Significant risks

The majority of recent deaths in Afghanistan have been among the infantry. Younger recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to join the infantry so they face the greatest risk. In addition to the risk of death or serious injury, many suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental problems on return and experience other difficulties once back in civilian life, including harmful drinking and addiction, relationship breakdown, and a greater risk of suicide for young men.

Dissatisfaction

An inability to leave the forces legally before several years have elapsed almost certainly contributes to the number of personnel going absent without leave (AWOL). In the last 10 years, between 2000 and 3000 serving personnel have gone AWOL each year, mainly from the army.Those going AWOL risk a criminal conviction and punishment by detention.

Some resort to self harm, taking drugs to get caught and suicide attempts in order to find a way out.

The Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey reports that only about one third of armed forces personnel felt valued. About one fifth were dissatisfied with their job – that is many thousands of serving personnel who are likely to want to leave if they were able to.

read more on risks

This report from Veterans For Peace UK details how the Army's training process has a forceful impact on attitudes, health, and behaviour even before recruits are sent to war. The findings show that military training and culture combine with pre-existing issues (such as a childhood history of anti-social behaviour) to increase the risk of violence and alcohol misuse. Traumatic war experiences further exacerbate the problem.

The report explains that the main purpose of army training is to mould young civilians as soldiers who will follow orders by reflex and kill on demand. It demands unquestioning obedience, stimulates aggression and antagonism, overpowers a healthy person’s inhibition to killing, and dehumanises the opponent in the recruit’s imagination. Recruits are taught that stressful situations are overcome through dominance.

The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment (70pp) draws on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies, mainly from the UK and US, to explore the effects of army employment on recruits, particularly during initial training.

 

read more >>

In early 2017, the Ministry of Defence, and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, praised the social mobility prospects offered by the military. They presented the military as a champion of social mobility for those who enlist in the lower ranks, and for recruits from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds with low educational attainment.

This briefing explores if these claims about social mobility stand up to scrutiny or whether enlisting in the armed forces can have a negative impact upon social mobility, particularly for very young recruits.

read more >>

This article, written by Child Soldiers International and published in the Royal United Service Institute Journal, argues that raising the UK enlistment age from 16 to 18 would bring benefits to young people and the British armed forces. The article explains that the UK’s low enlistment age is counterproductive internationally, as it implies to other countries that it is acceptable to use children under the age of 18 to staff national armed forces.  

Medact’s report on the long-term impacts of the British military’s recruitment of children under the age of 18, presents evidence linking ‘serious health concerns’ with the policy, and calls for a rise in the minimum recruitment age.

The report’s findings include:

  • Child recruits are more vulnerable to PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to adult recruits.
  • Military recruitment marketing takes advantage of adolescent cognitive and psychosocial vulnerabilities.
  • The current practices for recruiting children in to the British armed forces do not meet the criteria for full and informed consent.
  • Those recruited as children, upon turning 18, are more likely than adult recruits to end up in frontline combat roles which carry greater risks than other roles.

The UK is one only a handful of countries worldwide to still allow recruitment from age 16, a policy which has been strongly criticised by multiple UN and UK parliamentary bodies, child rights organisations and human rights groups.

read more >>

Published by Child Soldiers International, this short and accessible booklet addresses questions often raised about under-18s in the armed forces, presenting the facts - based on extensive research - rather than the fiction. Also contains very useful quotes and statistics. Great when talking to your MP or for those thinking of enlisting!

Despite this widespread unease about the policy of recruiting 16 and 17 years olds into the armed forces, a number of common misconceptions still lead many under-18s to leave their education early and enlist. This booklet examines these ‘myths’ in light of the evidence available.

‘The fact that the British armed forces continue to recruit from the age of 16 sets a poor example internationally and impedes global efforts to end the use of child soldiers. The Army surely does not need to make youngsters sign up formally at such a young age – there have to be other, better ways to meet our requirements whilst respecting our human rights obligations.’

Major General (retd) Tim Cross CBE

read more >>

This report highlights seven recommendations from the Defence Committee’s report Duty of Care: Third Report of Session 2004-05 which have not been partially or fully implemented, and around which substantial concerns remain.

This report goes on to present additional evidence and arguments about the experience of the youngest recruits.

This report then discusses the concept of 'in loco parentis' and 'moral obligation' with regard to the army's duty of care towards young recruits, noting that the Defence Committee were concerned in 2005 that the MoD distinguished too rigidly between legal and moral obligations, with the latter as less important. 

In 2005, the Defence Committee discussed the lack of balance beween training needs and considerations for operational effectiveness, and thus made its recommendations. Ten years on, it is apparent that operational arguments, and current difficulties meeting recruiting targets, continue to prevent the armed forces from reviewing both their position on enlisting under-18s, and their recruitment practices and materials.

read more >>

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Select Committee inquiry on Military Casualties draws on our research published in The Last Ambush and concludes that:

  • The continued targeted recruitment of minors from disadvantaged backgrounds deserves to be re-appraised from the perspective of long-term mental health risks that this group faces. 
  • Where possible, we hope that the development of military health research will better specify personnel who face higher and lower risks.
  • Future research could also better account for personnel who show some symptoms of mental ill-health but are not counted as full ‘cases’ of a specific ‘disorder’. 
  • A large number of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to need mental health support services for years to come.  It falls to the state to take prime responsibility for ensuring that the long-term welfare needs of injured veterans are met.  That is an expensive undertaking, which it behoves any government to appreciate and accept before deciding whether to send young men and women to war
read more >>

This report from ForcesWatch, shows that young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health. It calls for the policy of recruiting from age 16 to be reviewed so that the greatest burden of risk is not left to the youngest, most vulnerable recruits to shoulder.

Download the full report (PDF 1294kb)

Download the Executive Summary (PDF 268kb)

read more >>

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, indicates that the risk of fatality in Afghanistan for British Army recruits aged 16 and completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above. This increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is mainly the result of recruitment policies which drive the youngest recruits into the Army’s most dangerous roles.

read more >>

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Committee's inquiry Future Army 2020, which recomments an evaluation of the case for an independent review of the minimum age of recruitment into the Army with a view to recruiting only adults (aged 18 and above) in the future, looking at five reasons why the time is right for this.

read more >>

Ask your MP to support raising the age of recruitment

Thinking of joining up / already in the forces

Before You Sign Up is a vital resource for those with questions about the consequences of enlisting in the military. At Ease is a voluntary organisation providing advice and information to members of the Armed Forces. For more information on these independent sources of advice and for other things to look at, see our before you enlist page.

more info & advice

For more on terms of service and the risks involved with being in the armed forces see guidance.

news on risks associated with the armed forces

16/10/2017 ForcesWatch comment

Douglas Beattie reports on an important campaigning moment.

26/09/2017 The Conversation

This article by Jonathan Parry. Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, explores the dangers involved in miltary activity in schools and for the youngest recruits. It emphasises the moral risks and the 'moral exploitation' involved.

22/09/2017 ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published on Huffington Post

With former Army Foundation College Harrogate instructors facing court martial for mistreating recruits, we look at the evidence that military environment facilitate threats to child welfare.

Join us at the Medact/International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Health Through Peace conference in York from 4-6 September, where ForcesWatch are part of a roundtable discussion on British Military Recruitment and Marketing strategies and part of a workshop on challenging military influence in universities and schools. Click here to find out more and register for the event.

10/07/2017 ForcesWatch comment

New evidence confirms that the British Army recruitment marketing deliberately targets working-class young people.

10/07/2017 The Guardian and The Independent

The Army's latest recruitment campaign focuses on low income families from cities with high deprivation levels.

04/07/2017 ForcesWatch comment

New findings highlight need to protect young people from harsh military training environments and inadequate safeguards in cadet forces.

04/07/2017 Veterans For Peace UK

A new report out today from Veterans For Peace UK details how the Army's training process has a 'forceful impact' on attitudes, health, and behaviour even before recruits are sent to war. 

ethical dilemmas and conscientious objection

Taking an active part in conflict involves serious ethical questions regarding the justification of killing and the political purposes of military action. The armed forces does not adequately address these concerns during recruitment and for serving personnel.

Active service and exposure to warfare can radically alter a person’s values and beliefs and lead to the development of an objection to further service. Although the armed forces recognise the right of serving personnel to be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection, this right is not set out clearly in legislation, is not mentioned in the terms of service, the process of declaring an objection on moral grounds is very opaque and many, perhaps most, forces personnel are unaware of it.

The system for registering a conscientious objection needs to be far easier to access and the different types of conscientious objection need to be fully recognised.

There is evidence that many more soldiers have objected to recent military activity than officially recorded. Discharges due to conscientious objection are rare with personnel encouraged to suppress their concerns, be discharged on other grounds or find other ways of leaving such as going absent without leave. High profile cases of court martial and detention of those who have refused to obey orders based on moral objections are set to deter others and also hinder understanding of an individual’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

ForcesWatch are campaigning to increase awareness of conscientious objection and make the process of applying for it more transparent. See more here.

supporting conscientious objectors

Conscientious objector, Michael Lyons has been released (9 Nov 2011). Michael, a medic in the Royal Navy, was sentenced to 7 months detention on 5 July 2011, for 'wilful disobedience' for not taking part in rifle training while his request for discharge as a conscientious objector was proceeding.

Michael joined up at 18 after seeing a TV advert depicting the Navy providing humanitarian aid overseas. At that age he was unaware of the realities of war. His desire to help people and his growing awareness in current affairs, determined his application to become a conscientious objector.

On 13 Oct 2011, an appeal against Michael's detention was held at the High Court (read press release). Although the appeal was unsuccessful, the judges expressed some concerns about the procedure for conscientious objectors. Michael is still awaiting the full written judgement.

ForcesWatch, along with other groups, have provided support for Michael and his family during his case. Michael also received many, many letters and cards, from people who wished to show their support for him during his detention. He has now left the Navy and looks forward to pursuing a career in the medical services.

read on conscientious objection

March 2013

The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published a guide to applicable international standards and jurisprudence relating to conscientious objection to military service.

It is designed as a guide for 'State officials who are responsible for implementing laws, administrative decrees or regulations relating to conscientious objection to military service, as well as Members of Parliament and Government officials who may be involved in drafting laws or administrative decrees or regulations on this subject.'

Additionally, the publication (below) 'is intended to guide individuals who may be called to perform military service and are unsure of what their rights are in this regard, and how and when they can be exercised.'

November 2011

Published by the Quaker United Nations Office in November 2011, this short booklet reflects recent changes in international law and practice that indicates that recognition of conscientious objection to military service as a human right is now stronger than ever. The publication in available in English, French or Spanish.

July 2011

European Court of Human Rights catching up with UN Human Rights Committee

On 7 July 2011, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights finally recognised the right to conscientious objection as a right protected under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In its judgement in the case of Bayatyan v. Armenia, the court has ruled that states have a duty to respect individuals’ right to conscientious objection to military service as part of their obligation to respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion set out in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is the first time that the right of conscientious objection to military service has been explicitly recognised under the European Convention on Human Rights.

January 2011

The armed forces recognise the right of serving personnel to be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection.  But this right is not set out clearly in legislation, is not mentioned in the terms of service and many, perhaps most, forces personnel are unaware of it.  The system for registering a conscientious objection is opaque and little information about it is easily available.  

A briefing outlining the issues and recommendations of how to make registering a conscientious objection accessible to armed forces personnel.

February 2010

The Council of Europe Recommendation on Human Rights of Members of the Armed Forces lists rights and freedoms that should be respected and implemented in the Armed Forces, including that, members of the armed forces have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; access to relevant information; the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others; and, enjoy the right to vote and to stand for election.

October 2008

Tobias Pflüger, MEP

This publication gives a detailed overview of the right to conscientious objection in the countries of the European Union (including candidate countries), and as far as possible of practices regarding this right. It has become obvious that the situation regarding the right to conscientious objection within the European Union is not good. Most countries of the EU are far from conforming with the existing international standards: of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, or the European Parliament.

It looks at the situation country by county. For the UK it concludes that: 

  • The regulations governing the right to conscientious objection are not in the public domain, and information is difficult to obtain by members of the public, and also by members of the Armed Forces.
  • Decision making on an application for conscientious objection in the first instance is by the respective branch of the Armed Forces itself, and not by an independent body. Only the appeal body – the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors – is an independent body.

see more on conscientious objection

Guardian Data has extracted details of 654 records from the National Archive to look at who conscientiously objected to the first world war and why

read more >>

ForcesWatch's submission to the Armed Forces Bill committee raising concerns relating to the human rights of service personnel with the Armed Forces Bill Committee and making a number of recommendations to bring the UK into line with current international standards and improve terms of service.

read more >>

winter soldierThe Winter Soldier project, organised by the United States based group, Iraq Veterans Against War, details eyewitness accounts from Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of the testimony focuses on the individual soldier’s experience and how they felt about their participation and actions. Six episodes have been created for web viewing (or can be downloaded), e.g. Broken Soldier which tells the stories of 3 soldiers.

This archive and educational materials resource has an extensive collection of materials which tell the stories of the men and women conscientious objectors of the 20th century. It documents their experiences, videos their recollections, promotes their ideals and publishes teaching resources.

read more >>

"An armed forces career involves ethical questions associated with the justification of killing, the risk of civilian casualties and the political purposes of military action. In order to make a responsible choice about enlistment, all potential recruits need to have considered these issues before accepting the legal obligations of service, and to continue to do so during their career. In omitting to mention ethical dilemmas, the army recruitment literature and applications process fail to support potential recruits in making an informed decision about enlistment in this respect."

Informed Choice? Armed forces recruitment practice in the United Kingdom

Need advice on conscientious objection?

Details and advice relating to how to register a conscientous objection can been found on our page for those already in the armed forces. This information has been difficult to access, even for serving personnel.

news on conscientious objection

16/03/2016 ForcesWatch comment

This article, summarising our work, was first published on the White Feather Diaries website"Publishing the diaries of conscientious objectors of WWI. To refuse to kill is a cause worth dying for."

06/01/2016 3thehardwaypoets.wordpress.com

Video of the poet Lydia Towsey performing her new spoken-word poem, 'Daisy', which criticises the UK military's influence in schools.

09/12/2015 various

Documentation of recent  Veterans for Peace UK events, especially four members yesterday discarding their war medals outside Downing Street yesterday in a powerful protest agains the UK bombing of Syria.

01/01/2015 Quaker Voices

'The new tide of militarisation' which Quaker Peace and Social Witness produced in March 2014 was a timely document drawing attention to the ever-present appearance of the military in British society. If militarisation is 'the process by which a society organises itself for military conflict and violence', militarism is the ideology underpinning it. Never entirely absent, from time to time it re-emerges into prominence with increased vigour and purpose. Why now, and why should schools be particularly targeted?

01/10/2014 Watford Quakers

Our Education Campaign worker Owen Everett was interviewed for a new short film about conscientious objectors during the First World War, 'Watford's Quiet Heroes: Resisting the Great War'. His full interview, in which he talks about ForcesWatch's three main areas of work scrutinising UK military recruitment and the influence of the military and military approaches today, is available to watch on YouTube (it is also one of the extra features on the DVD, which can be bought here). You can also watch a video of Owen and others speaking on the relevance of the film and the questions it raises to the situation today, as part of a panel at the launch of the film, here

18/05/2013 Independent

From the Second World War refusenik to the 19-year-old Israeli, Holly Williams talks to five people who risked shame and suffering to take a stand as conscientious objector.

15/05/2013 Metro

Joe Glenton, a former soldier in the British army, has served his country and risked his life in Afghanistan. He’s also been called a coward. The reason? After returning to Britain after his first tour of Afghanistan, he became a conscientious objector (CO) and refused to go back.

also see

26/09/2017 The Conversation

This article by Jonathan Parry. Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, explores the dangers involved in miltary activity in schools and for the youngest recruits. It emphasises the moral risks and the 'moral exploitation' involved.

28/07/2015 The Citizenship Foundation

The Citizenship Foundation's new resources focus on facilitating primary school students' critical thinking skills. Discussing the military in this rigorous way would give students a more balanced impression of armed forces life.

16/07/2015 Schools Week, ForcesWatch

The Education Select Committee has accused the Government of failing to make progress on improving PSHE in schools. PSHE could be a good place for students to take part in informed, balanced discussion on the military.

25/12/2014 The Independent

Children should be given lessons in human rights to give them the courage to blow the whistle on abuses they witness as adults, according to an ex-Army lawyer who went public with his concerns about the mistreatment of Iraqis.

17/12/2014 Parliament.uk

The Department for Education and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE): Ofsted finds 40% of PSHE teaching either requires improvement or is inadequate (it is not compulsory for schools to teach it); the DfE only gives £75,000 for PSHE Association, compared to £millions for ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’; and schools are not adhering to requirement to publish what they cover in PSHE on their websites. DfE and careers guidance: drop in provision since government transferred responsibility to schools; expectation for teachers ‘to signpost pupils towards appropriate sources of independent careers guidance’.   

13/01/2014 British Forces News

Human rights lawyers have drawn on the cases of more than 400 Iraqis, arguing they represent "thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

12/11/2011 Daily Mail

"We can best pay tribute to their sacrifices by ensuring that in the future no British sailor, soldier, Marine or airman is asked to lay down their life except for the most urgent and honourable of causes."

11/06/2011 BBC online

"We talk about destroying, engaging, dropping, bagging - you don't hear the word killing”. This article explores the effect of killing on people in the military, how many are unable to kill and others live with the effects of having killed for the rest of their lives. Also see The Kill Factor radio broadcasts.

These BBC radio programmes explore the effect of killing on people in the military, how many are unable to kill and others live with the effects of having killed for the rest of their lives.

read more >>

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. 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.

Critical debate: vital

  • Do government projects like Armed Forces Day honour armed forces personnel or seek to manufacture public support for military intervention overseas?
  • Does uncritical support for the military stifle concerns about how young people are recruited and limit debate on alternatives to war?
  • Is it appropriate for the military to be visiting schools when their objective is clearly stated as recruitment and influencing young people and should the military be involved in providing education alternatives?
  • Why is the UK the only EU country to recruit 16 year olds into the armed forces and one of very few to recruit 17 year olds? There is a growing international concensus the only adults should be recruited, yet the Ministry of Defence have denied that there is a need to review this policy.
  • In order to make informed and responsible choices about enlisting, young people and their parents need to be fully aware of the risks and legal obligations of military careers.
  • Armed conflict causes enormous damage to all involved; widespread public debate about the role of the armed forces and their recruitment practices is therefore vital.

 

See more on our work to change the law on recruitment of under-18s into the military and other issues

See more on our Military Out Of Schools campaign

See more on our work looking at the military in society more generally

Militarisation in everyday life in the UK
An event in October 2013 which brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching, writing, campaigning on the implications of militarisation of UK society. See more here including background reading and films of presentations.

At a comfortable distance from warfare, our culture easily passes over its horrific reality in favour of an appealing, even romantic, spectacle of war. Yet, over the last decade, most Britons have opposed Western military ventures abroad. This book takes a fresh look at a culture of militarism in Britain, public resistance to it, and the government's prodigious efforts to regain control of the story we tell ourselves about war.  See details & buy book