Counter-recruitment - A new strategic focus for the peace movement?

On 3 November, the National Audit Office released its report about “Recruitment and Retention in the Armed Forces”. While most of the mainstream media used one finding of the report for the headlines – i.e. The Guardian's “Two-thirds of teenagers too fat to be soldiers” (3 November 2006), or the Daily Mail's “Army forced to admit clinically obese because of recruiting crisis” (2 November 2006) – peace activists should read this report very critically. The report gives us an idea to what length the Armed Forces will go in the future to fill their ranks – and what we need to respond to.


A new strategic focus for the peace movement?
Let's start with the good news: presently, the Armed Forces are under-staffed: 5,170 soldiers short, which is 2.7%. However, this isn't much, and the report also states that all three services – army, navy, and air force – “have recruited 98 per cent of their targets for intake from civilian life” (page 2). My question is: why is this so, and what can we do to change that? Armed Forces recruitment An understanding of the way the Armed Forces recruit is crucial to the development of a successful counter-recruitment strategy. There are several key factors in armed forces recruitment we need to consider. Get them young The NAO report says: “The services also target marketing activity at young people before they become eligible to join the Armed Forces at 16 years old” (page 32). I don't want to get into the discussion about the minimum age of 16 here – some argue that this is violation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict from 2000, which Britain ratified in 2003. More reason to concern is that the Armed Forces target young people even younger – and that goes down to 12 years “old”: - a special “Army Student Presentation Team” target young people aged 14–21 at schools, colleges and universities. The “SPT”, as it is called, promotes itself to schools with the argument that their “presentation also complements Key Stages 3 and 4 of the Citizenship element of the National Curriculum” – especially attractive to underfunded schools – maybe soon at a school near you? - The Armed Forces maintain a special website – – targeted at 13–17 years old youth, which also offers a “members area”, featuring “games, videos and other cool features”. Young people who sign up for this site also “get ARMY magazine three times a year – packed with exciting articles on Army life, quizzes and competitions”. As signups for the website are controlled by the Armed Forces, I'm not sure peace activists will be able to do so (which means I have no clue what they provide in the members area) – but maybe someone can ask their son or daughter to act as an intermediary... - Cadet Forces: According to the official website (, “there are currently 253 CCF contingents based in both state and independent schools and colleges throughout the UK”. Importantly, “a school cannot run a successful CCF without the full support of the Head” – which gives parents who oppose militarism plenty to do at their kids' schools, especially as “the CCF works best when it is fully integrated into the school curriculum. Time for CCF activities must be scheduled into the school programme”. This means that the existence of cadet forces at a school does also have a direct impact on students who are not part of it. Make (false) promises The “youth work” of the military is aimed at creating a positive attitude towards military solutions. So even if not everyone who joins the cadet forces or chats on the military's website joins the army in the end, another important task still has been achieved: create a climate among youth favourable to the military. This alone should be of concern to any peace activist. However, the next step for the military is to actually get young people to join. Not only have all three services their dedicated recruitment websites (Army:, Navy:, RAF:, a range of mostly combined recruitment offices (Find out where your nearest recruitment office is at and mobile Armed Services Recruitment buses reaches out directly to potential recruits. In addition, the Armed Forces will be present at job fairs or school career days, to catch potential recruits. Not surprisingly, the Armed Forces target especially poorer and rural neighbourhoods, where their promises of an “interesting” career in the army or money for education might pay off more easily. One of the things the military tells you is: “However long you spend in the Army, you'll learn skills for life. Training and learning with the Army sets you up for life”. This is accompanied by promises of “travel” and adventures. However, there is little truth in this. The training people receive in the military is for military jobs, and often not transferable to civilian professions. 27 per cent of service personnel said that their career had been “worse than expected”. The MOD reports that 60% of personnel leaving the Forces had been assisted into employment and that, three months after leaving, only 20% were still looking for work. It is suspected that, if they looked at the numbers 12 months later, the figures will have reversed themselves. According to the Royal British Legion, unemployment among 25-49 year olds in the ex-Service community is higher than the rate nationally – almost double compared to the general population. A disproportionate number of homeless people have spent time in the armed forces. ONE in four homeless are former members of the Armed Forces. One in five homeless ex-Servicemen claims they had no transferable skills on discharge. Problematic are also training offers for civilian jobs. Under Queen's Regulations for the Army 9086b the right to leave at the minimum age of twenty-two years or after four years service, whichever is the later, is forfeited if a soldier does an education or training course other than purely military training. Just before starting a course, soldiers are asked to sign forms stating that, in return for this educational opportunity, they voluntarily give up their right to give twelve months notice to terminate their contracts. Many do so thinking, mistakenly, that they will still be allowed to “buy themselves out” at a later stage. However Premature Voluntary Discharge by Purchase was abolished in 1991 and may now only be applied for by those who joined before that date. When it comes to “equal opportunities” - one more of the many new army myths – it looks even worse. On 1 April 2006, only 5.5% of all UK military personnel were from ethic minorities. However, among officers, this percentage was just 2.4%, while other ranks personnel consist of 6.2% from ethnic minorities. In the Army, the situation is worse: while 8.8% of ethnic minority soldiers make up the lower ranks of the Army, there are only 2.8% among officers. Women are also under-represented in the UK Armed Forces – they make up about 10% of the strength of the UK military. Ninety-nine per cent of servicewomen say they have been sexually harassed, a survey of gender relations in the Armed Forces has found. “Over two thirds - 67% (6313) - of survey respondents had also encountered in the previous 12 months sexual behaviours directed at them personally. These varied from making unwelcome comments, sending sexually explicit material and unwanted touching through to sexual assaults”, the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) said in its report. Counter-recruitment All these give plenty of scope for counter-recruitment activities. Counter-recruitment is more than just attempting to prevent the military from recruiting young people – it involves challenging the military wherever it promotes itself, in the public domain, in schools and universities – everywhere. This has an impact which goes far beyond the recruitment statistics, in the same way as the military's recruitment and “youth outreach” efforts have an impact that goes far beyond achieving recruitment targets. Counter-recruitment works aims to bring together a range of activists and activities: - Youth are at the heart of counter-recruitment. Be it at schools, colleges, or universities, young people are the ones who will encounter the military directly in their recruitment and “outreach” efforts. This can be about military presence in the school, about cadet forces, or “peers” showing a pro-military attitude. It is the young people who will need to lead any counter-recruitment movement. - Parents have to play a role too. Together with their kids, parents can influence the headteacher of their school not to cooperate with cadet forces, or not invite the Army's “Student Presentation Team” to the school – and if they do, to also invite peace movement representatives to give an alternative view. - The peace movement is important, as it can give the information needed to young people and parents, and support their organising efforts. Also, it is important to challenge military recruiters in public places – be that at events organised by the general “Army Presentation Team”, recruitment offices, or special events such as “London Soldier” (every two years) or other “open days” or military events. Activities from vigils to direct action can play an important role in challenging the military's claim to public space and presence. - Veterans, of which the British peace movement is pretty short, would be the most effective means to counter the military propaganda in schools and in the general public. Nothing has a stronger impact than a former soldier speaking out against the use of military force, and joining the military. The US counter-recruitment – and the US peace movement in general – has a huge advantage because hundreds – thousands – of veterans speak out against militarism and war. This is something where the British peace movement has a lot of catching up to do. To be honest – there is no such thing as a counter-recruitment movement in this country. However, I think the time to build one couldn't be better. The NAO report says: “A number of recent events have attracted negative publicity and have impacted on the wider public perception of the Armed Forces and their ability to recruit sufficient numbers. These events include the Iraq war, events at Deepcut Barracks and allegations about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq. Research conducted by the Services indicates that these events have adversely affected the views of potential recruits and, more especially, of parents and gatekeepers. The Army's research found that 42 per cent of parents would be less likely to encourage their children towards a career in the Army because of operations in Iraq while 27 per cent said they were put off by events at Deepcut. Other research found that 33 per cent of parents were likely to discourage their children from joining the Royal Air Force due to the 'Iraq factor'.” So – we have something to build on. But if we don't do it NOW, then we will miss a very important opportunity. Andreas Speck References: National Audit Office, Ministry of Defence – Recruitment and Retention in the Armed Forces, 3 November 2006, Royal British Legion: Profile and Needs: Comparisons between the Ex-Service Community and the UK population, 2006, Equal Opportunities Commission: QUANTITATIVE & QUALITATIVE RESEARCH INTO SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE ARMED FORCES, 22 March 2006,