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Will the government stop recruiting adolescents to the armed forces?

David Collins, a Committee member of the Movement for the Abolition of War of Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique and of Veterans For Peace UK, has drawn attention to a video on VfP’s website, “Made in the Royal Navy”, published by Child Rights International Network (CRIN). The film charges the British army with intentionally targeting young people from deprived backgrounds for the most dangerous front-line jobs. It plays on the natural anxiety in boys and young men about how they are going to become a man and go out into the world. Its message is that the Navy will remake the raw youth into a heroic version of the inadequate boy that they once were.

The actual experience of most of these youngsters is set out in a report published in August 2019: Conscription by Poverty? Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK.

This is a long-standing concern of many on our mailing list. In 2011, Britain’s child soldiers – 2 reminded readers that, twelve years earlier, the BBC had reported the British Army was being urged by the United Nations to stop sending young soldiers into war.

Following Symon Hill’s work in The Friend, the Ekklesia website, and a Nato Watch article, an article by Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain, pointed out that “with the exception of Russia, and apprentices in Ireland, the British Army is unique in Europe in recruiting at the age of 16. Of 14,185 recruits into the army last year, 3,630 or over 25%, joined under the age of 18 . . . Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK . . . Those joining the army at the age of 16 often come from the poorest and least educated backgrounds. Some have reading ages of a child of half that age. They lack the confidence to seek a change in their career in the same way as those training for professions.” 

Ian Davis, the Director of NatoWatch, sent a reference to the post by Symon Hill, now placed on its website. He added that the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England are calling for the Armed Forces Bill to be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18, a call backed by Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association.

Five years later Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation on the visits of armed forces to schools in Scotland. Over four-fifths of state secondary schools in Scotland were visited by the armed forces in a two-year period, according to a 2014 ForcesWatch report.

A 2016 report by public health charity Medact found that soldiers recruited aged 16 and 17 were twice as likely to be killed or injured when in combat compared to those enlisted when aged 18 or over. Medact also found that they were more likely to commit suicide, self-harm, abuse alcohol and develop post-traumatic stress disorder than older recruits

In May this year, the BMI Journal reviewed an article: Adverse health effects of recruiting child soldiers, published in February. It rejected the main justification resting on fears of a ‘recruitment shortfall’: saying that given the extensive harms described in its report, to put recruitment figures above the health and well-being of children and adolescents seems misguided and counterproductive for both the Ministry of Defence as a governmental body and wider society.The second justification alleging economic and occupational benefits to recruits, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds was also rejected:

“(W)e have seen that it is precisely child recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at highest risk of adverse outcomes in the military. Furthermore, figures from 2017 show that those recruited under the age of 18 constituted 24% of those who voluntarily left the Armed Forces before completing their service—this also increases the likelihood of lower mental health outcomes”.

It supported the views of those of the fourteen organisations mentioned here, recommending that the UK end its practice of recruiting adolescents to the armed forces.






Which is worse: hybrid warfare said to challenge Euro-Atlantic security or drone warfare regularly slaughtering civilians?

Redbrick’s Comment Writer Tom Moran argues that NATO must display more willingness to act against hybrid warfare.

Wikipedia describes hybrid warfare as a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy and foreign electoral intervention. 

In response to the 2014 conflict in Ukraine, NATO decided to develop ‘a set of tools to deter and defend against adversaries waging hybrid warfare’.

NATO Watch’s latest news on this subject is that US Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Thom Tillis (below) relaunched the Senate NATO Observer Group, a bipartisan group of lawmakers aiming to strengthen congressional ties with NATO, more than a decade after it was disbanded. Shaheen, a Democrat, said “Now more than ever, it’s imperative that the United States work closely with NATO to respond to the ever-evolving threats to Western democracies, particularly from the Kremlin.

The July Brussels Summit Declaration issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council included: “We face a dangerous, unpredictable, and fluid security environment, with enduring challenges and threats from all strategic directions; from state and non-state actors; from military forces; and from terrorist, cyber, and hybrid attacks . . . including disinformation campaigns and malicious cyber activities . . .  Russia is also challenging Euro-Atlantic security and stability through hybrid actions, including attempted interference in the election processes’.

Trump’s relationship with NATO and Putin

Probably touching on the Shaheen-Tillis concerns, Tom Moran commented, “NATO’s Brussels summit was hardly short of controversy with Trump, unsurprisingly, at the centre of this; whether that be in his questionable commitment to the alliance, his questionable understanding of it, or shortly following this, his questionable off-the-records meeting with Putin”.

He continues: ‘Russia never really invaded the Crimea; instead they used special forces, cyber-attacks, their “little green men” (to stop political protests) and fake news. Similarly, in Syria there is the same level of confusion. Against whom have Russia carried out attacks? Does Assad still have chemical weapons? And, have they been used since he supposedly gave them up? The ambiguity makes the fake news indistinguishable from the truth and in turn the confusion is the weapon of war’.

Moran is aware that Russian goals have not changed significantly over the last three hundred years: “Imperial, Soviet and modern Russia have all searched to protect their western borders through some form of buffer between them and the rest of Europe . . . NATO expansion since the end of the Cold War has, rightfully, concerned Russia as they no longer have that buffer”.

Despite this awareness, he ends by expressing the belief that it is crucial for NATO to succeed in pursuing their interests (‘expansion’) and continue to curtail Russia gaining both a buffer and further expansion in Eastern Europe.


The only winners following that course of action will be pork-barrel politicians and the arms & ‘defence’ electronics industry.





Washington-financed regime change: the narrative absent from Western mainstream reports about events in Ukraine

This perceptive remark was made by Jan Oberg in an article first published on the site of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research  and reproduced by Nato Watch.

Many people who know little about the country will be feeling totally confused about events in Ukraine and uneasy about the media ‘feed’.

Jan Oberg asks:

  • When did the West begin to see Ukraine as an interesting country?
  • Why did George Bush Sr. and James Baker promise Mikhail Gorbachev that the West would never expand up to Russia’s border?

jan oberg3Oberg’s remarks that NATO began being an issue in Ukraine in 1995 prompted a search. Wikipedia gives a detailed overview and even those who criticise it could hardly discount many of the sources given.

However, though another search found several references to a promise made in 1990 by George Bush Senior and James Baker to President Gorbachev that if he agreed to the reunification of Germany, NATO would move no farther east towards Russia’s boundaries, as yet no ‘hard’ evidence has been found to support them.

The absent narrative

Oberg continues: “One narrative is absent in all Western mainstream reports: that of Washington-financed regime change. Throughout the Internet you can find reports on covert action, informal diplomacy and massive funding from U.S. institution aiming to achieve what has just happened . . . and we know how Assistant Sec of State Victoria Nuland – a neo-conservative – interacted over the phone with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador in Kiev – the famous “Fuck EU” tape (transcript)”.

Oberg surveys opinion polls which do not uphold the media implication that the Ukrainian opposition and most others strongly dislike Russia; he asks: “So if these polls are worth anything and if we respect democracy why has the West – US/NATO/EU – been pushing for Ukraine to come over to “us” instead?”

More useful questions:

  • Is the already crisis-ridden EU really able to take on one more hugely problematic country?
  • Does anyone think Russia can be convinced that all NATO does is in Russia’s best interest – even this? Even the Ballistic Missile Defence?

Many readers will share his ‘nagging feeling’: “It’s all so much more complicated than we are told . . . There are not two parties to the Ukraine conflict – not only a government and its oppositional people, there is a mosaic of complexities that can only be untied and stabilised through dialogues and attempts to understand and – well, stop power games including undermining democratically elected governments”.


NATO Missile Defence: full spectrum protection for Europe – or Boondoggle?

Protracted government/corporate projects involving large numbers of people and heavy expenditure

missile defenceBoondoggle? A project considered a useless waste of both time and money, yet often continued due to extraneous policy motivations. The term “boondoggle” may also be used to refer to protracted government or corporate projects involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure, where at some point, the key operators, having realized that the project will never work, are still reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors.

NATO Watch comment by Nigel Chamberlain and Ian Davis:

Missile defence is an incredibly complicated subject in its planning, funding and implementation – if not in its rationale, which seems to be questionable and contentious. The breakdown of what is ostensibly a US, NATO or national asset is opaque and, as a consequence, so is a clear understanding of relative and assigned costs.

What is clear is that costs, both fiscal and geopolitical, are going to be substantial and on-going for some time. That alone should be of concern to national treasuries, parliamentary oversight bodies and citizens in NATO Member States. There is a sense of inevitable and growing momentum behind this endeavour with a good deal of industrial commitment already entrenched and with the prospect of lucrative contracts on the horizon.

Is this drive for missile defence systems in Europe prompted by indicators that coincide with Pentagon and NATO HQ thinking?

Most worryingly, however, is the seemingly negative impact this highly controversial military procurement programme is having on NATO-Russia relations and the absence of any ‘circuit breakers’ to reflect changes in geopolitics (such as the emerging détente with Iran).

Generally, we are led to believe that NATO is seeking to channel European defence spending towards essential military programmes which enhance collective security within the Alliance. Based on this ‘smart defence’ criteria, it is hard not to conclude that the inextricable drive for missile defence systems in Europe is heading in the opposite direction and ignoring all indicators that do not coincide with established thinking inside the Pentagon and NATO HQ.

Their analysis summarised:

  • The assumed problem – increasing threat from missile attack from North Korea, Iran or any other rogue state or non-state actors.
  • The proposed solution build a web of connected radar and communication centres so that various missiles can be launched to intercept them.
  • The cost (financial) – €1.25 billion to 2020, and rising, to European taxpayers collectively, plus large contributions to the development of national systems.
  • The cost (geo-political) – further degradation of relations with Russia which feels threatened by missile deployment encroachment that it views as an extension of NATO enlargement.

Next: Britain’s supportive endeavours.


Military figures in Britain and America continue to pass through the revolving door to defence companies

As noted earlier on this site, the Guardian recently highlighted the revolving door in this country: “Senior military officers and Ministry of Defence officials have taken up more than 3,500 jobs in arms companies over the past 16 years, according to figures that reveal the extent of the “revolving door” between the public and private sector”. A NATO Watch message now sends news of a parallel in the United States.

This clip is from a short video, Strategic Maneuvers, presented by War Costs to accompany a new report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). It focusses on the revolving door between the government and war profiteering defence contractors:

“The revolving door phenomenon is not new, yet it continues to play an integral part in the money flow from the taxpayer to the Pentagon and into defense contractors’ pockets:

Strategic Maneuvers (read the report here) finds that from 2009 to 2011, 70% of retiring three and four-star generals and admirals left the Pentagon to jobs with contractors and consulting firms, using their knowledge of the Pentagon and Capitol Hill to reap immense profits from public coffers. The report includes much more on this age-old process that ultimately perverts public trust in officials holding important positions in the government”.

Readers are invited to join the dialogue via the hashtag #4stars4profit on Twitter at @warcosts.

Is NATO`s exercise illegal? Preparation for use of the nuclear weapon violates international humanitarian law

Belgian peace activists hinder F16s from taking off for nuclear exercises
Dr. Ian Davis (NATO Watch) published a press release from Vredesactie on the NW website.
From 15-24 October, pilots of the Belgian Air Force will be conducting training exercises together with NATO-partners to prepare for the use of nuclear weapons. For this reason Belgian peace organizations went to the police to file a complaint. The use of nuclear weapons, and by extension also the active preparation for said use, violates international humanitarian law.
Belgian F-16 airplanes based in Kleine Brogel will be participating in “Steadfast Noon”, a NATO exercise in Büchel (Germany). This is a training exercise for the deployment of nuclear weapons. All NATO countries having American nuclear weapons on their territory will be participating in this exercise (besides Belgium these are Germany, Italy, Holland and Turkey), while some other countries will play a supporting role.
The use of nuclear weapons, and therefore by extension the active preparation for such use, violates international humanitarian law. For this reason, the Belgian peace organizations Vredesactie, Pax Christi Vlaanderen, Vrede vzw, Action pour la Paix and MIR-IRG went to the police in Brussels today. Together with Tom Sauer (professor of International Politics, University of Antwerp) they filed a complaint against participation in “Steadfast Noon”. This exercise is denounced as the preparation of war crimes.
“The American nuclear weapons on the military base of Kleine Brogel are not just relics from the Cold War,” says Roel Stynen of Vredesactie. “This NATO exercise makes clear that the use of these weapons is being actively prepared. If these weapons no longer have any military use, as is claimed, then which scenarios are being practiced for?”
Tom Sauer, professor of International Politics, also participated by filing a complaint: “The majority of the Belgian population wants to get rid of these nuclear weapons. These weapons are useless and dangerous. It is unacceptable that Belgian pilots are training for the deployment of weapons of mass destruction.”
NATO prepares for war crimes
The use of nuclear weapons and the preparation for such use violates international humanitarian law. In its ruling of 8 July 1996, the International Criminal Court pointed out the fundamental rules of engagement that apply to nuclear weapons.
  • First of all, a distinction must be made between enemy combatants and civilians. Therefore the use of weapons that are incapable of making such a distinction is always prohibited.
  • Second, it is illegal to inflict needless suffering onto enemy combatants. Weapons that inflict such needless suffering can therefore not be used. The consequences of deploying nuclear weapons cannot be limited in space and time. The nuclear weapons on the base of Kleine Brogel can never be used without violating these elementary rules of engagement and without committing war crimes.
Belgian criminal law also punishes acts of preparation, like in art. 136 sexies of the Criminal Code: “the keeping of such an object destined for such a crime, or which facilitates committing such a crime”. Participating in this exercise amounts to the active preparation for the use of nuclear weapons and therefore for war crimes. It also shows that the storage of nuclear weapons at the site of Kleine Brogel is part of such active preparations.
The Belgian peace movement demands that the Belgian government itself strictly abide by international humanitarian law. This complaint is also a call to the judicial authorities to take their responsibility and to force the executive power to abide by international humanitarian law.

Drones UK: US domestic military pork-barrelling arrangements extend their global reach?

Years ago it was reported that US officials were looking to apply traditional US domestic military pork-barrelling arrangements on a global scale in an effort to engage allies with their missile defence programme. Now drones are the focus.

Is the UK’s Scavenger programme so named because it will clear countries of undesirable citizens?

Drone Wars UK  has published a report that shows the UK Government has already spent over £2 billion purchasing, developing and researching drones and unmanned systems since 2007. Britain is helping its ally’s campaign to kill people in other countries with impunity – though there will be ‘payback’, eventually.

NATO WATCH reviews a new report, Shelling Out: UK Government Spending on Unmanned Drones, which finds that the UK has spent £872m on five different drones that are currently in service with British forces, including £506m on the armed MQ-9 Reaper drone. The UK has committed a further £1,031m to developing new drones such as the Watchkeeper UAV and BAE Systems Taranis drone. Finally, the UK has funded £120m of research within UK universities and British defence companies looking at unmanned systems. This included £30m funding for the ASTRAEA programme to open up UK civil airspace to autonomous drones.

Chris Cole, co-ordinator of Drone Wars UK and author of the new report said:

Rather than spending further billions on more drones what’s needed is investment in tackling the underlying causes of insecurity. That means devoting resources to measures designed to seriously tackle inequality and injustice in the world – such as the Millennium Development Goals. Today, in the midst of a global economic and environmental crisis, we need to jettison ever-increasing military spending and technological security fixes in favour of a sustainable security strategy that puts people – and especially the poor – at its centre.

The report, Shelling Out: UK Government Spending on Unmanned Drones, finds that the UK has spent £872m on five different drones that are currently in service with British forces, including £506m on the armed MQ-9 Reaper drone. The UK has committed a further £1,031m to developing new drones such as the Watchkeeper UAV and BAE Systems Taranis drone. Finally, the UK has funded £120m of research within UK universities and British defence companies looking at unmanned systems. This included £30m funding for the ASTRAEA programme to open up UK civil airspace to autonomous drones.

In 2013 the UK is likely to begin committing funds to the Scavenger programme to develop a new armed medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) drone. The UK MoD estimates the Scavenger programme will cost £2bn over its lifetime.

The author of the new report said:

Drones do not create security – just the opposite in fact. We have seen plenty of evidence of this over the past few years, but the lesson has been brought home yet again this week in the remarkable report Living under Drones, which shows that in Pakistan drones are creating fear, instability and many, many civilian casualties.

UN experts, legal scholars and civil liberties campaigners are all expressing serious concerns about the rising use of unmanned drones. At a time of tough spending cuts it cannot be right that the UK is continuing to pour billions of pounds into developing new drones without proper parliamentary scrutiny or debate of the serious legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of this technology.