Pacifists pledge to resist ‘national service’

IssueJune - July 2024
News by PN staff

The first major policy announcement of the British general election campaign came from the Conservative prime minister. Rishi Sunak announced his intention, if re-elected, to set up compulsory ‘National Service’ for 18-year-olds.

This would involve either 12 months’ full-time military service (for perhaps 30,000 young people, who would be selected) or 25 days’ voluntary work in the community over a year for the other 90 percent of 18-year-olds.

The plan, which seems aimed at regaining support from voters who have drifted to the right-wing Reform party, would first be developed by a royal commission of inquiry and then trialled before coming into operation for all 18-year-olds.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), the UK’s leading pacifist organisation, criticised the plans. Geoff Tibbs from the PPU said: ‘Sunak’s announcement signals a dangerous shift in politics. Conscription has quickly turned from a distant historical memory into a very real possibility, which we need to resist at every turn.’

He added: ‘This is a transparent attempt by the government to whip up everyday militarism and nationalist fervour in support of their reckless foreign policy, ahead of the general election. With the UK’s military spending and nuclear arsenal growing fast, this move sends another provocative signal to Russia and China, which can only make the world more unsafe.’

There was also an instant response from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a Christian nonviolence group covering Scotland and England. Director John Cooper said: ‘The abuse of humanity found in warfare is not something to train future generations in.’

Cooper criticised the idea that people would either be paid to be in the military or volunteer, unpaid, one weekend a month: ‘Should the proposed policy be enacted, we will be taking ideas of paid alternative service to the royal commission.’

Both the PPU and FOR have said they would support those who refused to be conscripted into the armed forces, if national service is brought back.

Sunak’s announcement came a day after one of his defence ministers, Andrew Murrison, had publicly rejected the idea of bringing back national service (which ended in 1963) because it was likely to ‘damage morale, recruitment and retention’ – if ‘potentially unwilling’ recruits were integrated into the regular forces.