How can we stop targeted recruiting of vulnerable communities?

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How can we stop targeted recruiting of vulnerable communities?

There is a lot that we can learn from each other by simply knowing what has been done, what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. Consider these questions when sharing your experiences in this forum topic:

  • Which vulnerable groups does the military (state or non-state militaries)  target in your country? (think about the different armed forces, and different positions within them – ie not just army infantry) What strategies do they use to do this?
  • What opposition to this recruitment has there been from your community?
  • Which tactics have been more effective in countering this targeted recruitment? Why have they been more effective? What have been the challenges?
  • With which members of society have you become allies - or could you ally with - to counter the targeting of vulnerable communities by military recruiters?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

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Nepal: situation and way forward

In Nepal, youths from economically poor background- mostly the people from ethnic and socalled 'low caste' who are historically excluded from national main stream of politics, culture, economy and employment- are found ended up with non state military/armed groups. These groups attact youths by selling dreams in life; specially the dreams of easy living (money), identity, and power. State is proven weak to response such groups properly; so there is ampant impunity to such military groups from state side. This has fuelled the increment. Politics is criminalized. Communities are in terror and so not able to united themselves to respond to such thereats. Rather, economically sound families are fleed to the city areas; which are comparitively safe.

In some cases, the government takes initiatives to sit on a table with the armed groups to discuss how the groups can join democratic process to join main stream politics and abondon their military structures and approach. Succes is gainsed in this effort though it is very low. Two years back, there were 100+ such military/armed groups in various parts of country. I have not heard of nongovernmental or community level efforts or success to end such armed groups.

Way forward to change the situation is:

1. Recognize and acknowledge the fair needs of such military groups: give them identity and equal dignity, and eliminate discrimination;

2. Show them how the militarization has been impacting the society: prove that nonviolent and democratic approach is human friendly and safe compare to other approaches;

3. Ensure a fair and meaningful participation of such groups in main stream politics, culture, and economy; and

4. Create livelihood opportunites for needy youths.

Local community is the best allies to work in this situation. Developing local economy and exploring interconnectedness between humans and nature is must. Open political parties are another major allies but they are also the major challenge to bring change in the communities. People have loose faith on political parties. In this case, if available, independent local social leaders can strong allies.


Subhash - I suppose it's

Subhash - I suppose it's easier to convince groups with a a political and social motivation (I mean Maoists) that militarization has a damaging social impact than it is to convince a purely self-interest criminal grouping.  do you have any comment on that from the Nepalse experience? 

Nice to see your photo.  I don't seem to have one! 

Yes, and...

Howard, I agree with you to some extent that politically and socially motivated groups are easier to convince. There are other forces too that pulled the Maoists from its active militant practice to a non-militant political group. It still does not seem that the Maoists- and many other large/small semi/underground militant groups in Nepal- are convinced and so that turned themselves to the fact that nonviolent/non-militant approach is the best. The most important question seems- who is ready and able to convince them? 

Following experiences observed in Nepalese situation:

- During the first few years of armed conflict between government and the Maoists (1992-2002) in Nepal, Maoists recruitment was seemed fully motivated and attracted by political and social issues. Later on, affiliation and recruitment into the militant groups was dominated by the intentions/need/want of a shelter to save themselves from their past or present crimes/corruption/vandalism; and also for easy money/living. The promise given to those recruited was- 'In future you will be the pride army of the nation and will have secure job then.' 

- Above mentioned culture of community militarization opened up the door for many other groups to form their own military group. Easy money and so easy life is the sexiest attraction for youths in those new militant groups. It led to the criminalization of society and frustrating impunity.

- One of the central levels Maoist youth leader (ex-combatant!) has now doing a nationwide campaign in the name of 'youth un/employment'. One of their major slogans is: 'Till now we(youths) fought for others, lets fight for ourselves this time'. And, their fight now is like an NGO. What can be the reason of this shift? I wonder! May be this is one of their tool/tactic to keep their youths with them and mobilize in non-militant way. The best part is they are not militant. 

- If a militarily wounded country like Nepal gets a proper leadership after a violent shock, I believe, most of the ill motivated armed groups will soon disappear by the time. Such leadership is yet to emerge in Nepal.

Who can play an important role to give a shift towards hope of employability with dignified living to youths and move away from possible/ongoing militarization in the communities? Who can be our allies?

From our experience, I would say- media can be/have been a very strong mass motivator for youth and divert them from militant/violent psyche towards peaceful living. In Nepal, in recent years, few media groups are exploring positive news/stories/possibilities of employability with dignified living for youths in the field of AGRICULTURE. And, this trend is working and multiplying in the grass root level. 



Dear Subahsh you raised an

Dear Subahsh you raised an important point regarding the causes of the promotion of militarization and how to cope it with the tools of dialogue and negotiation

In my experience at district Swat, the recruitment of the youth in the military group of Taliban was motivated by  the political exploitation, void of law and slow judical system process.  the void of economic opportunities in the area was also the main cause of the recruitment of the youth

Moving forward

I want to look back and think about why a group of people or a community will be rendered vulnerable and two quick things come to my mind. One based on the Kenyan situation, depending on the government of the day, there is always a marginalised group(s) or communities which sometime translates into high levels of unemployment in certain regions and two, lack of basic education which is still connected to the issue of marginalisation but eventually leads to poor decisionmaking.

If through legislation countries can make basic education mandatory, then options will expend to allow young people make informed decisions on whether to or not to join military. This requires serious lobbying of the lawmakers and mature advocacy. In other parts of the world we might want to think of this in relation to child soldiers who in my view would otherwise be engaged in schools.  Education at whatever level in my view moves a person from level to the next. Many young people have missed serious employment opportunities in the public sector because they lacked education and skills. To some extent, education and training will be another way of preparing young people for the existing job market. There must be goodwill from both the politicians and the government to realise this dream.


In many countries, the

In many countries, the military is seen as an avenue for social ascent - you receive various forms of training, you gain status, and sometimes even you have access to power.  I agree that a better education system and job training would help young people make more mature decisions, but as long as the military are in a privileged position, they will have material temptations to offer. 

The military as an alternative to prison

I wonder about the targeting of criminals as possible recruits. 

There are times when dictatorships and similar regimes release criminals from prison to do their dirty work. 

Probably it's more common that defence lawyers recommend that young clients should try to enlist for the military.  The thinking is that the judge will then see that the young offender is ready to abandon crime and follow military discipline, and so won't hand down a prison sentence.  Somehow, according to this thinking, military discipline will steer 'young offenders' away from crime and violence. 

Recently I read that 15% of male recruits to the US Navy had been accused of rape, double the national average for their age group.  I don't know if this has to do anything to do with the type of lawyer's advice I've mentioned, or whether it is simply that the armed forces do attract more people with a propensity to violence.

Attracted to masculinist environments

[attract more people with a propensity to violence]

Or, possibly, attract more people who feel comfortable in deeply gendered settings, with power exerted through hierarchy (militarist/mascunlinist). Possibly those people who have themselves used sexual violence.

LGBTQ people

I'm wondering about the targetting of other-than-straight people.

Whilst I wouldn't refer to such communities as 'vulnerable', some groups could be referred to as marginalised / minority (in terms of number or in terms of power), so I think it fits in this category.

Speaking from the UK experience (where I'm based), the military first openly started targetting Pride marches around about 2005 (from The Sunday Times: This was welcomed by the head of a mainstream LGBT charity: "The army is now beginning to realise that even at infantry level there are very good, tough lesbians and gay men who are capable of serving very competently. There is a huge pool of talented lesbian and gay people out there who want to serve their country." He was not expecting these people to queer the military, but to fit in and be allowed to be 'tough' like others.

This is one of the same arguments made in Israel, where gay men in particular are encouraged to prove their status as Israelis, showing that, through experiencing the same conscription, they are just like other men. Many groups are struggling against what's described as Israel's 'pinkwash' (in which the liberal attitude that apparently exists in parts of Israel towards LGBTQ people is used to 'offset' or divert attention away from occupation and oppression of Palestinians.)

In the UK, I believe that there have been small numbers of people protesting against the presence of the military at Pride events, but visibility seems low and I'd be interested to hear about other experiences.

Whilst it is tempting to respond to military visibility with counter-visibility, I think a more concerted effort could be made in the run-up to such events, to open a debate beforehand, so that Pride marchers are already aware of the issues. Articles in blogs and papers that advertise Pride would be a start. Nonviolent direct actions at Pride itself that articulate the issues with the military presence could also be interesting. I've heard of examples of this, but can't find them online right now!




Further reading

If anyone is interested in this in particular, I'd recommend:


obama’s war on queer and trans youth

and The Broken Rifle: Queer and antimilitarism



the army is overwhelmingly popular in Pakistan

The real power of Pakistan army not comes from its guns but its popularity.  The army in Pakistani society and culture is overwhelmingly popular.  Majority of the Pakistanis thought their army has a good influence on the country even after the Laden’s killing at Abbottabad, Pakistan. The army is more popular in Pakistan than the country’s political parties and its elected leaders.

The people in Pakistan love army despite the fact that the Army imposed dictatorship on Pakistan four times, and hanged a prime minister.  We still blame and hold responsible our politicians and elective leaders for the nation’s problem when Pakistan’s budget, its foreign policy, its security policy and its Baluchistan policy are run by the army.

Pakistan Armed Forces have developed their own system of welfare to help them into a befitting manner. The relentless services of Pakistan Armed Forces to the nation at the time of natural disasters are very well known and recognized by the nation. The latest example in this regard is the response of Pakistan Armed Forces to the earthquake of Oct 2005.Despite having their own bunkers destroyed and casualties suffered, they stood firm against the disaster with courage and determination driven by the will to serve the nation and faced the onslaught of the earthquake bravely. Within short span of two years ERRA, with the assistance of civilian sector under the umbrella of Pakistan Armed Forces, acted upon the policy of "build back better" successfully in steering the society towards the socio – economic stability. As a matter of fact Pakistan Armed Forces have devised regular and continuous systems to help the needed and people in trouble.

Pakistan Armed Forces are not only the defenders of the motherland and guardians of the frontiers; they play vital role in development of Pakistan. The development arena includes socio-economic and cultural sectors. Pakistan Armed forces have a very well organized welfare system. These welfare organizations like FWO,AWT, NLC, SCO, Fauji Foundation, Shaheen Foundation and Bahria Foundation are not only serving for the retired/serving officers and Jawans(personnel), and the families of martyrs and disabled but also provide their services for the entire countrymen like provision of jobs and services to a major number of civilians. The other welfare measures include relief and rehabilitation of the effected of natural catastrophes, establishment of educational institutes, provision of medical assistance, slides clearance, construction of roads, dams, bridges and many more services.

The most appreciable thing for the Armed Forces is that soon after the creation of Pakistan; Pakistan Armed Forces reorganized themselves and paid attention to generate funds and resources for themselves through their corporate organizations and self-financing mechanism. Pakistan Armed Forces have completed a number of development projects to generate funds in order to paddle their own canoe!

On post war specifics in Macedonia and bit of Ex-Yugoslavia

Sorry for not commenting yesterday, here I come. :)

At least in Macedonia (and I'm pretty sure it is similar in majority of Ex-Yugoslav countries) the interest for joining the army is big. They don’t have to have specific strategies for attracting people. They don’t even have to make commercials, a tiny add in a small newspaper is enough. With a huge rate of unemployment in the country, military profession if seen as a secure and socially respected choice. There is very few left on promising careers and education. There is another perspective depending on the ethnicity (Albanians or Macedonians or similar cases in other countries from the region), but it doesn't really changes the general course.

People in here experienced war(s) in recent past, so they are pretty much aware what it is all about, they are not naive or mislead that much, but there is a high level of respect towards soldiers and state supported nationalism that boosts support for such choice. And - safe salary very much comes first. In all surveys I have seen in the past years, the army and the dominant religious congregation (Orthodox, Muslim or Catholic depending which background you come from) enjoy the highest trust from the citizens. Another element is the fragmentation of Yugoslavia and rising of 7 new countries out of it, so in many (all?) of them, the new born national army is seen as a natural part of circling the independence process, thus giving it a very human and even noble dimension in the public sphere.

This was just adding few lines on understanding specific situations in post-war societies, especially those that have history (or have embraced narratives) of gaining independence from or through a civilian war, and so on... It has its specifics and is getting sort of complicated.

Any work on demilitarization should have at least a short term perspective that the “second half” of the civilian war is not going to happen in near future. And if not (and usually it is not) it is an action which has to be combined with lots of other work on building trust and general safety and human rights issues or at least to understand that it is part of a wider spectrum. In some times, issues like national (ethnic) safety and personal safety become relevant altogether. It may sound strange.

Bringing up civilian stories from recent war(s) as contrary to the highly militarized one-sided stories widely present in public, is another important issue. And problematizing use of the army (in Iraq, now in Afghanistan,…) as a tool for foreign policy.

To be more clear: in today’s Macedonia, I think the army still haven’t filled its ranks according to the proposed numbers since the abolishment of conscription in 2006, but this itself is in no way a factor which makes me feel I live in less militarized society. It seems more complicated than the army numbers themselves.

(And, another issue can be sort of militarization of police which is spreading.)


While targeted recruting of vulnerable communities might not be a reality here in Kenya, I guess but stand to be corrected, that this is a carefully orchestrated and seemingly successful structural violence. To deal with this I would then be tempted to begin by believing this is a deliberate process that have serious actors behind the scenes. Some of them might also be slaves of the same process without knowing and if that is so then they need to be liberated in a way that they will be able to see things using our lenses. Winning perpetrators to share in the ideals on Nonviolence as a first step using dialogue is key in my view. This sounds easy but sometimes a very tough long process with little success hence the need for plans 2, 3, ............ Direct Nonviolent Actions would be my next course of action.

making connections

Hello all,

How good or bad are we at reaching out to the "general public" or even to more mainstream social movements on the issue of military recruitment and militarism?

I feel we tend to work mostly within groups of already supportive people and struggle to go beyond the same people and organisations. How often it happens that you go to a meeting and "they all look like you"?

How can we reach out to the "general public" or more mainstream social movements? Does it mean we need to make our messages less radical for people to accept or/and support it? Is it that if we make the connections of the military with other issues that people feel we are actually hijacking the issue because militarism is not a big enough issue on its own?

What tactics have people use to get beyond their own circles?

For me is crucial of making connections and alliances between different movements. Such as connecting students, teachets, parents,etc and antimilitarist against military recruitment. Anyone can share some successful stories or challenges they face doing this work?


Right on point

Right on point Javier. Most of the time we seem to be speaking to ourselves. It is like converting the already converted as Christians would say. We must get out of this comfort and just like I mentioned earlier win over "aggressors" to share in the ideals of our struggles. This could also just be a way of liberating them you know. We might assume they know what is supposed to be done but sometimes the reality is the exact opposite leaving them with no option but to do things the only way the know. Connection you said.

Confronting your opponent

Dear Dola,

Do you have experiences in Kenya on trying to win the "agreessor"?

What I am seen more and more are forms of actions that confront directly the opponent but not really trying to win them over but more as denounciation.  For many years now in Argentina and Chile there are actions of people going to the homes, work, etc of people who were involved in torture during the military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, in Argentina they are called scratches and in Chile Funas ( The idea is to mark them and let them know we know who they are and that we don't forget. And also for the neighbours to know who lives there.

In the USA it is quite known for example the actions of Code Pink where they go to events and disrupt and confront directly speakers, as Medea Benjamin did with Obama on the issue of Guantanamo and drones

I have also heard of a more friendly or subtle approach. Where you identify your target and then find out when this person is in a place doing something completely different to their role you are targeting. Can be a restaurant, a sport club, music event, etc and you friendly approach them and say can we have a word to speak about such and such. I  heard this story recently of a group targeting a representative of a bank while on holiday and appraching the rep at the hotel restaurant and as soon as the person said that it was not on her/his bank role and didn't want to talk about it they left and left a gift which was taken to the persons room, with information about why they wanted to talk with the person. As their aim is to engange in a longer term dialogue.

I wonder what other forms of "approaching" your opponent people know.


I have seen

This is not directly related to issues of militarism but yes Javier, I have seen CSO's here many times engage members of parliament outside their normal schedule on issues policy as well as national issues like security. Members of Parliament many times are part of the problem sometimes without knowing or have powers to change situations but don't know how. Experience has shown that few of them change tune after such meetings and join the CSO's or the general public which throws their colleagues of balance. I have also seen CSO's reachout to strategically placed persons within the government ang engage behind the scenes. By virtue of their positions, they are influencial persons who can either engage decision or policy makers directly on behalf of CSO's or organise high level dialogue meetings for CSO's with decision or policy makers. To note that not every decision or policy maker is welcome, but this involves careful identification  of friendly persons from the other side. Government through the instruments of power has proven to hold monopoly of violence and violent confrontations only hurts us more than the govt.

Not very different from what you're saying using different words.





The case in Egypt

In Egypt, military service is compulsory. All the youth from 18 till 30 are potential recruits. The military establishment officially exempts youth in some cases, including for medical reasons, however not everyone takes his right in medical exemption.

The most vulnerable group in Egypt is the illiterates and who didn't finish the basic education. Those youth are especially recruited in the Central Security, which is a para-military, because they are led by the Ministry of Interior in Egypt, while they are supposed to be recruited in the army, not the police, even according to the constitutions of Egypt (the previous one and the new one), the police is a civilian establishment. The Central Security service is normally used to crush any demonstration or public disobedience, however, the authorities have learned from the past 2 years and started not to use those tactics as they used to.

Because that group is mostly illiterate, they don't know that they have rights and they are the easiest to brainwash, becoming almost like killing machines. They themselves suffer maltreatment and the military establishment doesn't care for their safety, nutrition or their psychological condition.

Our main allies are of course the potential recruits and youth in general.

My experience taught me that our group can become an ally with politicized people from liberals, not phony liberals. Liberals who truly believe in individual freedom, tolerance and peace. Because, the rest of the political spectrum is very intolerant and are pro-militarism. There are others who can potentially be our allies who may not conform to political labels, but I mentioned the most probable label which is found in Egypt.

Did you know that Egyptians who work in police or the military can't vote? Did you know that if you did not finish your military service or be exempt, you won't be allowed to travel out of Egypt or work and may be imprisoned for three years which could be extended, you won't be allowed to hold public positions including in the parliament and being president?


thanks for sharing

 Thanks for sharing this Emad.There is quite similar situation also happen in Indonesian military. In Indonesia, there is always a public recruitment which targeting young people who are only finished their basic education (high school).  Once these young people become new soldiers, they will be sent to the conflict area and serves there to killed innocent people. The military members in Indonesia (by law) are not allowed to vote at the election. However, most of the presidential candidates are former military general and they always use their military influences in order to get support from the voters.

Any campaigns to allow military to vote?

It's interesting that military members in Indonesia and other countries are not allowed to vote. Does anyone know of any campaigns that work to change that specific law? I wonder if the military were allowed to vote, if that would change how the military is used by government, and potentially their recruitment tactics...

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Reply to "kantin": (Any campaigns to allow military to vote?)

Unfortunately, there are no campaigns to allow militarists or police officers to have the right to vote in Egypt, however, in out movement, No to Compulsory Service, we totally endorse the idea. What you may not have known is that actually many Egyptians agree to that inequality, claiming that the military and the police would not be neutral! Our regime in Egypt has always and still is a military regime, anyway, with a quasi-civilian facade.

Military and multinational companies

Hi all,
I am sorry for just have a chance to join the conversation now. I just want to add another aspect of Militarization that creates negative impact to the vulnerable people such as local peoples, workers and women, which is the relation between state, military and multinational companies.

In many developing countries, as far as I know, it is legal for multinational companies to use military to back up their investment. Companies spending huge amount for security by recruiting or create agreements with the military institutions to provide security services within the concessions' areas. Even more, military institution can provide private security services, which are part of the military private business.

The impact of these activities has created violence and human rights abuses to local peoples such as indigenous peoples, workers and women who are vulnerable.  

I can give you one example case on Freeport McMoran, the US gold and copper mining in West Papua (Indonesia).

Here is the link of a good report by Global Witness

I hope there you can share some other examples, so we can find the similarity and connection of them, and we can discuss it more deeply.

Changing the aspect of millitarization

Its quite a discussion when it comes to the subject of how vulnerable communities get recruited. I need to acknoledge that this problem is a phenonmenon the world over and is not nucleared in any given society. The approach that must be employed considers four dimensions in order that all angles are addressed to discourage such recruitment processes intended or otherwise.

Foremost, I submit that there is need to re-define millitary and afford it human riights perspectives in which abuses are not only idenitfied but are emphasized in relation to people's dignity, especially the victims. Secondly there is urgency in reforming judicial systems to allow them space to take trials for those found committing such crimes. In so doing the stage would have been set for defining millitary in legal as well as moral (human rights) terms which then provides room for criminalization. This should go further and rope in the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to the extent that it deals with state and non state millitary institutions for the benefit of humanity not at the behest of selfish war lords.

Economic interventions are required that young people do not find refuge in joining millitary processes that not only promise success but adventure and fun that comes with lawlessness and jungle culture. It is important that the world through United Nations and other block institutions like EU, SADC, EAC and ECOWAS develop/formulate integrative legislations that offers catholic penalities and punishments for such crimes. It may not be directly linked to this discussion but the presence of UNESCO in recognition of different cultures and judicial processes that uphold dignity of marginalized communities should be factored in to the process of de-millitarization.

To add value to the aforemtnioned processes, there is need to isolate and work with meida houses which support the idea of de-millitarization. This does not eliminate but provides a plarform upon which advocates can stand and make clarion calls to the world to stop such actions. Similarly, a comparisson to the eradicate hunger initiative that was uindertaken by International celebreties way back in the 90s.

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