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Young citizens and the profession of arms: what prospects for 2035?

General Military Review No. 56
History & strategy

The rusticity of life in the countryside implies constraints that are foreign to our society. Jérôme BARDENET/SIRPAT/Défense
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The link between the individual and the military society remains a subject of study and concern because, for our country as for any State, it is imperative to have a pool of motivated citizens ready to serve the nation within the framework of the defence policy. This state of affairs invites us to reflect on the evolution of the relationship with the profession of arms that young Frenchmen have and will have in the near future, whereas individualism and the comfort of daily life do not encourage rusticity and self-improvement.

In the 1990s, with the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the Western approach to defence was disrupted. Various political thinkers and sociologists were then convinced, with dogmatic determination, that a long period of peace was beginning that no longer required the maintenance of a large national army.

On theother hand, crises and conflicts of low and low intensity continue to aggravate the international situation. France is then obliged to participate in various operations, demanding in terms of both duration and resources mobilized. Since 1991, the French army has lost some 353 soldiers in its external operations, including 126 since 2009.

The resurgence of localized instability and the resurgence of threats have led to a recurrent transformation of the army, which in peacetime was more concerned with manoeuvres than interventions. Paradoxically, the technocratic powers, focused on budgetary savings, are adopting a geopolitical approach that leads them to reduce the size of armies and to progressively rely on the robotization and automation of various weapon systems. Nevertheless, an army must always resort to combatants in the "conquest of the last metres". As Michel Goya points out, the latter must be considered a treasure for nations that "[...] do not survive very long without them . […] »1.

At the same time, since the suspension of national service in 1997, the political and military authorities have been wondering how to perpetuate a certain armed-nation bond. They are also seeking to stay in touch with the new age groups on which, in a few decades' time, national defence and security policies will be based.

Even if the prevailing feeling today is against a massive commitment, it is necessary to be able to count on citizens wishing to constitute, as well as perpetuate, a national army. So, tomorrow, around 2035, will the army be able to have a sufficient pool of soldiers from the so-called Z generation?

The army of tomorrow; with which recruits? The ever-present concern of the operational pool

In the wake of the baby boomers born between 1944 and the mid-1960s is the so-called Generation X. The "Xennials ", born between the mid-1960s and 1983, grew up against the backdrop of a growing economic crisis, energy commodity inflation and relocation processes. The labour market contracted at the same time as the traditional family model tended to break down with the increase in divorce rates. Once adults, the "Xennials " increasingly interact with the Internet, whose breakthrough is palpable from the second half of the 1990s and shouting in the early 2000s.

The emergence of the "Generation Y", also known as the "Millennials", born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, is characterized by the following characteristicsThe emergence of the "Generation Y", also known as the "Millennials", born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, is characterized by individuals imbued with the omnipresence of the computer, virtual worlds heralded by video games and the Internet, now firmly rooted in everyday life. For sociologists, these young people are very sensitive to the notion of immediacy (presentism) and testify toa perpetual mental movement between the real world and virtual spaces. Ultra-connectivity also contributes to being more and more detached from real life.

Finally, a distinction can be made between the young citizens of generation Z (a reference to the zapping reflex), born from 2000 onwards, who are very keen on social networks and digitisation. They have an almost fusional relationship with new technologies. Their decision making is most often rapid. Guided by their emotions, young people of generation Z also tend to be versatile, driven by short-term pragmatism, while being individualistic, consumerist and less and less inclined to put up with rusticity, determination and a taste for effort. And what about the lack of interest in reading and the decline of general culture within this generation, which is more sensitive to Net influencers than to analyses and in-depth studies.

For all that, it would be largely debatable to confine individualism to just one of these generations. For individualism was born out of the consumer society, which began during the so-called "Glorious Thirty" (1945-1973), and has continued to grow ever since, in a global manner.

Still, the lack of attractiveness for military life has been observed for several decades, even if it has been particularly worrying since the beginning of 2010. In Europe, only nine countries retain national service: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania and Switzerland.

The notion of individualism: an intergenerational concept

Predicting the positioning of young people and conceptualizing their relationship to the military professions are the subject of specific sociological studies.2.

Individualism predominates and continues during the "Trente piteuses" (1974-2004), an expression of Nicolas Baverez.3. On the strength of her experience and analysis, teacher Barbara Lefebvre estimated in 2018 that "[...] we are in the glorification of particular identities, in a frenzied individualism ".4. These are all characteristics that do not seem to be compatible with military life.

For the sociologist Olivier Galland, the situation is clearly impregnated with the rise of identity claims, protests and demands. However, he tempers and believes that "the rejection of authority is not generalized among young people, it is in fact very different depending on social background or level of education. But it is also true that the recognition of the individual in his or her particularity is a very strong theme in youth .5.

Young people in the effort: loss of hardiness and resiliency

Since the end of the 1990s, both hardiness and the sustained practice of sports have been strongly eroded. The lack of physical activity, combined with a poor diet (excessive consumption of fatty and sweet products), has led to an increase in the number of overweight and obese individuals.6.

For almost twenty years, the recruitment services of the Western armies have seen an increase in the number of overweight candidates, lack of endurance and stamina in the tests imposed, coupled with a decrease in muscle tone and greater sensitivity to pain. All these factors lead to a significant number of failures among applicants for special units and elite troops.

In 2018, the US Army publicly acknowledges that one third of candidates for enlistment are rejected because of overweight, which represents a shortfall of 6,500 potential candidates in the first ten months of 2018.7. The increase in the proportion of 'too fat to fight' candidates in the US Army has become soworrying that the Pentagon is reportedly spending nearly $1.5 billion on military and ex-soldier health issues. In Switzerland, the incapacity rate remains fairly stable at around 25% between 2006 and 2016.

Proof of the transcontinental dimension of this social phenomenon, the Belgian army is facing the same difficulties, to the point of having launched in 2012 a programme designed to help its soldiers to work against overweight.8 knowing that 60% of Belgian soldiers were overweight, 15% of whom were known to be obese. In Spain, in the Spanish Legion, 6% of its members will be overweight in 2018.

Hedonism and psychological fragility are also more prevalent today compared to what was observed twenty years ago. There is also the difficulty of integrating a hierarchical structure, shaped by strict rules, which is compounded by a reluctance to make the adjustments required for life in the community. For young people, it is almost inconceivable that they would ever be able to get rid of mobile phones, which are synonymous with links to friends, family and social networks. Immersion in a military environment, where employment restrictions are in place, proves to be very difficult for many young people.9.

It is also common to find that young people prefer civilian service, as in Switzerland, although the degree of physical unfitness to serve in a military structure has not increased appreciably. Drop-outs during the training phases are said to be increasing slightly and steadily over the years.10.

Education level and involvement in military life: towards a direct grasp of the inherent technologies and specialities

At the end of the 1990s, sociologists noted that the higher the educational level of young people, the less they aspired to integrate into the combat environment.11. At that time, the military institution was also not without responsibility in the face of the reluctance of the most highly educated to join the military. Thus, the services dedicated to the management of recruitment, particularly of EVATs, did not recognize "their own quality and competence. The system itself [ revealed] several flaws. The location of recruitment pools was not well known and the methods and information relays were uncertain . […] »12.

Since then, the situation has changed considerably. Many opportunities to serve in the Army have been put forward. With an average age of 20, non-commissioned members - 10 per cent of whom are young women - show a better academic background than they did 20 years ago. Thus, nearly 50% of them hold a baccalaureate and, gradually, non-commissioned officer candidates hold a BAC + 2 and officers a Master's degree.

In absolute terms, therefore, it is crucial that the military institution regularly makes its own revolution in introspection, ensuring that it conforms to a rhythm that takes into account that of the entrepreneurial environment. In fact, the army is in a position to sell itself better by bouncing back on new technologies, especially cyberspace and high-tech technologies . Information technology itself is thus becoming a factor of attraction and recruitment, in a context that is gradually integrating automation and robotization. As such, the intelligence and national security services are recruiting significantly from the pool of young graduates who are keen on computers and new technologies.

The next step is to find ways to retain recruits, as the situation remains rather problematic.

Between attractiveness and loyalty: constant values for the arms profession

On the retention of young recruits...

The High Military Condition Assessment Committee has thus addressed the strategic issue of retaining young military personnel.

In 2017, a survey of French military personnel revealed that 69% of them considered civil society to be more fulfilling, 48% less restrictive and 53% more remunerative than the military environment.13. For 55% of those surveyed, the difficulty in reconciling military and private life tends to encourage them to leave the military. Moreover, 45% of the military personnel surveyed deplore mobility in their profession, which is perceived as an obstacle to their personal life.14. Finally, some 53% of those surveyed believe that they do not have adequate resources to carry out their missions; missions whose redundancy also tends to weaken staff loyalty.

On average, 20% of the young people hired terminate their contracts within the first year of service. In the Army, where 72% of personnel are on contract, the objective is to reach the eight years of loyalty compared to the six years currently acquired. Despite this, the majority of military personnel are reluctant to sign up for long careers. Two-thirds of non-commissioned members serve on short contracts. It should also be noted that military personnel come from all socio-professional categories, but that the attractiveness of military life is all the greater in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

According to the High Committee, efforts should focus in particular on support for personnel and the environment. Accommodation and catering facilities are often considered unsatisfactory, to the extent that the High Committee for the Evaluation of the Military Condition considered in 2017 that the budgetary requirements were 300 million for 2019 and 500 million in 2020.

However, it is reassuring to note that certain values remain, at all costs, sources of inspiration and motivation. the sustainability of patriotic values

Thus, in spite of the generational interplay, patriotic principles - attachment to the Nation and the Fatherland, honour, sense of duty, traditions - remain determining factors, immutable vectors of synergy. Attraction to action, sensitivity to esprit de corps and the prestige of the uniform are also among the determining factors.

Refusal to suffer threats and adversity

In France, more than 80% of the French have a very good image of the army, a level almost comparable to that of Great Britain.15. Moreover, popular emotion seems to be more intense as French soldiers fall in operations, especially when it comes to rescuing compatriots.16.

Contemporary history testifies to this constant of the start of commitment, by virtue of the awareness of exceptional circumstances. In 1940, following the French defeat and the occupation of the country, some citizens chose to join the Free France, without any prior military experience. For the almost unanimous opinion of the Free French, their choice was dictated by a "deep patriotic conviction" while political motivations or ideologies were in the minority17.

17 Exceptional situations always give rise to cyclical motivations. For example, the attacks in Paris in 2015 led to a surge into the reserve.

As a direct consequence of the attacks, the President of the Republic decided on 6 April 2016 to increase the staff of the Ministry of Defence by 10 000 posts for the period 2017-2019.

The recruitment needs of the armed forces are generally being met, having increased from 20,430 in 2014 to 34,523 in 2016, the year in which the National Guard was established.18.

In 2017, the armed forces recruited 32,424 personnel but face the departure of 21,606 personnel, including non-commissioned officers and non-commissioned members, an increase of 1,200 over 2016. Hence the need to insist on attractiveness and loyalty19.

Lastly, the feminization of the French army is far from negligible, to the extent that it is one of the most feminized, with 15.2 per cent of the armed forces. There is no doubt that their role will "crescendo" in the new army of the second third of the 21st century.

Towards 2035 and beyond...

In spite of the growing importance of electronic warfare, the development of intelligent weapons systems and technical innovations aimed at reducing the physical wear and tear on the combatant (exoskeleton, integrated and interconnected combatant system), there will still be a need for personnel for close combat. There will always be the necessary management of the psychological and physiological shock resulting from confrontation with war and its effects: icy visions of wounded, bruised bodies, torn limbs, decimated, massacred populations, the suffering of brothers-in-arms injured or killed in action.

Will the physical criteria be revised downwards as is already the case, particularly across the Channel, in Great Britain? Time will tell. In any case, various elements testify to this trend throughout the world, as armies are forced to take account of new socio-cultural realities.

It also remains to be seen what the so-called Alpha generation will be able to achieve.20 emerged after 2010, bearing in mind that the military environment remains undoubtedly linked to collective action. Will 20-year-olds in 2038 have a taste for commitment or will they delegate the operational game to the machine? These young people, inseparable from screens since their early childhood ("Generation Glass"), have grown up in correlation with the extension and rise in power of digital media and devices connected to social networks. Let's bet that the virtual, without nuanced reflection, will not take precedence over diplomacy and the graduation of modes of action. It will be up to these young adults to keep the ascendancy over artificial intelligence.21.

However, beyond the dimension of warlike commitment, which can combine - to what extent ethical? - man and machine, the human being will be unique in establishing the link with populations in order to promote the "return to normal" of a post-conflict society.


1 Michel GOYA: Honour to our fallen soldiers, and to those who are alive! in Le Figaro, 15 May 2019.

2 We can thus cite the work carried out by the Centre de Sociologie de la Défense Nationale (1969-1994), then those undertaken by the Centre d'Études en Sciences Sociales de la Défense, under the leadership of the Secrétariat Général pour l'Administration.

3 Nicolas BAVEREZ: Les Trente piteuses. Editions Flammarion, Collection "Essays", Paris, 1998.

4 Christian BRIGAUDEAU: Individualism, rejection of authority . Enquête sur la génération " J'ai le droit ", in Le Parisien, 16 January 2018.

5 Op. cit.

6 According to the World Health Organization, overweight and obesity are measured by body mass index or BMI. An overweight person has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m², while an obese person has a BMI above 30 kg/m².

7 Council for a strong America focus group report on Army recruitment. Quoted in "In the United States, one-third of young army applicants are 'too fat' to join" in Sud Ouest, October 12, 2018.

8 Laurent LAGNEAU: A programme to help Belgian soldiers lose weight, 13 January 2012, cf.

9 The omnipresence of mobile telephony is not without security consequences. In Israel, in the 2000s, reminders to order had to be issued to warn conscripts on manoeuvres or operations, in particular, not to use their own telephones.In Israel, in the 2000s, reminders to order had to be issued to warn conscripts on manoeuvres or operations, in particular, not to use their own mobile telephones so as not to be exposed to counter-operations by Palestinian paramilitaries likely to spot them, intercept their communications and locate them.

10 In Switzerland, abandonments under investigation were about 15 per cent in 2015 and are increasing slightly from year to year.

11 François SARFATI, Dominique EPIPHANE, Irène JONAS, Emmanuel SULZER: Young people's expectations of their jobs . Centre d'Études en sciences sociales de la Défense, 2008, p. 27.

12 M. LHOSTE: Analyse du sous-système information, recrutement et sélection des engagés volontaires de l'Armée de terre, Paris, CSDN, 1994.

13 Haut Comité d'évaluation de la condition militaire: La fonction militaire dans la société française. 11th report. September 2017, 196 pages.

14 It is clear that in this matter, the acceptance of the spouse is an important element because it is a constructive synergy, since the family unit or the immediate circle of personal life functions as a reference pillar. Moreover, it is not uncommon for spouses to give up their own professional life, except in the case of geographical celibacy chosen by the military.

15 Op. cit.

16 The death in Burkina Faso of the two combat swimmers of the Commando Hubert, Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello on the night of 9 to 10 June 2019, led to a national tribute being paid to them at Les Invalides on 14 May 2019.

17 In the Free French forces, the average age of enlistment is 25.4 years. Among the French volunteers, 51.2% are between 21 and 30 years old, 34% are under 20 years old. Only 5.7% of them are over 40 years old. While 37.4 % of Free Frenchmen have signed up for a commitment when they join the Free French, 31.6 % have no prior military experience. Figures communicated by Benjamin Massieu: Philippe Kieffer. Head of the Free French commandos. Ed. Pierre de Taillac, Villers-sur-Mer, 2013, p. 51.

18 Haut Comité d'évaluation de la condition militaire. 11th Report. Annual Review of the Military Condition. September 2017, 196 pages.

19 High Military Condition Assessment Committee. 12th Report. Annual Review of the Military Condition. November 2018, 202 pages.

20 Australian social scientist Mark McCrindle coined the term "alpha generation".

21 However, scientists such as Michel Desmurget, a doctor in neuroscience and director of research at Inserm, are skeptical and fear the emergence of a generation of "digital morons": "[...] What we are doing to our children is inexcusable. What we are doing to our children is inexcusable. Probably never before in the history of mankind has such an experiment in decerebration been carried out on such a large scale. Michel DESMURGET: The factory of the digital moron. Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 2019, 432 pages.

Title : Young citizens and the profession of arms: what prospects for 2035?
Author (s) : Commandant (R) Pascal LE PAUTREMAT

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Exceptional events always provoke bursts of patriotism. Christophe BARAST/earth army