The fifth chapter of the YouGov Study of War analyses whether and under which circumstances Britons would be willing to go to war, and when is it right to allow people to join military service and take part in active combat.
It should be noted for posterity that the study was conducted from 14-18 April 2022, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Going to war
Britons are split on whether they would or would not ever go to war: four in ten (38%) say they can envisage themselves going to war but slightly more – 44% – say there are no circumstances in which they would be willing to do so. One in five (18%x`) say they don’t know.
Over half of women (55%) and a third of men (32%) say they would not be willing to go to war. Around half of Britons under the age of 40 (49-51%) say they would not go to war, falling to four in ten (41%) among those in the older generations.
Half of Labour supporters (51%) say there are no circumstances in which they would take up arms, compared to 35% of Conservatives voters.
A quarter of Britons (24%) say that even if the UK was facing a military invasion, they would not join the military or get involved in any way. One in five (19%) would join the military if the UK faced an invasion: including 9% who would volunteer and 10% who would serve in the armed forces if called up.
Six in ten Britons (61%) say they don’t expect to be called up for military service in case of an invasion. This is made up of 43% who say they would get involved in another (non-military) way in defending the country, while the other 18% said they would not get involved at all.
Britons under the age of 40 (32-36%) are significantly more likely than over-40s (18-19%) to report they would not be willing to join the war effort (even if called up or in any other way). Among those age groups under 40, 10-13% said they would refuse to serve if called up.
Looking only at British men, three in ten (30%) say they would join the military, comprising of 16% who would volunteer and 14% would join if called up for service. Among 16-24-year-old men, 27% would join the military, going up to a third (34-36%) among men aged 25 to 39. Between 13-15% of men in these age groups would refuse to serve if called upon.
Joining the army
The minimum age for enlisting in the UK armed forces is 16. The UK is the only country in Europe which recruits people aged under 18, but they need parental consent. Those between the ages of 12 and 18 can join military cadet forces.
Half of Britons (51%) think people should be allowed to join the army between 18 and 21 years of age. One in six (17%) think 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to join the forces, while a fifth (22%) say it should be over the age of 21.
Among 16-24-year-olds, 10% think 16-17-year-olds should be able to enlist in the armed forces, while 45% say it should be allowed between the ages of 18 and 21. The older Britons are, the more likely they are to support 16-17-year-olds enlisting in the armed forces: from 14% among 25-39-year-olds to 22% among those 60 and older.
Looking specifically at British men, those older than 40 (24-31%) are more likely than the younger generations (15-18%) to support 16-17-year-olds enlisting in the armed forces.
A quarter of Conservative voters (24%) support allowing 16-17-year-olds to join the forces, compared to 12% of Labour supporters.
In the UK, members of the armed forces cannot legally be deployed on the frontline (i.e. in areas of active combat) until they turn 18.
Few Britons oppose this rule: just 4% of Britons (6% among men and 3% among women) support allowing 16-17-year-olds who have joined the army to take part in active combat.
Over four in ten (44%) think that soldiers should see active combat only from the age of 18, while a further 41% think this should be from the age of 22.
To find out more about the YouGov Study of War click here.