The ethical case for raising the armed forces’ recruitment age to 18 is well established, but less well known is an equally compelling practical reason for change: ever more 16 and 17-year-olds are opting to stay in school. At the same time, the dwindling number of minors that the army does manage to attract are becoming increasingly expensive to train and difficult to retain.
Most countries have realized that targeting 16-year-olds for recruitment is not an effective strategy for modern armed forces. Fewer than 20 other states in the world recruit at this age, none of them a major military power. The RAF and navy have effectively moved on. Of the 2,000 or so new recruits aged under 18 last year, more than four-fifths joined the army, particularly the infantry. The British Army is now the only institution doggedly committed to the youngest recruitment age in Europe.