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Through national resilience training, young people could play a valuable role in crisis scenarios.
In liberal democracies including the UK, there is growing recognition that the armed forces alone cannot respond to every national security threat. They are already stretched. Perhaps more importantly, the forms of aggression that are increasing are of a non-kinetic kind and directed against civil society. These forms of aggression include disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks, with the latter often directed against companies. In addition, severe weather events are increasing, as is the risk of disruption caused by contagious diseases such as COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus. Like attacks by state actors, such events cause disruption to daily life. With this in mind, the wider population could play a crucial role in helping limit the effects of non-kinetic aggression against the country. Such involvement would also aid deterrence by signalling to adversaries that the benefits of an attack will not be worth the cost.
In a previous RUSI Occasional Paper, this author presented a model for how the UK can adopt and adapt Scandinavian countries’ competitive national service model, thus building a core of highly trained people affiliated with all parts of government. Such a model would allow the government to surge during a crisis. This paper forms the second part of the author’s proposal for citizen involvement in national security: resilience training for teenagers aged 16 to 18. The (non-weapons) training would include crisis preparedness, emergency response and information literacy. It would be taught by experts seconded to the Home Office and completed during school breaks, with participation incentivised through UCAS points or, for those bound for the labour market, tax credit.
Graduates of this training would also attend refresher training and would, crucially, enter a command-and-control system connected to the blue-light services, so that they could be called up for duty during a crisis. This would allow the government to direct skilled crisis personnel to the most challenging tasks.
This skilled corps could also be an asset to the UK’s post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ strategy, with the government being able to call up willing graduates for deployment to crisis-stricken countries requesting assistance from the UK.
Elisabeth Braw directs RUSI's Modern Deterrence project, which focuses on how governments, business and civil society can work together to strengthen countries' defence against existing and emerging threats.