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France’s Young Generation: Surprisingly Open to Armed Combat



French youth show a “renewed sense of patriotism” and are ready to defend their country in the event of conflict, according to a groundbreaking study on youth and war conducted in 2023 and released Friday by French Defense Ministry organizations. The French newspaper Le Parisien picked up the survey.

Among the key figures in this sociological study, the first on the subject since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, one in two young people between the ages of 18 and 25 say they are ready to enlist for France in Ukraine.

This survey conducted in the summer of 2023

The study carried out between June and December 2023 by IRSEM (Institut de recherche stratégique de l’école militaire) and DGRIS (Direction générale des relations internationales et de la stratégie) was overseen by Anne Muxel, director of research at CNRS and deputy director of the CEVIPOF policy research center.

The curious fact is that this poll becomes public now, when the Macron government has taken a more interventionist stance, and it is not impossible that its publication has political significance.

It examines a number of surveys, including one that the Ipsos Institute conducted online among 2,301 respondents, a sample that is typical of French youth between the ages of 18 and 25. This particular poll was conducted between June 16 and July 9, 2023, well before President Emmanuel Macron’s Feb. 26 statements that he would not rule out sending ground troops into Ukraine. And well before the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Perception of military at stakes

There are, however, strong trends in the way the younger generation perceives military issues. When asked, “If France’s protection required the country to engage in a war in Ukraine, would you be willing to enlist to defend your country?” 51 percent of respondents answered “yes,” including 17 percent who said “definitely yes” and 34 percent who said “maybe yes.” Almost a quarter of boys (24%) answered ‘definitely yes,’ compared to 12% of girls.

Without mentioning any particular country, 57 percent of young respondents said they would be ready to enlist in the armed forces “in case of war.”

“There is a resurgence of patriotism that responds to a need for meaning, commitment and feeling useful,” the researcher explained to AFP. “The feeling that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, on the doorstep of the European Union, poses a tangible threat is very present.”

The likelihood of Russia using nuclear force to start a conflict is something that most people (69%) fear. Even more, 49% of respondents think that using nuclear weapons “against a country in case of a major conflict” is “acceptable in some cases” or “completely acceptable.”

Isn’t this almost favorable view of war for young French people related to the fact that none of them have heard the war stories of their great-grandparents and grandparents, those who really risked their skins in the trenches, as their Ukrainian and Russian peers do?

The meaning of the poll

Several surveys had already shown a positive evolution in young people’s relationship with the military establishment, particularly after the 2015 jihadist attacks in France. But this study takes a closer look at the portrayal of war, the influence of video games, and young people’s desire to get involved.

Global warming is their number one concern, but many (77 percent) see it as an additional risk of war.

Sixty-two percent of respondents think that “it would be a good thing to reintroduce compulsory military service,” which was discontinued in 1997 but has since been partially reinstated in several European nations, including Sweden.

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