Day: December 24, 2010

The Opposition to New START and the Short-Term Future of Arms Control

Rob Farley notes the existence of long-standing conservative opposition to arms control. While the hacks at the Heritage Foundation lost this battle, Rob argues, their influence on Republican international thought is waxing rather than waning. Thus, more of opposition to New START was principled than many observers recognize, and this bodes ill for future arms control.

The New START debate over the last month has been held largely under the assumption that the treaty would die if it wasn’t ratified during the lame duck session. I suspect that this assumption is accurate. Moreover, the two most important potential GOP presidential candidates have “authored” op-eds that are essentially collections of Heritage Foundation talking points. Finally, the GOPsters who supported the treaty are mostly (although not all) old and outside of the GOP mainstream.

I’m afraid that I have to concur with Mary Beth Sheridan’s account; Heritage failed, but demonstrated its strength within the GOP caucus. The anti-arms control faction of the GOP was much more careful and serious about developing a network of institutional support than the pro-arms control faction, and at this point the latter is on life support.

Is Rob right? I’m not entirely convinced.

This much is certainly true:

  • Some GOP Presidential hopefuls declared themselves against New START;
  • A significant number of incoming GOP representatives and senators came out against New START, or at least against ratifying it during the lame-duck session; and
  • In doing so, they, like Romney’s staff writers, cribbed from whatever “substantive” anti-New START talking points they received from conservative think tanks.

But that does not imply much about the long-term influence of anti-arms control elements in the GOP because, at heart, much of the opposition to New START was driven by both a desire to deny Obama “victories” and by GOP partisan cueing. New START would have been relatively uncontroversial if it had been negotiated by a Republican president. Some hard-core anti-arms control conservatives would have pumped out the same dire warnings, but with far less traction among Republican politicians and voters.

I can’t prove any of this, of course. By the same token, however, we don’t (yet) have strong evidence of an upsurge in the influence of foreign-policy hardliners among the GOP.  We’ve certainly seen a resurgence of fringe right-wing beliefs among some GOP activists, but it remains a long road from that observation to declaring victory for anti-arms control conservativism.

On the other hand, a variety of other factors will likely to preclude significant progress on arms control. For example, there’s no evidence of an improved climate for CTBT from that of the 1990s–irrespective of partisan cueing or changes within the GOP. The Russians, for their part, have little incentive to negotiate further reductions in nuclear arsenals–they depend too heavily on nuclear weapons to compensate for their conventional weaknesses and reductions below 1500 warheads start implicating their deterrence posture with respect to China. And Beijing has displayed no interest in limitations on its own capabilities, which, in the nuclear arena, are still relatively modest.

In short, it simply won’t matter very much whether the GOP is a bit more or less favorably disposed to major arms-control initiatives.

[Image: a test-firing of a Bulava SLBM. Source.]

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The Ugly Underside of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is official now, signed by the President and a celebration of what is, by most accounts, an incredibly productive lame-duck Congressional session. It is certainly, in my mind, high time that this both on-face ridiculous and insidiously discriminatory policy make its way out of United States law and military practice. It is also, in my mind, just plain stupid the ways in which the United States does not recognize people it perceives to be homosexual as full citizens of the state; the repeal of one of them is a sign that maybe that will be (if slowly) changing.

So why am I, as a feminist and a queer theorist, not throwing a party for the repeal of this terrible policy? Is it because I just like to be contrary?

That too, but there’s more to it. In celebrating the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the (important and well-deserved) removal of obstacles to gay people serving in the military, there’s a lot of entrenchment of (masculinist) militarism as a standard for citizenship. In Derrick Bell’s words, militarization has made exactly the concession to deconstructing sex/gender hierarchies that it needs to to maintain its dominance in United States political culture, no less, and no more.

Since I don’t know how to link to tweets, I’ll copy a couple of Obama’s:

“We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot and believes all are created equal. Those are the ideals we upheld today. #DADT”

“By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will patriotic Americans be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.”

In the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there is a quote (repeated in several press conferences this week) from a GI when asked if they “cared” if someone was gay in their unit. The GI said: “We have a gay guy. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”

They did, however, care that he was masculine. Like women, gay people can now be full participants in the US military (well, okay, more than women, for gay men, since there are not combat restrictions on gay men). But, like women, they will continue to participate in a military that has not changed its standards of what counts as good soldiering because it has become inclusive of a broader range of faces, bodies, and lifestyles. That the military now includes gay people and (kind of) women openly does not mean that it is some how gender-equal or gender neutral. Instead, masculinity remains the standard of good soldiering in the United States military. A woman soldier, then, is a woman who can make it as a man; a gay male soldier is a gay man who can make it as a straight man. Each must portray characteristics of a dominant, hegemonic, heterosexual masculinity in training and in combat. For example, in a recent release on the Marine Corps website honoring soldiers’ heroism, a soldier is praised for reminding observers of Rambo on the battlefield. In this context, (heterosexist) militarized masculinity is a group of behaviors and norms; the more people permitted to emulate it, the less we notice it remains the standard. While the US military of the 21st century is, in many ways, “not your father’s military,” it remains heavily masculinist in its values, performances, and practices. Celebrating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell the way it has been celebrated, I think, may obscure that point.

It also obscures a long tradition in Western political systems of defining full citizenship by military participation/bravery. Most of those political systems have (formal or informal) rules counting people as full citizens when and only when they are eligible to engage in military service, and hold military experience as a key political factor. While those times may too be changing, they have not entirely changed – the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell(again, though wonderful) affects many fewer lives than adding sexual preference as a protected class under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (for a short explanation, see this or even settling this (silly, ridiculous) “gay marriage” debate once and for all. So why Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell first? Because the military is still a symbol of full citizenship in the (patriarchal, patriotic) state, and our gendered nationalisms remain the discourses through which we talk about, think about, and see life in the United States.

Would I have voted for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were I in the Senate? Absolutely. Every day of the week. But I would have done it advocating that we critically rethink the gendered nature of and gendered hierarchies within the (theory and) practices of the United States and its military/ies.

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