Day: August 29, 2011

Assessing the Arguments Against GI Jane: The Combat Exclusion for Women Part I



As American troops trickle back from Iraq and-eventually- Afghanistan, it seems like the perfect time to examine the lessons learned from the last decade of warfare. One of the policies requiring a review is the combat exclusion for women. Although most positions within the US forces have been opened up to women over the last 50 years, there has been adamant efforts to sustain rules which prohibit women from joining the so-called front lines of conflict in combat roles. Many of the remaining justifications for this exclusion are based on expired research (or no research at all), and outdated or irrelevant assumptions about military operations (including the idea of a clear front line).

First, some quick facts: over 130 women have died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom; women are excluded from 9% of all army roles, and 30% of active duty roles and 38% of marine positions are closed to women; two servicewomen have been awarded the Silver Star- the military’s third highest honor for valor in combat.

The arguments for sustaining the exclusion can be divided into three categories: physical standards, the moral argument, and the cohesion hypothesis.

The focus on physical standards is a legitimate one. Women and men are just different physically, particularly in terms of body fat and upper body strength- not to mention the fact that women menstruate and get pregnant. There are no feminist arguments that can undo these differences. There are a couple of worthwhile considerations here: 1. standards have increasingly been adjusted in training to recognize the difference in male and female bodies 2. there is growing research indicating that a single standard isn’t necessary for operational effectiveness 3. some research shows that tasks can be adapted (using two people to lift, for example) to allow women to succeed.



The second argument against women in combat is less tangible and certainly impossible to measure- the moral argument. This is the position that women simply ‘don’t belong’ in combat. It may seem like this would be irrelevant to policy-makers; however, in senate hearings and in much of the literature on the combat exclusion this position emerges. A quote from Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff summarizes this position, “I just can’t get over this feeling of old men ordering young women into combat…I have a gut-based hang-up there. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense in every way. I apologize for it.” The moral argument is an important one to take notice of. Research and the interviewee’s response indicate the existence of deeply embedded beliefs about men and women’s valid place during conflict. In many ways it is difficult to disentangle the moral argument from the physical standards and the cohesion hypothesis as these embedded beliefs seem to inform and influence much of the debates surrounding women’s participation in combat.

The final, and perhaps most significant, argument for keeping women out of combat roles is the cohesion argument. Or, what I call the cohesion hypothesis. According to this position, the presence of women affects the emotional bonds, friendships, and trust amongst troops and therefore jeopardizes the overall effectiveness of military units. The cohesion hypothesis is used by other defense forces across the world, and was also used to support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There are a couple of difficulties with the cohesion hypothesis: 1. cohesion is difficult to define and measure. In military scholarship it is defined as anything from commitment to a shared mission, trust, bonds, to ‘liking’ one another. As a result, it has become nearly impossible to test the cohesion hypothesis conclusively. 2. partially as a result of disparate definitions and partially as a result of the lack of test population, research on cohesion is all over the map when it comes to combat cohesion women.

RAND did a large study on women’s impact on cohesion in non-combat units, concluding that it was largely leadership, not the presence of women, that impacted cohesion. Despite some research indicating that women don’t spoil cohesion, it is impossible to conclusively determine if women would spoil cohesion in combat units. As the 1992 Presidential Commission looking at women in military found, “[t]here are no authoritative military studies of mixed-gender ground combat cohesion, since available cohesion research has been conducted among male-only ground combat units.”

The arguments against so-called GI Janes seem to defy the reality that women have been and are operating in dangerous, physically demanding roles in the US forces. Arguments about cohesion and standards were used to exclude African Americans and homosexuals from the US forces. These arguments were dropped and largely discredited as soon as policies changed, yet they continue to be used to exclude women from many positions with the US forces. Is the US military ready to open all positions to women? Will the removal of the combat exclusion be on the table for policy makers over the next 5 years?

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Late Summer Tour of NATO

Happy NATO Day!  Okay, this is not an anniversary of anything NATO-esque.  But heaps of posts a-twitter about NATO, its members and so on.  So, some semi-random shots at some semi-random NATO members and NATO in general.

First, France is the best-est ally ever!  Lots of people linking to this article.  Yes, the Libyan adventure certainly raises France’s profile as an active contributor, assertive military and the rest.  But to be fair to the French (yes, completely out of character for me, given how easy it is to make jokes in my big lecture class), the Libyan crisis is not the first time that the French have been assertive.
       During the Afghanistan war (which, by the way, is still an on-going NATO mission), France moved from being relatively restricted to being quite willing to take risks.  When Sarkozy replaced Chirac, we all got a NATO-friendly (to say the least) President.  Sarkozy moved some and then nearly all of French combat forces from the safety of Kabul to the more dangerous areas of Kapisa.
        Postwar French have never been pacifists–they just have been known for pursuring their own interests.  A lot of those interests were in Africa, with Qaddafi serving as a critical obstacle to French ambitions.  So, the French are so very bold now, taking the lead in the effort, even willing go without NATO.  Still a fun time and an interesting contrast to:

Second, the Germans look more feeble than ever, when the Foreign Minister (for at least a few more days) Westervelle* said that Qaddafi is falling due to economic sanctions.  Now, we have German politicians across the spectrum from Helmut Kohl to Joshcka Fischer saying that Westerwelle is as bad a foreign minister as Colin Powell Condi Rice they can imagine.

*Unless you are Italy, having a Foreign Minister named Guido is always going to raise questions about credibility.

Here is Fischer’s first question and answer:

SPIEGEL: What is it about Germany’s current foreign policy and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that bothers you?
Fischer: Pretty much everything. As the former foreign minister myself, the lack of fundamental convictions pains me. This is fundamentally much worse than losing your compass. We are being governed by those who have lost touch with reality and are denying what’s obvious to everyone else.

I am sorry, but Fischer is being oblique.  I really wish he could open up and say what he is really thinking.  Fischer then goes on:

No, the behavior of Germany’s government during the Libya conflict, its abstention in the UN Security Council (vote in March on whether to impose a no-fly zone in Libya), was a one-of-a-kind debacle and perhaps the biggest foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. Our country’s standing in the world has been significantly damaged.

Okay.  Now, Fischer is being a bit less opaque.  Actually, this entire interview makes me want to vote for the guy.  Anyhow moving on:

Third, I found this on twitter: “Dutch Defence Minister calls for pooling and sharing military capabilities in Europe.”  Sure, smaller means working harder and smarter.  Sharing and pooling would be smart, but we can only pool and share with countries that will release the forces (troops, planes, ships, whatever) to the multinational effort with few conditions.  That is: NO CAVEATS and few requirements for phone calls home for permission.
Maybe it is not wise to write here one of the conclusions for the forthcoming book on NATO and Afghanistan, but one of the implications of the Afghanistan experience (and of the Libyan one and so on) is that countries will rarely give up national control of their militaries even when they are delegated to the most institutionalized, robust, interoperable alliance on the planet.  So, if you build a military so that it can only do certain things and needs to depend on others to fill critical gaps, you have to gamble that when you are deployed, you will be partnered with countries that have pretty loose rules.  Otherwise, you might be asking for, say, helicopters to extract your troops from a battle but the helo pilot has rules about not being close to the battle or it being night-time or whatever.  You cannot pool if the other guy cannot be counted on to pool right back.

No wonder Napoleon apparently said: I would rather fight a coalition than be in one.  On the other hand, he lost to a series of coalitions, right?  So, there is really no alternative for the Dutch or the Germans or the Canadians or, with their latest cuts, the French and the British, to working together.  But don’t expect it to be easy, simple or efficient.

Defense budget cuts make sharing and specialization sensible.  The politics of participating in alliance warfare make sharing and specialization very, very problematic. 

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Stuff Political Scientists Like #8 — feeling terrible about themselves, or APSA

Every year political scientists make a remarkable pilgrimage towards a large American city — Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia. Against all odds they push upstream trying to make a name for themselves. There is only room enough for a dozen or so great names in political science, those whose names will one day adorn a plaque in a graduate student lounge. We speak their name in hushed tones — Dahl, Skocpol, Waltz. But this does not deter thousands from arriving each year — yearning, striving, networking.

For graduate students political scientists call this ‘socialization,’ or learning how to feel insignificant. They feel violated as more established political scientists scan their badge while trying to sustain eye contact, instantly dismissing those with ‘State’ in the title of their universities. They seethe as they spot the renowned expert on the subject of their dissertation spend four hours at the bar despite an earlier email that their schedule was already full up. Outside they are stoic, but inside they are screaming, “Pay attention to me! I have things to say!”

At night the cleaning staff sweeps mounds of hair torn out from temples in the book exhibit hall where nervous junior professors earlier stalked the book stalls hoping for a chance encounter with the elusive acquisitions editor who never seems to appear. If one listens very closely, one can hear the walls whisper, “I was wondering if you could look at this prospectus. Prospectus. Prospectus….”

Other political scientists have clearly given up on attaining greatness. Their discussants strain to pretend that they have actually written a paper, saying things like, “I wonder if you could say a bit more” and “this was a really interesting paper.” The deadwood has no clothes. He thanks the discussant for his “helpful feedback,” submits his receipts for reimbursement and thinks about his 1982 APSR article. So much promise. So much promise.

Even those who have successfully navigated the raging waters and fought their way upstream cannot help wonder why, after all this time, their voice echoes in an empty ballroom as they sit upon the dais. “Why am I sitting three feet above an audience of five people? Was it all worth it? A lifetime of work for five citations in the Social Science Index? I should have never put my career before Jane. I wonder where she is now. Jane? Jane!?”

Yet every year the pilgrimage begins anew. Just not in New Orleans.

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