Tag: US military

Why Isn’t There More Public Scrutiny of the U.S. Military?

This is a guest post by Risa Brooks, Associate Professor at Marquette University

Americans’ relationship with the military exhibits an odd paradox: the country’s citizens profess to hold deep regard for the military, while in fact knowing little about it and paying minimal attention to its activities at home or abroad. Analysts of U.S. civil-military relations remain seriously concerned about this peculiar mix of societal reverence and indifference toward the military.

Less clear is why Americans remain so disengaged from an institution that has such a profound role in the country’s political and economic life. The greater than $500 billion defense budget consumes more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending. Although the Obama administration has officially declared an end to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, sizable forces remain deployed in both countries and more may soon be sent. If ever there was an institution that would seem a natural magnet for public attention, it is the United States military.

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Men’s Unexpected Erections are a Liability on the Battlefield (and other ways men’s bodies put female soldiers at risk)

In the follow up to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s  recent announcement that all combat jobs will be open to women, there have been several articles highlighting men’s fears about working with women on the frontline. In particular, a survey of Special Operations men found that the majority would prefer not to work with women, and that some held serious “fears” and “concerns”- especially in relation to women’s apparently unpredictable bodies. That’s right, the Special Forces-  the tip of the spear, the elite of the US military- are scared about the three P’s: periods, pregnancy and PMS. Most of these discussions pit women’s unpredictable, leaky, and fragile bodies against men’s stable, solid, and predictable ones. But is that true? Well, if folks want to take the debate to this level, its worth considering what science tells us about  men’s creaky, leaky, fluctuating and hormonal bodies and how this might impact their combat readiness.
So, I’ve compiles a list of 3 ways men’s bodies might be a liability in combat. It starts with- you guessed it- unexpected erections (bet you didn’t expect to see that arrangement of words in an IR blog post today).

1. Unexpected Erections: Did you know that men, on average, get 11 erections a day? That can be a serious physical liability in an intense combat situation. If we are going to talk about unexpected pregnancy or women’s PMS, we should talk about men’s boners too. Sounds silly? Well, it is actually a serious consideration. It should be noted that erections aren’t just about sexual arousal, many men experience “reflex erections, which can happen when a man is nervous, scared, angry, or under stress.” Sounds like a definite combat liability- particularly with younger male troops. Also, men can get unexpected erections due to the need to urinate, which can be a reality for soldiers travelling or in action in the field. All these fears about women ‘holding it’ and getting bladder infections in combat  might be nothing compared to the risk of men ‘holding it’ and getting an erection. I’ll spare you all the jokes about negligent discharge (ok I won’t), but in all seriousness, we need to ask if men’s unexpected erections put troops at risk.

2. Testosterone is unpredictable and fathers loose it rapidly: Continue reading


Replacing Nuclear Weapons

B2This is a guest post by Jarrod Hayes. He is Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. He received his PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Southern California in 2009. His research broadly focuses on the social construction of foreign and security policy. 

They are complex weapons.  They are expensive.  They require high levels of engineering expertise to develop, maintain and operate.  They are the purview of the most advanced developed economies in the world.  Nuclear weapons?  Nope, modern major conventional weapons systems.

The title of this post exaggerates of course, but I think there might be something to it.  My thinking on this subject is prompted by a recent story on quiet pressure being applied by policymakers the United States to their colleagues in the United Kingdom.  The Americans want the Brits to scrap their submarine deployed nuclear weapons in favor, one assumes, of more conventional military capabilities.

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Apples & Oranges & Women in the Infantry

Female Marines in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM

As the military grapples with how to implement the reversal of the decades old ban on women in “combat” specialties, one of the data points that many people are using (especially in and around the Marine Corps) is the performance of the only two female Lieutenants to have attempted to complete the Infantry Officer’s Course at Quantico. 

The first dropped out on one of the first days of training during the grueling Combat Endurance Test; so did 26 of her male classmates. The other female Lieutenant made it about one-third of the way through the course before being sidelined by a debilitating stress fracture in her leg. Neither is any indication that women are any less suitable than men for service in the infantry.

What is the basis for that bold statement, you ask?

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The Societal Implications of Women in Combat

This is a guest post by Dorit Geva. Geva is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Central European University, and has written a book on conscription politics in France and the United States. Megan H. Mackenzie wrote an earlier post on this topic.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that some 230,000 combat jobs might open for American servicewomen in the armed forces is a watershed moment for the American military.  But the consequences will resonate beyond his announcement’s effects on professional soldiers.  Since the 1980s, the legal reasoning barring women from registering with the draft has been that women do not serve in combat positions.  Panetta’s surprise announcement will not only transform the career opportunities of women in uniform, but could affect every woman living on American soil. Continue reading


Lifting the Combat Ban for Women: why the policy change is the right choice

combatToday it was announced that the combat ban for women will be fully removed within the US military. This reverses a long-standing policy that restricts women from serving below the brigade level  in positions specified as  front-line, ground combat. Given that the policy had been recently reviewed, the change may come as a surprise to some, however there are three main reasons why this policy had to be changed right now.

First, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has long been a supporter of gender integration within the forces and has publicly acknowledged the exclusion as contradicting operational practice and untenable. Panetta plans to step down from his post after only 18 months in the job, making the removal of the combat exclusion his legacy.

Second, the Department of Defense is facing a lawsuit from several female soldiers and backed by the ACLU. The suit has raised significant publicity surrounding the issue of women in combat and the DoD would have had a difficult time defending claims that the policy is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Third, growing evidence of women’s contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including in ground combat, have become impossible to ignore. It is widely acknowledged that there are no ‘front’ lines in insurgency warfare. Moreover, women have contributed to offensive missions in recent wars, died in hostile fire, contributed in all-female teams during insurgency missions, and even been awarded for their valor in combat. The contradictions associated with having a combat exclusion in a military that provides combat pay for some women and honors their contributions to combat have just become to extreme.

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Military Capabilities: A Revionist Metric

 Phil Arena has been playing around with alternative measures of military power. He begins with the straightforward observation that one current and popular measure of military power, the CINC scores in the Correlates of War project, list the United States as having fallen behind the People’s Republic of China in its military capability. As Phil writes, this is not a conclusion that most, if any, observers of world politics would endorse–and that even if it is true in the broadest sense (that in some total war between the United States and the PRC, the United States might not be able to conquer China) that it is not particularly useful.

Phil lays out the broader points of his critique–namely, that CINC overweights raw materials and does not adjust for quality of militaries–in his post. Using a new measure based on COW data, computed as he describes at his link, he proposes an alternate measure–one I think that the Duck’s readership should at least be aware of. This measure may get closer to the notion of who has the most usable military power at any given point in time. I’ve redone his graphics slightly but the data is all his.

In the first chart, we see the post-World War II relationship among Roosevelt’s “four policemen.” This chart, I think, accords pretty well with our understanding of the period: the United States begins and ends the period as the world’s most powerful military force, but during the Cold War its military potential (in conventional terms) was on par with the Soviets. (I know this point could be debated, and has been, ad nauseam, but it is not prima facie invalid.)

The value of the alternate measure becomes a little clearer when we consider the period 1816 to today.

 Here, we see the long peace of the 19th century reflected in the gradual build-down of European militaries (although note Germany’s relative rise over the late-nineteenth century). We also see, as we would expect, that actual forces-in-being peak in the two world wars (and that the United States, in both cases, emerges as the world’s leading military power–although it dismantles its military quickly after 1919). More important, we note that the leading powers of the 21st century — the United States, China, and Russia — are quite literally not on the map in the 19th (and if Japan were ever to begin behaving as realism says it should, it would join the new quartet). Moreover, eras of multipolarity, bipolarity, and unipolarity are fairly easily identifiable in this chart.

The question of how to measure international capabilities is a tough one, but I tend to think that decomposing military strength and military potential is a useful start. (In the short run, we care a lot about strength; in the long run, we care a lot more about potential.) Since all such measures–even GDP!–are ultimately somewhat arbitrary, it is at least useful to have a debate about what we should include in each. Duck readers, what would you include in your measures of international power?


All Male Soldiers are Rapists and all Female Soldiers are Weak Homewreckers: Fox News on Female Soldiers

I mostly try to let Fox News polemics slide past me like water off a ducks back. It was easy to dismiss Liz Trotta’s first rant about the proposed changes to the US military, which will allow more women into front-line positions (and recognize those women who are already in these posts) but the second iteration, in which she clarifies her position (and clearly reads a diatribe from a prompter) demands another interruption to my blogging hiatus. We should start with a briefing of Liz-isms, including: “hardline feminist,” “feminist biology,” and “feminist creed.” Let’s see if these become clear after a quick view of her main arguments:
1. The women and combat issue has “never gotten a fair and open hearing” and has instead been established as a “fait accompli” by “hardline feminists.”
2. These same hardline feminists have helped to fabricate “silly and dishonest fairy tales about women’s heroism in war” to support their case for removing the exclusion.
3. Biology is destiny and that men are facing “feminist biology” and having to work with weaker women.
4. Testosterone rules in war and that in closed combat “basic instincts” take over, which put women at risk.
5. Signs of abuse within the military are all too often used to support the “never enough bureaucracy of women victims within the armed forces.”

Let’s just leave her rant about pregnant women and the desecration of the American family aside for now and work with these 5. First, the women and combat issue has received almost as many open hearings as Fox has failed Republican hosts. Liz herself cites the 1991 Senate hearing on the issue and fails to note that the policy changes she is talking about came as a result of a commission initiated by Congress. Second, Trotta cites the Jessica Lynch fabrication as evidence that women’s participation in combat more generally has been essentially ‘made up.’ The Lynch debacle is something to take note of precisely because the fairy tale it created was one of female victimhood and male heroism. Why turn to this example of military propaganda when there is other evidence of women’s participation in combat- for example, women make up 16% of the fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions and several have won medals for their contributions to combat missions in Iraq. Trotta is right on the third point in the sense that women do measure up differently than men in physical standards tests. But, as reported in a previous blog, the military chose to have sex-specific testing- not because it wanted women to have lower standards, but as part of a recognition of physical difference and the requirements needed to test job capacity rather than meet the male standard. And PS Liz, biology isn’t destiny because according to experts like Maia Goodell, over 5% of women are kicking men’s butts on physical standards tests. The AVERAGE women has less upper body strength and endurance than men, but the military often attracts and creates above average female candidates. The fourth and fifth points that Trotta makes are the most troubling. This ‘basic instinct’ argument is a thrown back to prehistoric analysis of men as incapable of controlling their drive and their genitalia. The argument is insulting to men and ignores subsequent evidence that women and men can work in close proximity without men feeling obliged to rape. As for the sexual violence statistics- surely this is evidence of a major gender problem within the military rather than proof that women need to be kept out.
How did we get here Liz (I feel like we’re on a first name basis since you call feminists whatever you want)? What is your objective? Who are these crazy hardline feminists you speak of and why are you so cynical and dismissive of a “feminist creed” focused on “the right to choose, rights over one’s body etc” as you put it? Why are you and other Republicans like Santorum making this about family values rather than seeing it as a sign the changing reality of the US military (and others)? Australia, Canada and 12 other countries have NO restrictions on women in combat roles and the family structure has not disappeared, men do not rape every female in their proximity, and feminists have not overrun the countries with their irrational cries for respect, rights, and recognition.


Pondering Failure in Afghanistan

 Colonel Gian Gentle, a confirmed counterinsurgency [COIN] skeptic, raises questions for Col. Paul Yingling about the role of generals as COIN seems to be falling short in Afghanistan.  Yingling made much noise in 2007 by attacking American generals for poor leadership in 2007, as the US was losing in Iraq at the time.  Gentle is essentially pushing Yingling either to call Petraeus a bad general now (since Afghanistan is not such a happy place) or retract his earlier criticisms.

While this is an argument between two Colonels, I am stepping in because I received a similar question last week at a presentation in Los Angeles (at USC) on the current book project: did our work on caveats and other means by which countries influence how their troops are used in alliance operations explain mission failure on Afghanistan?

The answer to my question is also partly an answer to Gentle’s question.  That is, (a) not so clear the mission has failed; (b) failure is over-determined.  First, there are lots of indicators that seem to suggest that the Taliban momentum of 2008-09 has been broken, even as violence continues.  NATO and the US may not be clearly winning (whatever that means, see below) but we are not so clearly losing as we were a few years ago.

Second, COIN and good generalship can only do so much.  Likewise, caveats and other overly blunt means to control troops in a multilateral damage can have an impact, but other stuff matters as well.  What matters?  I have long talked about the three Ps of Afghanistan: poppies, Pakistan, President Karzai.  Each one makes COIN very, very hard.  Poppies give the insurgents access to cash and facilitates corruption of police, courts, army, etc, which need to be the backbone of the COIN effort.  Pakistan serves as a sanctuary (although not from drones), making “defeat” of the Taliban very hard since they can rest, recover and re-arm there.  Plus Pakistan may just be doing more than providing space for these guys.  Karzai presents the third challenge to the NATO/US effort, as the military side of COIN is aimed at providing a safer environment so that the government can provide services and gain the confidence of the people.  Karzai has been focused on maintaining his grip on power, at the expense of building institutions and putting competent people into power. Generals McChrystal, Petraeus, and Allen had/have finite ability to get Afghanistan to do what is necessary to make progress.

The key difference between these generals running the Afghanistan war and the ones who ran the Iraq war before 2007 is that the current folks have proven adaptable to the circumstances.  While the newer folks may have tried to apply an Iraq template to Afghanistan and that may not be the best fit, they at least have a better grasp of the multi-dimensionality of the conflict.  The American generals in the first four years of the Iraq war had very little clue about how to prepare for the conflict, where to focus the efforts, and how to move from conventional war to counter-insurgency.  Franks was one of the worst generals in recent memory, Abizaid recognized the realities (I think) but could not get those under him to adjust, and Casey was mostly focused on preserving the Army rather than adapting to the realities on the ground.

Military experts can draw greater distinctions between the past and present crews (Yingling, I am sure, could roast Gentile’s assertions pretty quickly).  But the conditions in Iraq with the AQ types overplaying their hands, the Sunnis realizing that the US was their best protection against Shiites and Sunni extremists, and somewhat more compliant local leadership enabled COIN.  In Afghanistan, these conditions have not really existed.  So, there is more going on here than generals.  Clearly so, as Gentile is really attacking counter-insurgency doctrine more than individual generals.   War is politics by other means, and COIN especially so.  Winning a COIN battle means getting the politics right, and that is largely although not entirely out of the hands of the military.  All the COIN stuff can do is enable the politicians, not work miracles despite the hype surrounding Petraeus.

Gentile’s attack is actually a different war, one for the soul of the military.  What will be the future of the American army?  A smaller one for sure, hopefully avoiding these kinds of conflicts.  The reality is that politicians will continue to use force in ways that are inconvenient to conventional thinkers in the military.  There will be few conventional wars to fight as long as the opponents realize that the US can beat them at that game.  That is not going change even as these Colonels fight over the lessons to draw from the wars of the Aughts.

Indeed, this whole discussion reminds me of the most basic lesson of Vietnam–people will learn the lessons they want to learn, as these conflicts are complicated.  There is never one single set of lessons to learn, and so the fight afterwards is over which lessons do people want to learn.


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