EUROPE: Waging War and Peace With Women

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
NY Times
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

When NATO unveils its new doctrine later this month, it will include a revamped nuclear policy, a section on cyberwar and fresh thinking on how to engage Russia.

But will it follow a little-noticed recommendation (from an expert group led by Madeleine Albright, a former U.S. secretary of state) to give women greater say in matters of war and peace?

Women, say a growing number of security experts, may well be as important to 21st-century security as new nuance on a European missile shield.

“Because women are often a principal victim of conflict, the women's perspective can be vital in seeking to prevent or to mitigate the damage caused by conflict. That assertion should not be controversial; it is simply common sense,” Ms. Albright said in an e-mail.

Women are half the talent pool — more than half when it comes to university degrees in security-related fields — and overstretched Western allies need troops on the ground and sharp minds at the negotiating table.

But women also bring diversity to the male-dominated world of military and security affairs at a time when peacekeeping has morphed into nation-building and war has become about hearts and minds as well as territory.

Female soldiers can respectfully search Muslim women at checkpoints. They are more likely to win the trust of local populations abused — often sexually — by men with guns. And their presence is credited by some, though not all, experts with having a civilizing effect on their own units.

“Female soldiers have the unique advantage of being seen as a third gender,” said Paula Broadwell, a reserve officer who has visited special female units in Afghanistan on several occasions and is now doing academic research. “They command the same respect men do but are also granted the access reserved for women.”

Ten years after the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1325, formally calling on governments to get more women involved in waging war and peace, there has been some progress. Female “blue helmettes” patrol in Liberia. Female marines, trained in Pashto language and customs, are trying to engage Afghan women. NATO “gender advisers” accompany allied troops in Afghanistan. The European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has floated plans for female quotas in the bloc's nascent diplomatic service.

Across the Atlantic, women now run the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. mission to the United Nations and the State Department. Thanks to what The Washington Post called the “Hillary effect,” a record 25 female ambassadors have been posted to Washington as countries from Oman to India bank on a special female bond with the superpower's top diplomat. Under Hillary Rodham Clinton, most senior nuclear arms experts dealing with proliferation and disarmament issues are women.

At the Pentagon, there is now one female four-star general, Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody of the army. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who for much of her career was used to being the only woman at the table, recounted at a conference at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin last month how she walked into a Pentagon meeting where there wasn't a single man. “I was stunned. There were only women in the room — including the military officer,” she recalled.

Few now openly voice doubts about giving women greater say on security matters.

“I firmly believe that women can play a very important role in the prevention of conflicts and in peace building,” the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said last week in an interview with The New York Times, insisting that the alliance was implementing Resolution 1325, though refusing to say whether it was worthy of being included in the new doctrine.

However, on Mr. Rasmussen's watch, the share of women on NATO's civilian staff has stalled at 29 percent. Only 3 of the 19 most senior posts are held by women, and only one of them holds the title of (acting) assistant secretary general — Stefanie Babst, who in Berlin lamented the alliance's male “monoculture.”

Women account for about 15 percent of U.S. military personnel, 14 percent of the French military, just under 10 percent of the British armed forces and 9 percent of the German Army. Female units in U.N. peacekeeping missions have doubled to 6 percent over the past five years but remain far behind the international target of 20 percent.

More important, women remain scarce among decision makers and opinion leaders in the security field: Even in the United States, where three of the last four secretaries of state have been women, there has never been a female secretary of defense or joint chief of staff, nor a woman director of the C.I.A. With only 19 female admirals and 2 female generals in the Marines, 28 in the air force and 20 in the army, “we have very few women who could even be in the pipeline to become joint chief of staff,” said Judith Hicks-Stiehm, currently a visiting professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. She added that women wrote only 3 of 48 articles in the last two issues of Foreign Affairs, the must-read journal for anyone involved in international security affairs.

At the annual strategic review of the International Institute for Security Studies in Geneva in September, prime hobnobbing territory for retired intelligence folk and defense experts, only 2 of 21 plenary speakers were female.

“At least these days women get to ask a few questions,” said Catherine M. Kelleher, a veteran nuclear expert and one of half a dozen women who got to chatting on Day 2 of the conference, exasperated by the lack of female participants. Ms. Kelleher recalled a security conference in Germany some years ago where she was asked to use the hotel pool between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. because the men wanted to swim naked.

Some, like Ms. Hicks at the Pentagon, argue that combat-exclusion rules barring women from the kind of battlefield experience traditionally needed to rise up the military ranks are an important factor limiting women.

Ms. Broadwell says facts are forcing change: Asymmetric warfare involving roadside bombs has blurred the lines of engagement by making women in traditional noncombat roles more vulnerable to attack. A new memorial at the war cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, honors 140 female troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The memorial brings home another barrier for women.

“What our current two wars have highlighted is that there are parents fighting those wars,” said Ms. Broadwell, who joined the reserves after she had two children. “One priority is we need to figure out how to combine military careers with family.”

Enough of a strategic priority for NATO to include in its new doctrine?

Last week, Mr. Rasmussen declined to answer.