The Aussie Military Accepts GI Janes into the Ranks

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

While the US and UK continue to debate the ways that women impact cohesion and combat effectiveness, effective immediately, the Australian military will allow women to participate in combat roles. Australia joins a small group of countries that have removed combat restrictions for women, which includes Canada, New Zealand, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, France, Serbia, Israel and Switzerland.

Several individuals within the Australian Defence Forces I’ve spoken to over the last year have indicated that this policy change has been a long-time coming. Defence Minister Stephen Smith came out several months ago indicating his support for the policy change– even in the face of national concern and criticism. Despite warning signals from the department of defence, several national media outlets and opposition leaders are calling the policy a gimmick and an attempt to distract attention from recent sex scandals associated with the military, including the now infamous ‘skype scandal’ involving the un-consented broadcasting of a sexual encounter within a military academy. Neil James of the Australian Defence Association said that the policy ‘jumped the gun’ and warned that there could be more female casualties if women were allowed to serve in all combat roles.

One former naval officer told ABC radio that she didn’t expect many women to meet the physical requirements for some of these positions but that “it just has to be done, and I think Australia’s very brave to do this.”

The impact this policy change will have on the Australian military and its ability to recruit and retain women can only be measured in time. But if other military’s experiences of gender integration are any indication, this policy will largely be forgotten in a few months and women who meet the physical requirements will enter these roles with little fanfare. Perhaps this renewed debate will spark attention back in the US, where policy-makers and the US government still cling to weak arguments about the need to keep women out of combat.

Obama Reveals his Superhero Powers at the UN

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

The world has been watching this week as the Palestinian Government prepares to make a bidto the Security Council for recognition as an independent state. Many thought Obama had backed himself into a corner with a statement last year declaring his support for Palestinian statehood. But never fear, the President’s propensity to dilute astute political goals to the point of meaninglessness appears to be limitless. In fact, if Obama was a superhero it is likely that his power would be to retract from lofty political objectives and political commitments at the speed of light. He entices victims with incredible speeches about change, ethics, and possibility and then inflicts disappointment, dissolution and disbelief to all in his realm of influence. In fact, he is SO talented that many victims have fallen into his charming trap more than once.
Many don’t want to see Obama’s dark side. Furthermore, with the scary Big Brother cast of rejects that make up the Republican candidates it becomes easier to hold on to fantasies of Obama’s potential as a good guy.
“He just needs more time, he’s under so much pressure, he inherited such a mess…” yeah yeah, we got it. But this week the President had an opportunity to follow through on his word. To make a politically difficult decision and support Palestinian statehood. Instead of sticking his neck out he gave a rambling UN speech that included a statement likening Palestinian requests for statehood to a ‘shortcut’ and declaring that “peace will not come through statement and a resolution at the UN.” I fell into your trap Obama- again. You got me on guantanamo bay and health care too. But now I see the superpower talent and I’m not going to get caught by your tactics again.

Post-revolution Walk of Shame in Libya: women asked to ‘go home’ in the afterglow of the revolution

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

The exciting and tumultuous eve of the revolution in Libya has achieved many of its objectives: the power balance has swung in the rebel’s favor, many national governments around the world now recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the legitimate leadership, and most (though not all) of the country is under their control.

In many ways, this week can be described as ‘the morning after’ the revolution in Libya. Rebels drunk on gun battles are now waking up with adrenaline hang-overs to the realities of post-revolution Libya. There’s mortar rounds everywhere, hundreds of displaced Libyans are crashing indefinitely in Tripoli, and- perhaps worst of all- Cameron and Zarkosyshowed up way too early, keen to help get the revolutionary council on its feet/ensure their financial interests.

In keeping with classic ‘morning after’ politics, men are waking up with only hazy memories of which women were at the party and what they did to contribute to the revolution. The TNC are trying to get their house in order for Cameron and Zarkosy as well as for the international media and for some reason these women just keep hanging around asking about what kind of future there is for them together, wanting some kind of commitment. The TNC’s responses so far reminds me of the scene in the movieBridesmaids when Jon Hamm’s character turns to Kristen Wiig after a one night stand and says “I really want you to leave, but I don’t want to sound like a dick.”

Women supported the revolution in Libya in countless ways- from hiding and feeding rebel fighters totaking up arms themselves– yet now that the post-revolution glow has worn off, the TNC seems to be asking women to take their walk of shame. The party is over, and this morning, the Transitional National Council has just one woman. Will the rest of the women who sacrificed for the movement- taking up new roles, and fighting for political change- be asked to get out of the political bedroom? Can the TNC really expect to rebuild Libya and move forward without acknowledging the significance of women’s role in the movement?

Unfortunately, women’s walk of shame post-conflict or post-revolution is all too familiar. Women havestruggled to maintain a significant voice in the new Egypt; similarly, women who fought as soldiers within rebel forces in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola often found themselves left out of post-conflict political agenda setting. For these women, as is likely for many Libyan women, the last thing desirable post-conflict/revolution is a ‘return to normal.’ For women, this means giving up any power gained and fitting themselves back into traditional patriarchal gender hierarchies. The TNC and the international community must stop the pattern of revolutionary one-night stands and work not only to acknowledge women’s role in the political movement, but also to secure political space for women as Libya faces a new day.

Assessing the Arguments Against GI Jane II: Unpacking the Cohesion Hypothesis

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

In my post last week I talked about the three main arguments against removing the combat exclusion for women: the physical standards argument, the moral argument, and the cohesion hypothesis. My main point was that with increased research on physical standards, the intangibility of the moral argument, and increased evidence that women already are in combat, the cohesion hypothesis remains as the most significant set of arguments against GI Janes.

There are two main premises to the cohesion hypothesis: 1. cohesion is causally linked to group (in this case military unit) performance; 2. women negatively impact cohesion and thereby negatively impact troop effectiveness.

The trouble with these two premises is that they both have been largely discounted by researchers. In her 1998 article on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in International Security, Elizabeth Kier concludes that “the results from more than five decades of research in group dynamics, organizational behaviour, small-group research, sports psychology, social psychology, military history, and military sociology challenge the proposition that primary group unit cohesion enhances military performance.” Some research even indicates that high levels of cohesion can be detrimental to military performance as it results in conformity, groupthink, and a lack of adaptability. Many of the studies on cohesion and the military find that leadership and task- not social- cohesion have a greater impact on performance than social cohesion.
In terms of the second premise, as mentioned in the last post RAND’s major study on cohesion in 1997 found that women don’t impact group performance or military readiness. Subsequent research has reconfirmed this conclusion.

In addition to shaky (at best) premises, another major problem with the cohesion hypothesis is that it is never clear what exactly is meant by cohesion within the military context. In hopes of finding answers to this puzzle I went on a wild goose chase for cohesion clarity.

Sifting through research on social cohesion in the military I found myself sinking in masses of studies on social cohesion, citizenship and multiculturalism, group dynamics, as well as military studies on cohesion. It turns out that social cohesion is the meaningless catchphrase of the moment (I think it may have even eclipsed ’empowerment’ and ‘deliberative democracy’). Social cohesion has been used to explain the London riots, failed and successful immigration policies, winning sports team dynamics, as well as the need to keep women out of combat roles. Cohesion has also been defined as everything from: shared norms, ‘liking’ one another, commitment to a group, bonding, and trust. So how can one vague concept explain such wide-ranging and disparate policy decisions and social dynamics?

There is little substance to the cohesion hypothesis, almost no empirical evidence supporting it, and even the different forces with the US military seem to define and measure cohesion differently. I certainly don’t have the answer, but it does seem that in most contexts it is employed- especially in discussions of migrant integration, multiculturalism, and the combat exclusion- ‘cohesion’ is a red herring that distracts from attention to deeper issues of discrimination and cultural bias. In the case of the US military, cohesion is a smoke and mirrors debate that will persist until sexist attitudes and gender discrimination are addressed.