Last week, Politico reporter Jen DiMascio wrote about the ascension of American women into the highest ranks of arms control. The piece, superciliously titled “Arms Control: No Longer Just for Men” – a title DiMascio probably didn’t choose herself – explained how powerful women like Ellen Tauscher and Rose Gottemoeller are working to dismantle the big bad bombs the boys built. “If men have largely built the world’s nuclear arsenals,” read the article, “a small corps of women is working to dismantle them.”
This idea comports with the “more women in charge = more peace” theory of war, which is offensive, inaccurate, and retrograde. Men are rarely suggested to be genetically-predisposed warmongers; more often than not, they make decisions about conflict as rationally as they can, right? Why must women inevitably suffer the indignity of being talked about as intrinsic peacemakers?
DiMascio gives Secretary of State Hillary Clinton much of the credit for staffing her top ranks with women, but in 2009, does it really take a woman to hire a woman? When it comes to national security, it might. The most important point in the article came from Joe Cirincione. “Ever been to an arms control meeting?” he asked. “It’s all old white guys.” Joe is right…
According to NOH’s calculations, of the articles published on nuclear weapons in top-tier policy journals during 2009, only 9 percent were by women. Take a look at the links on NOH’s blogroll: there aren’t many women blogging about these issues, either.
Representation within the military and academia – key pipelines to top level policy jobs – isn’t much better. As Paula Broadwell, Deepti Choubey, and Laura Holgate wrote last year, women make up 14 percent of the armed services but only 5 percent of general officers. Only 26 percent of political science professors in the United States today are female despite the fact that women comprise more than half of all international affairs students. The highest ranks of arms control may currently be filled by women, but the jobs that lead to those ranks are still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
The gender imbalance in national security is partially due to the gravitation of women toward fields such as international development and human rights. This is not entirely surprising since honor killings, sex trafficking, and female genital mutilation arouse understandable passion and anger within most women. The belief that women are better suited to work on these “softer” security problems is pervasive, even among women themselves.
DiMascio’s piece draws on this attitude by noting that while women were not highly involved in the process of building nuclear weapons, they are now largely the driving force behind President Obama’s vision of a world without them.
Women in leadership positions make decisions about war and peace based on the same criteria as their male counterparts – national interest, perception of threat, cost-benefit analysis, legal norms, historical understanding, international and domestic politics, and much more. Those who argue that “Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution” mean to elevate women’s status, but they actually diminish it by erecting a barrier between women’s allegedly innate predilections and real-world political violence, which has a body of study (and practice) that stretches back thousands of years. If there is indeed any understanding of war that has developed over time, women are not barred from comprehending it simply because they are women.
Ellen Tauscher and Rose Gottemoeller aren’t working to reduce nuclear weapons because they are women. They are doing it because they believe it will make the United States more secure. The fact that they happen to be women is entirely beside the point.