War and 1325: principles or diversity checkbox ?

Why were women career soldiers, US defense contractors, female peace activists and Pentagon officials talking to each other in Washington DC ? Lyric Thompson reports on a most unusual conversation...
Lyric Thompson
18 November 2010

A week after Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would be developing a national action plan for the implementation of UN SCR 1325 and providing $44 million in funding, more than a thousand women attended the “Women and War" conference in Washington DC. Kathleen Kuehnast of the U.S. Institute for Peace said the goal of the conference was to bring the dialogue on women, peace and security to Washington, and to build a “community of practice” made up of veteran peace activists, grassroots peacebuilders, defense contractors, academics, and senior officials at the Pentagon.

This new collaboration - a most unlikely marriage - begs all sorts of questions about what role the US will play in implementing 1325: will it be a crucial step forward, leveraging American diplomatic heavyweights such as Secretary Clinton (with even a tiny portion of American financial resources) and thereby inspiring other actors to step up existing commitments? Or will it only muddy the peace agenda by bringing new constituencies—the Pentagon and a host of for-profit defense contractors among them—to a "community" that is, in the words of 1325’s founding father Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, “Not about making war safe for women but about abolishing war”?

The first lesson of advocacy is to know one’s audience, and Kuehnast deliberately selected the title “Women and War” to appeal to a particular and prominent part of any Washington DC audience: the American military. For Kuehnast, reaching out to the military was a strategic decision: “I feel very strongly that the next decade has to be about engaging these actors and looking at gender by men and women. And I’ve found the military officials very open to making change within the military and making changes in relationships related to war.”

One such ally on that front is Lieutenant-Colonel Carolyn Closs-Walford, a career soldier with a new found interest in SCR 1325. In her work as outreach director at the Pentagon’s new office of humanitarian issues, Walford has been making the case for strong action by the Department of Defense in implementing 1325 within its own areas of responsibility. “When I first heard about the Resolution, I said, ‘Sounds great. What have we done about it?’ And it didn’t seem like much had been achieved in ten years. It’s really been civil society that has taken the lead on this. Now it’s our turn. I’m confident that these issues are going to be at the core of what I’m doing for the rest of my career.”

Former combat pilot and current Assistant Secretary for Veteran’s Affairs Tammy Duckworth also spoke of how her experiences as a woman in the military shaped her commitment to women’s full participation in security. However, in line with what US Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary Rosa Brooks and Admiral Michael Mullen, the President’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, her comments largely revolved around the idea of diversifying the American military to be more accessible as a career-choice to women, from the boots on the ground to the senior-most levels of leadership. They each read from a rap-sheet outlining where women were leading across various branches of the military—from the Marines’ Female Engagement Teams to the first female four-star General—essentially distilling the many and varied principles within 1325 down to a diversity checkbox. Duckworth went so far as to stress that her experience as a leader in the military taught her that women can be “deadly,” too. While all three speakers emphasized the importance of women’s participation in the military, none of them emphasized the importance of peace.

Therein lies the rub. Washington is a town that runs on defense dollars. Every time Secretary of Defense Gates threatens to remove an obsolete piece of weaponry from the Pentagon budget—the C-17 aircraft, for instance—an army of handsomely paid lobbyists descends on Capitol Hill threatening Members of Congress and pointing to the thousands of jobs that said item sustains in their districts. If Washington abolishes war, everyone’s out of a job.

Many of those jobs belong to defense contractors, the consultants, and firms-for-hire who perform much of American security work at home and abroad. Somewhat surprisingly given the conference title 'Women and War', the conference participant list read like a who’s who of American defense contractors: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BearingPoint among them.

I wanted to hear from this community, to know why they attended and what they hoped to achieve. At last one woman agreed to speak with me on condition of anonymity. For her, a former USAID worker who now has one of the plentiful jobs with a prominent defense contractor, the Department of Defense urgently needs to be brought up to speed with the principles of 1325, especially in the age of “smart-power,” where the Department of Defense controls one fifth of foreign assistance funding. For Americans, the line between military and development is increasingly blurred.

“Working under USAID in the last Administration, I felt like everything I was doing in foreign assistance work was being used to justify two wars I didn’t agree with. So I left, and the only job I could find was as a defense contractor. I work with a bunch of macho men who want to go fight. I’ve been trying to identify new development contracts with the State Department or USAID, but there’s nothing to be found. But when I look for something at the Department of Defense, opportunities abound. That’s where the money is. My company has one State Department project training African police and military troops; I’ve been confidentially trying to work with folks in the State Department to mandate that contractors operationalize gender trainings as recommended in 1325 in their trainings of foreign troops. I have no support at my office; I really need leadership from the Government on this.”

If Secretary Clinton’s commitments on the tenth anniversary of SCR 1325 are any indication, she is about to get it. But the 1325 “prevention, participation and protection” agenda is still new to many of the political and military leaders in America, even ten years after it was voted on in the UN. As Kuehnast admitted, “Many of these new constituents didn’t even know about 1325 until we asked them to speak about it.”

Yet despite a lack of familiarity with the SCR 1325, political and military leaders up to the level of Admiral Mullen recognized its importance and had no problem agreeing to speak publicly about it. Some call this a mere public relations stunt or tokenism; others call it opportunity. Whichever is the case, this is the beginning of a new and uncertain conversation—possibly one that will ultimately contribute to pushing the boundaries of how America defines national security to make more room for human security and peace.

But how to ensure that this happens, that the promises made by senior defense officials at a conference begin to translate into results on the ground? These very leaders must emphasize to their offices that women, peace and security is an operational priority, one that is, in the words of Colonel Walford, “mission critical.” They must communicate what 1325 is to their staff, giving clear examples of how it applies to their day to day responsibilities. Both internally at headquarters and externally on the ground, operations must be subjected to a gender review that critically examines not just how many women are on staff, but also how military programs and policies affect and engage women. From intelligence to outreach, are women involved? Where troops are engaged in fighting, what steps are being taken to ensure women are protected? Where troops are training other troops or police, are they taught how to recognize and respond to sexual violence? What steps are being taken to ensure women are involved in peace talks, and that they are safely able to participate? At a higher level, what is the relationship of the military to violence against women, at home and abroad?

Finally, the best efforts under the 1325 umbrella are often nonetheless crippled by lack of resources; here the leadership support of the defense apparatus is crucial. At the current time, the defense department wields the largest budget, more than half the government’s discretionary spending. In the coming two years, it may be the agency most likely to survive promised budget cuts. As such, it is well-positioned to provide urgently needed financial support to 1325 programming.

These are lessons well-learned by our peers in the international community. The Dutch Ambassador to the United States, Renée Jones-Bos, emphasized the importance of these actions in her remarks, urging the Americans to adhere to three guiding principles in the drafting of a national action plan: inclusion, accountability and resources. Without all agencies and civil society at the table; without naming the agencies and individuals who are responsible for delivering the objectives; without sufficient funding to make real those commitments, a meaningful national action plan that will truly support the “protection, rights and the particular needs of women, as well as on the importance of involving women in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding” cannot be achieved.

This last point on resources is crucial, says Mavic Cabrera-Balleza who was involved in a recent study documenting best practices for financing national action plans. Clinton has already pledged $44 million in funding from civilian agencies for women, peace and security activities. But the Pentagon's budget of $693 billion in 2010 dwarfs those of other agencies; it can further that commitment by easily matching or exceeding that amount.

“Peace and security are two sides of the same coin,” reminds Chowdhury, “You can’t look at the peace constituency as different from the security constituency. I always say ‘women and peace and security,’ rather than ‘women, peace and security.’ Because if you see security as somehow different than peace, you get these doubts.” Perhaps nowhere else on earth are these words a more important reminder than in Washington, the seat of the world’s largest military power. The conference brought together a most unlikely marriage of individuals across the spectrum of American peace and war constituencies. I hope that a real debate has begun.



Get 50.50 emails Gender and social justice, in your inbox. Sign up to receive openDemocracy 50.50's monthly email newsletter.


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData