23 March 2010

Chicks and Dudes--COIN Edition

I came across two articles this morning which discussed the role of gender in counterinsurgency environments. (As a side note, I should add that I read these articles during breakfast on my Amazon Kindle; one came from the New York Times, and the other came from Small Wars Journal's newly-created Kindle feed.)

"The Female Approach to Peacekeeping", from the 5 March issue of the New York Times, discusses the advantages of female peacekeepers, drawing examples from current UN missions.

The theory — which has evolved since pioneering female peacekeepers started participating in U.N. missions in the Balkans in the 1990s — is that women employ distinctive social skills in a rugged macho domain. They are being counted on to bring calm to the streets and the barracks, acting as public servants instead of invaders.

“When female soldiers are present, the situation is closer to real life, and as a result the men tend to behave,” said Gerard J. DeGroot, a history professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has written books about women in the military. “Any conflict where you have an all-male army, it’s like a holiday from reality. If you inject women into that situation, they do have a civilizing effect.”...

...The softer approach is critical in Liberia. In 2004, a U.N. report criticized peacekeepers in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti for the sexual abuse of young women by trading food and money for sex. In 2005, 47 peacekeepers were accused of sexual abuse in Liberia, compared with 18 peacekeepers who were accused last year, according to the U.N. mission.

Top U.N. officials credit the arrival of women for helping improve behavior. Yet within Liberia, national peacekeeping units from different countries are still debating the best approach, tinkering with ways to best deploy female peacekeepers — or “blue helmettes” in U.N. lingo.

Another article, which appeared in a SWJ roundup of masters' theses, was written by Major Herb Daniels of the Naval Postgraduate School. Entitled, "No Child Left Behind: COIN Strategies to Deny Recruitment of Adolescent Males in the Southern Philippines", it touches upon important aspects of the male psyche. Towards the end of the article, Maj. Daniels describes the various methods by which a "man can be a man". In prosperous democratic societies, males can compete with one another for alpha male status in any one of a number of endeavors--the arts, politics, sports, education, even in World of Warcraft and the emerging field of douchebaggery. Just give guys a system where we can compete for money, power and status and, inevitably, we will compete.

Unfortunately, in poor rural societies, there are fewer methods for men to prove themselves and gain social accolades, leading to the rise of criminal gangs and insurgent groups. Indeed, many of the "accidental guerrillas" who have found themselves among the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Iraq were simply young, unemployed and disenfranchised young men looking for an outlet. But don't just take my word for it:

The fact that adolescent males seek to achieve some degree of status is common in all societies.55 Tausug society is no different. Not only is status important to teenagers, but it is equally valuable as a teen matures into manhood. Leadership in traditional Tausug society is based on acquired status; the greater your status the greater your influence and betterment for your family. The warrior tradition of the Tausugs puts heavy emphasis on status achieved through bravery in battle.

If an adolescent male has no opportunity in legitimate society to achieve status, then the ASG offers an avenue for attaining status in keeping with traditional Tausug values. Some males may choose to join or help the ASG to impress family, friends and/or especially females.57 Others may be impacted by the depressed economic conditions, and therefore seek fame and fortune from the only means available outside legitimate society. The most dangerous potential recruits, however, may be those disaffected youth who truly want to achieve status through legitimate means, but have no opportunity for advanced education or employment. In such cases, individuals will be drawn to the ASG’s initial raison d’etre or they may come to believe they can advance their cause as well as the Tausug people’s cause through participation in ASG activities. The disaffected adolescent males in today’s Tausug society can become the future ideologues who bring the ASG back from profit-driven activities to those focused on an Islamist agenda.

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