What Sex Means for World Peace

The evidence is clear: The best predictor of a state's stability is how its women are treated.

In the academic field of security studies, realpolitik dominates. Those who adhere to this worldview are committed to accepting empirical evidence when it is placed before their eyes, to see the world as it "really" is and not as it ideally should be. As Walter Lippmann wrote, "We must not substitute for the world as it is an imaginary world."

Well, here is some robust empirical evidence that we cannot ignore: Using the largest extant database on the status of women in the world today, which I created with three colleagues, we found that there is a strong and highly significant link between state security and women's security. In fact, the very best predictor of a state's peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state's peacefulness is how well its women are treated. What's more, democracies with higher levels of violence against women are as insecure and unstable as nondemocracies.

Our findings, detailed in our new book out this month, Sex and World Peace, echo those of other scholars, who have found that the larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence. On issues of national health, economic growth, corruption, and social welfare, the best predictors are also those that reflect the situation of women. What happens to women affects the security, stability, prosperity, bellicosity, corruption, health, regime type, and (yes) the power of the state. The days when one could claim that the situation of women had nothing to do with matters of national or international security are, frankly, over. The empirical results to the contrary are just too numerous and too robust to ignore.

But as we look around at the world, the situation of women is anything but secure. Our database rates countries based on several categories of women's security from 0 (best) to 4 (worst). The scores were assigned based on a thorough search of the more than 130,000 data points in the WomanStats Database, with two independent evaluators having to reach a consensus on each country's score. On our scale measuring the physical security of women, no country in the world received a 0. Not one. The world average is 3.04, attesting to the widespread and persistent violence perpetrated against women worldwide, even among the most developed and freest countries. The United States, for instance, scores a 2 on this scale, due to the relative prevalence of domestic violence and rape.

It's ironic that authors such as Steven Pinker who claim that the world is becoming much more peaceful have not recognized that violence against women in many countries is, if anything, becoming more prevalent, not less so, and dwarfs the violence produced through war and armed conflict. To say a country is at peace when its women are subject to femicide -- or to ignore violence against women while claiming, as Pinker does, that the world is now more secure -- is simply oxymoronic.

Gender-based violence is unfortunately ingrained in many cultures, so much so that it can take place not only during a woman's life but also before she is even born. On our scale measuring son preference and sex ratio, the world average is 2.41, indicating a generalized preference for sons over daughters globally. And in 18 countries, from Armenia to Vietnam, childhood sex ratios are significantly abnormal in favor of boys. The United Nations Population Fund suggests that, as of 2005, more than 163 million women were missing from Asia's population, whether through sex-selective abortion, infanticide, or other means. Demographer Dudley Poston of Texas A&M University has calculated that China will face a deficit of more than 50 million young adult women by the end of the decade. Think of the ways this imbalance will affect China's state stability and security -- and in turn its rise to world power -- in this century.

Other global indicators are equally disheartening. In family law, women are disadvantaged in areas such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. This inequity in turn serves as a foundation for violence against women, while also undercutting their ability to fend for themselves and their children. My colleagues and I found that the world's average score for inequity in family law is 2.06, indicating that most countries have laws that discriminate to a greater or lesser degree against women. And some of the countries in the Arab Spring, including populous Egypt, are actually poised to regress on this scale. Maternal mortality, meanwhile, clocks in globally at 2.45, a truly lamentable comment on state priorities and the value of female life.

Lastly, the inclusion of women's voices in decision-making bodies, as captured by the level of female participation in governments, measures an abysmal world average of 2.74. This is no surprise, given that the level of participation of women in government is less than 20 percent. But it's also true that some of the worst countries when it comes to the representation of women in national government include democracies such as Japan (13.4 percent in the Diet) and South Korea (14.7 percent), not to mention Hungary (8.8 percent). The United States is below average, with only 17 percent female participation in Congress. Ironically, when the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, it urged that these countries have a minimum of 25 percent female participation, and now both countries score higher than their invader on this indicator: Afghanistan's parliament is nearly 28 percent female, and Iraq's is just over 25 percent. In that one respect, the United States has done better by Afghan and Iraqi women than by its own.

The evidence of violence against women is clear. So what does it mean for world peace? Consider the effects of sex-selective abortion and polygyny: Both help create an underclass of young adult men with no stake in society because they will never become heads of households, the marker for manhood in their cultures. It's unsurprising that we see a rise in violent crime, theft, and smuggling, whereby these young men seek to become contenders in the marriage market. But the prevalence of these volatile young males may also contribute to greater success in terrorist recruiting, or even state interest in wars of attrition that will attenuate the ranks of these men. For instance, the sole surviving terrorist from the 2008 Mumbai attacks testified that he was persuaded by his own father to participate in order to raise money for the dower that he and his siblings needed in order to marry.

We also know through experimental studies that post-conflict agreements that are negotiated without women break down faster than those that do include women, and that all-male groups take riskier, more aggressive, and less empathetic decisions than mixed groups -- two phenomena that may lead to higher levels of interstate conflict.

On an even deeper level, the template for living with other human beings who are different from us is forged within every society by the character of male-female relations. In countries where males rule the home through violence, male-dominant hierarchies rule the state through violence. This was most poignantly expressed by male Iranian dissidents who, during the ill-fated 2009 Green Revolution, explained their decision to wear headscarves as a sign of protest against the regime -- and an act of solidarity with the women long oppressed by it. As one supporter of the protests explained it, "We Iranian men are late doing this.… If we did this when rusari [the headscarf] was forced on those among our sisters who did not wish to wear it 30 years ago, we would have perhaps not been here today." This is a profound statement: Men who see women as beings to be subjugated will themselves continue to be subjugated. Men who see women as equal and valued partners are the only men who have a true chance to win their freedom and enjoy peace.

In a promising sign, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared women's issues a central focus of American foreign policy, explaining in 2010 that "women's equality is not just a moral issue; it's not just a humanitarian issue; it is not just a fairness issue. It is a security issue," which, she added, is "in the vital interest of the United States." But given the overwhelming evidence that improving the security of women improves the security and stability of states, it is amazing that some still balk, suggesting that third parties are helpless before ingrained cultural practices. The most pressing example right now is Afghanistan, where senior U.S. officials looking toward the United States' 2014 departure state baldly, "Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities." We cannot but assume that the situation of Afghan women will only get worse when U.S. troops leave -- Afghan women themselves tell us it will be. And how does that square with Clinton's view?

The United States is not impotent to assist Afghanistan's women, even as it leaves that benighted land. It can at least attempt to ensure a softer landing for them after 2014. Before the United States leaves, it could set up an asylum policy for Afghan women facing the threat of femicide, or a scholarship program to send the best and brightest female Afghan students to American universities. It could ensure that women are well represented in the peace jirga talks with the Taliban. It could encourage the pursuit of International Criminal Court indictments against top Taliban leaders who have ordered femicides. It could complete funding for a Radio Free Women of Afghanistan station and establish mosque-based female education. The United States could insist to the Afghan government that women's shelters not be taken over by the government. And it could continue to condition aid to Afghanistan on specific and measurable improvements for women there. Hopefully, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and others will actively investigate these possibilities.

The evidence is clear: The primary challenge facing the 21st century is to eliminate violence against women and remove barriers to developing their strength, creativity, and voices. A bird with one broken wing, or a species with one wounded sex, will never soar. We know that. Humans have experienced it for millennia -- and paid for it with rivers of blood and mountains of needless suffering. The countries of the world must try a different path, one that we have every empirical reason to believe will lead to greater well-being, prosperity, and security for the entire international system. Sex and world peace, then, with no question mark.



Fire in the Sky

India's missile launch isn't about China so much as it is about wounded national pride. But that doesn't mean it couldn't start an Asian arms race.

The instant his 50-foot-tall, tungsten-tipped "dream" rocket pierced the stratosphere on Thursday, April 19, V.K. Saraswat could finally dare to exhale. Unlike with North Korea's disastrous display just days before, years of secret preparations by the director of India's Defense Research and Development Organization on its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) paid off flawlessly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was among the first to offer congratulations, telling him that "you made the nation proud." The last time an Indian nuclear scientist was so honored, the country held parades and revelers even worshipped the bombs. The Buddha was smiling then; now, he's flexing.

Fifth in the Agni series (meaning "fire" in Hindi), this indigenously constructed missile can carry multiple nuclear warheads up to 3,100 miles away, putting not only Beijing in play, but also the Middle East, as well as sections of Africa, Europe, and Australia. It's also India's strongest display of military might since a series of 1998 nuclear tests. Then, the international community greeted the announcement with economic sanctions and widespread condemnation. This time is different. Images of the rocket's launch, its sides emblazoned with patriotic flags, ensured that Indian dailies and TV stations were powerless to resist from crafting Agni "high-five" headlines. Once the news reached the other side of the world, it garnered little more than the equivalent of diplomatic golf claps.

So why did countries that so aggressively (and even sanctimoniously) punished India less than 15 years ago act positively subdued this time -- and for a weapon with far more destructive potential? The answer lies not only in India's emerging global role, but also in the fact that India is hunting bigger, and unfriendlier, geopolitical game. Traditional rival Pakistan has long been viewed as India's binary strategic pole, and in 1998 both countries were chastised over fears that neither was responsible enough to be a nuclear power. Now it's clear that the biggest target painted by the test lies within New Delhi's neighbor to the northeast.

India has been saber rattling China for the last decade (which, according to then-Defense Minister George Fernandes, was a big reason for the 1998 tests), but the Agni V's range gives India its first legitimate deterrence-based threat to China's growing military might. The Agni V's actual capabilities are years away from the "deterrence parity" that giddy Indian analysts are already claiming, but while the ICBM may conjure feelings of near nostalgia in the United States among Cold War wonks and North Dakotan farmers tilling crops around abandoned underground silos, for India those four little letters herald proof of making the big time. Joining the exclusive nuclear annihilation capabilities club with Britain, China, France, Israel, Russia, and the United States, India now thinks it can redefine its nationalist pride and global standing merely by whom it picks fights with.

China is not the only one revising old irenic policies as it improves military capabilities. A muscular India is a perplexing sight for those with visions of the country as a land of Gandhian peace and nonviolent struggle, especially given India's historic role as one of nonproliferation's guiding lights. India spearheaded the Non-Aligned Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, arguing consistently in the United Nations for an end to nuclear weapons from countries forced to live under the shadow of the Cold War. Then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi forwarded a global action plan for nuclear disarmament in 1988. Today, however, abolition voices are marginalized while a prideful nuclear breast-beating leads top Indian dailies to declare the Agni V launch a Great Leap Forward -- without a trace of irony.

That's because at its core, the Agni V project isn't driven by credibility, deterrence, or even military strategy -- it's about mending a broken Indian psyche. The India-China relationship is as complex as it is acrimonious, inviting comparisons between the two for at least the last 65 years. Mao's People's Republic of China was founded two years after India's 1947 independence, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s the two massive states scored similarly on economic indicators, while squabbling over issues such as Tibet and skirmishing in minor border wars that, while largely inconsequential, humiliated India.

But after decades of Chinese hyperindustrialization driven by its authoritarian muscle, China now far outpaces India on those same indicators. India fell behind despite its greater commitment to democracy, the United Nations, and other institutions that the West assured the country were essential for responsible states to honor. Now, China's rise to global giant is both assumed (and feared), while India is still known for little more than being the "world's largest democracy" and the butt of inefficient call-center punch lines. The subcontinental pride (and ubiquitous China-bashing) this past week reflects the fact that India feels it has finally caught up in one aspect to its neighbor -- the country that did everything "wrong" and still came out ahead.

This is an escalation that China neither asked for nor wants. Blistering, condescending critiques were lobbed back from Beijing mere hours after the rocket splashed down harmlessly into the Indian Ocean. An op-ed in the state-run Global Times offered that "objectively speaking, China does not spend much time guarding against India" because India suffers from "missile delusion" with "no chance in an overall arms race" because it's "still poor." China, meanwhile, is busy trying to punch above its own weight to generate a global counter to the United States. Despite India and China's $75 billion annual bilateral trade, India doesn't register as a military rival worthy of anything more than a few insulting barbs.

Less noticed is that China's critiques represent a fundamental policy break from Deng Xiaoping's long-followed maxim that nuclear weapons are not to be stockpiled in order to guarantee tactical battlefield advantage, but exist only to ensure some degree of defensive retaliation against rivals with vastly superior arsenals. In short, China is now scorning both India and North Korea for many of the same reasons used to justify its own nuclear program during the 20th century. It may seem like hypocrisy, but it's grounded in a hard-fought respect. China has worked for decades (and has spent billions of dollars) to earn its once-shunned place at the nuclear table; the thought of another country using China's own playbook against it is galling.

As it rises, China is learning how to use the power plays traditionally employed by the global elite. China's foreign-policy doctrine employs equal parts nonintervention and "peaceful rise" dynamics, both of which are difficult to maintain with nuclear-armed neighbors that are either belligerent or unpredictable. The cautioning of India to be wary of "external intervention" after its missile test reflects a concern that international acceptance of an Indian nuclear arsenal may merely be justification for what China sees as a tacit form of Western neo-containment. While New Delhi's lenses may be China-colored, Beijing sees almost everything through the prism of U.S. actions.

When one compares the international responses to the two coincidentally timed recent Asian missile tests, the contrasts couldn't be starker. Where North Korea received near-universal condemnation after its failed test, India has received a much more subdued response to its success. This is not just a case of taking the opportunity to figuratively kick a loser when its rocket went down. The two countries' nonproliferation records, as well as their willingness to engage with existing nuclear states in an accepted way, hold the answer.

Although it's true that neither country is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- the widely accepted international agreement on limiting the spread of nuclear weapons -- the United States has come out in full support of India's "solid nonproliferation record" in expectations that India will employ its new capabilities responsibly. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he doesn't consider India's actions threatening. But there's also some definitional jujitsu at play -- with 5,500 kilometers as the official lower limit for an ICBM, Agni V's 5,000 km range technically makes it only an LRBM (long-range ballistic missile). It's a way for the existing ICBM club to temper potential criticism of a friend while at the same time honoring international compacts -- assuming, that is, club members ignore the comments of Chinese scientists who claim that the Agni V can already strike up to 8,000 km away.

The same cannot be said for North Korea. Since defecting from the NPT in 2003, the country has set out on a course of provocation. Six-party talks start and stop, then start and stop again, leaving most of the world clueless as to what happens next. Tests, like the most recent rocket launch, are often used as provocative extensions of negotiations after hard-fought concessions are won. Allegations of cooperation with other despotic regimes further muddy the waters. If one compares their nonproliferation records, it is understandable why the world came down harder on Pyongyang than New Delhi, failure notwithstanding.

It's unlikely that anyone lying in Agni V's potential path will consider the existing nuclear balance (or lack thereof) radically altered. In a Middle East gripped with ongoing drama surrounding Iran's nuclear program, the Indian test will barely register. India-Iran relations themselves are generally stable -- there won't be any alarm bells ringing in Tehran. Nor will this put additional pressure on (or create additional incentive for) other Mideast states considering developing a nuclear weapons capability. The African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty will remain in effect. And Eastern Europe is unlikely to get worked up that it may be in range. Meanwhile, Pakistan is already bankrupting itself trying to maintain its military force -- and already has weapons and delivery systems that can reach across India, its main rival.

The lack of broader implications of this test doesn't mean that we shouldn't be concerned about China and India engaging in a nuclear arms race. For one, it illustrates how Washington is, for the first time, on the outside looking in as new emerging powers use the rhetoric of deterrence as forward strategic policy. While bilateral agreements such as the New START agreement between the United States and Russia provide an element of standardization, the fact remains that there aren't any silver bullets for slowing the ability of emerging states like India or China to develop large nuclear arsenals.

Despite their comparatively modest caches at present, defining operational strength through warhead quantities and missile range invites a more insecure world. Many of the biggest cheerleaders for the strategy of nuclear deterrence have long since reversed course not only on the wisdom of tactical nuclear stockpiles but even on the value of deterrence itself. The lessons from the Cold War are apparent to all; ultimately it is up to India and China whether they follow the same path. Perhaps the danger of Asian citizens revisiting our frightening past of doomsday clocks and fallout shelters is closer than we think. But for now, the nationalist cheers reverberating throughout India show that nothing fires up a country like a big rocket.