The Pew Research Center recently released a new Global
Attitudes Project survey
based on polling conducted in 39 countries. News headlines derived from the
polling echoed the Pew survey's title: "America's
Global Image Remains More Positive than China's." However, buried within the
top-line results was another revelation: "Wide Gender Divide on Drone Strikes."
Of the 12 countries for which Pew provided corresponding data, the female-male gap
approving of U.S. drone strikes ranged from 31 percent in Japan to 13 percent
in Uganda. When the same question was asked in 2012, the female-male gap similarly ran from 30 percent in Germany to 12
percent in Poland. Within the United States, the divide was 23 percent in 2012,
and 17 percent this year. American women are also between 11 percent and 14
percent more likely than men to show concern that drones harm civilians, cause
blowback from extremists, are illegal, and damage the reputation of the United
This female-male divergence
of opinions is an enduring characteristic of polls on the use of military force
and generally persists regardless of the weapons system employed, military
mission undertaken, whether the intervening force is unilateral or multilateral,
and the strategic objective proposed. The gap is also one that is sustained
over time and is consistently found whenever or wherever comparable questions
are posed regarding prospective military options. Richard Eichenberg of Tufts
University, who has written several essential works on gender differences in
security attitudes, found: "There are many commonalities in the views of men and women, but the
direction of gender differences is always and everywhere that women are
less supportive of using military force than men."
Indeed, it is an overwhelmingly
global phenomenon found in almost every single country where such questions are
asked -- though there are less foreign data as the United States is
comparatively over-polled. Nevertheless, for example, 13.5 percent
more Australian men than women approved of joining the U.S.-led coalition to
depose Saddam Hussein in 2003, 14
percent more French men than women supported the intervention in Mali
earlier this year, and 20
percent more German men than women think force is sometimes needed to
maintain order in the world.
Since the United
States has unmatched conventional military capabilities (and has a
comparatively high tendency to attack other countries and non-state actors), it
is useful to look closely at polls of American adults. If, like me, you are an observer
of opinion polling on the use of force, you find evidence of the female-gap for
different missions, no matter which type of military action is proposed, or
which party is in the White House. Eichenberg examined 486 surveys of the American public between 1990 and 2003, for
which a gender breakdown was provided, where U.S. military force was contemplated,
threatened, or used. He found that the average gender difference for supporting
the use of force was 58 percent men and 48 percent women. This is roughly
consistent with data covering significant U.S. military intervention over the
more men than women supported U.S. military action in Iraq during the first
Gulf War in 1990.
percent more men supported intervention in Rwanda in 1994.
percent more men supported intervention in Bosnia in 1995.
more men supported cruise missile attacks in Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998.
percent more men supported intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
more men supported the U.S. war in Afghanistan in 2001.
percent more men supported military action in Iraq in 2003.
percent more men supported military intervention in Libya in 2011.
cases, gender differences are also found if you look at the latest polling
regarding uses of force currently under debate:
percent more men than women support the United States and its allies using
force in Syria.
percent more men think the United States should conduct cyberattacks
against other countries.
8 percent more men support the United States
taking military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
percent more men think that North Korea is a threat to the United States
that requires military action.
6 percent more men think that President Obama
should have ordered troops to go to Benghazi, Libya, on the night of the attack
on the consulate.
Fifteen years ago, Francis
Fukuyama wrote an essay that tried to explain why men are more likely, and women less likely, to
support bombing other countries. He contended that "there is something to the
contention of many feminists that phenomena like aggression, violence, war, and
intense competition for dominance in a status hierarchy are more closely
associated with men than women." However, such mostly male characteristics cannot
be changed as they are rooted in biology, and since rogue male leaders
remain a fact of world politics the "democratic, feminized, postindustrial
world" will not be up to the challenge of confronting them. "Masculine policies
will still be required, though not necessarily masculine leaders." Responses to Fukuyama's essay essentially accepted his gender dichotomy by defending
women's ability to wage war: "women in the past two centuries have more than
adequately demonstrated a capacity for collective violence," wrote Barbara
Ehrenreich; "Historically, cultures organized around war and displays of cruelty
have had women's full cooperation," noted Katha Pollitt.
The question more
interesting than why women and men perceive militarized approaches to foreign
policy challenges differently is: What might the policy implications of them be
today? Unfortunately, many
commentators who have written about this phenomenon in the past focus on the
gender of combatants themselves, while ignoring the gender of those who
actually decide to use force.
For example, within
the U.S. military, orders to use force can only originate from the National Command Authority, a term that collectively describes the president and the secretary of defense
-- the apocryphal 3:00 a.m. phone call goes to the Pentagon as often as the White
House. Within the Central Intelligence Agency -- under guidelines that
were first implemented in 2009 -- only the director of the CIA has the authority to sign-off on each drone
strike, or similar lethal action. America's history shows that of the 44
presidents, 24 secretaries of defense, and 25 directors of the CIA who could
have authorized using force, all were men. Thus, we have zero real-world
comparisons within the United States to evaluate whether a female leader would
be more or less likely to use force to confront a foreign policy challenge.
Below the level of
top decision makers, women are vastly underrepresented in senior uniformed and civilian positions
within the Pentagon, as is readily apparent from this picture in March, or this one in June, or this one in June, or this one in June. According to the Pentagon, women make up 20 percent of all official senior
defense positions, while they are 31
percent of the CIA's senior intelligence service. However, agency veterans
tell me the percentage is much lower in the national clandestine service that
is responsible for conducting lethal covert operations.
Within the foreign
policy community of think tanks, the academy, and punditry, the
underrepresentation of women's voices is readily apparent, particularly
wherever "hard" security issues are debated. Despite marginal improvements in
the last decade, more than three-quarters of all op-eds in major
print outlets are consistently penned by men, including those with a
foreign policy focus. At the Aspen Security Forum in
June, there were 59 featured speakers, just four of whom were women.
As someone with 15 years
of experience in this community at various levels, I have come to recognize
that most colleagues agree that there is something inherently wrong with this
picture, and that the relative lack of gender diversity (among many other underrepresented
voices in U.S. foreign policy discussions) impacts how debates unfold, and probably
on what outcomes emerge. However, they are painfully uncomfortable discussing
exactly what that impact is, or what should be done to expand the range of
There are certainly
many methodological problems with attempting to ascertain public attitudes by
asking certain people certain questions. For instance, people who haven't attended
college or have an annual income under $50,000 tend to be more supportive of
military options. And clearly, any person's opinions about the utility and
wisdom of military force will be shaped -- and perhaps changed -- once they
assume a policymaking position and are granted access to classified
But as women and men
do have markedly different perspectives about using military force, it is
conceivable that less would be used if more women were in leadership positions.
Women already in those positions think so: In a 2012 FP survey of 43 female politicians around the world, 65 percent agreed that: "The
world would be more peaceful if more women held political office." When I ask my peers about this gap, three
consensus opinions emerge: 1) Women are more likely to see the other side's
point of view, 2) are less likely to see the world as a zero-sum game, and 3) are
more likely to believe that bombing someone does not ultimately achieve
In a 2011 poll that asked respondents "the best way to ensure peace," 8 percent more
men said "military strength," while 9 percent more women said "good diplomacy."
Likewise, the undervalued and essential role of women as peacemakers was the
core theme of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's landmark December
2011 data-driven speech. Meanwhile, her husband Bill Clinton recently opined that presidents who refrain from using force because of public or
congressional opposition "look like a total wuss, and you would be." The time-honored
connection between looking "tough," masculine, and bombing others endures,
which makes military force the appealing default solution for so many U.S. foreign
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