Summary: Women combatants appear in many of today’s conflicts around the world, a change in warfare with few precedents in history and perhaps the biggest change since the use of nukes. Recent examples include fighters in the Eritrean Wars, Middle East suicide bombers, soldiers in western armies, and in the Kurdish forces. With few historical precedents, except in near-mythological tales, large numbers of women in combat represents a real revolution in military affairs. Here we sort through the news for an introduction to this powerful trend.
- War by women in the developed nations
- The test for women soldiers lies in future wars
- War in the less-developed lands
- The democratization of warfare
- How will this revolution change war?
- For More Information
(1) War by women in the developed nations
First let’s look at women’s increasing role in the military forces of the developed nations.
Some have gone all the way: “8 Other Nations That Send Women to Combat“, National Geographic, 25 January 2013 — Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway. In these nations women serve in roles that include “engaging an enemy on the ground … while being exposed to hostile fire and a high probability of physical contact with the hostile forces personnel” (per a 2010 British Ministry of Defense (MOD) study).
The number of nations doing so is increasing. As in the UK “Women soldiers to serve in front-line combat units” — “Senior Whitehall source says that MoD is ‘leaning towards making the change’ to allow women in front-line combat units after a six-month review” (The Telegraph, 5 December 2014).
But things might not be what they seem, as Martin van Creveld explains in Men, Women & War (2002):
This argues it is all a great illusion: that the influx of women into the military, far from representing a world-historic step in women’s unstoppable march towards liberation, is both a symptom and cause of the decline of the military. The process was triggered by the introduction of nuclear weapons over a half century ago. Since then the armed forces of no developed country have fought a war against a major opponent who was even remotely capable of of putting its own national existence in danger …
The more superfluous they have become — indeed precisely because they have been becoming superfluous — the more society and its leaders feel able to treat them not as fighting machines but as social laboratories …
For more about his theory see his article “The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000.
(2) The test for women soldiers lies in future wars
The test of van Creveld’s theory and of western nations’ commitment to gender equality in combat, comes when women return in large numbers of body bags. So far none of those nations have had large numbers of women casualties.
Women have died serving America in our post-9/11 wars, but in small numbers (reflecting limitations on their roles) — as shown by this Congressional Research Service report (OIF and OID are Iraq; OEF is Afghanistan): women are 2% of military deaths so far vs roughly 11% of total US troops serving there.