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Emergence of female defense leaders and hybrid warfare

Posted November. 25, 2020 07:50,   

Updated November. 25, 2020 07:50


The U.S. may be looking at the appointment of its first female defense secretary. While the actual results remain to be seen, those mentioned as potential nominees as the first secretary of defense under the Biden administration are all female – former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard. The U.S. Department of Defense, which is in charge of the security of the world’s most powerful country, is a truly gigantic organization with 2.86 million servicemen and women and civilian employees and an annual budget of 721.5 billion dollars. For the conservative department that has been led by 28 male secretaries since its foundation in 1947 and rarely seen female deputy secretaries, a female leader has become likely to be appointed.

As of November 2020, countries that have female national defense leaders include Germany, France, Spain, Australia, India, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland. In particular, Germany, France, and Spain’s preceding defense ministers were all female. The absolute majority of them did not have any experience in the military and had completely different jobs, such as a doctor, legal professional, or government official, before their appointment as defense leaders.

What are the reasons behind the emergence of female defense leaders, then? Of course, the biggest drive is expanded female activities in society, but it is also noticeable that hybrid warfare has become part of our daily life. The term, hybrid warfare, refers to modern warfare, in which hacking, fake news, and false information are as destructive as conventional weapons and distinctions between regular and irregular forces, soldiers and civilians, and wartime and peacetime are gone. It is also called compound or asymmetric warfare to indicate that both conventional weapons and non-conventional activities, such as hacking, are used to attack enemies.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the 21st-century wars are determined by cutting-edge information technology, including cyber media war and drones, not all-out ground wars. The desperate realization that the existing education and training methods focused on nurturing soldiers with experience in the battlefield cannot guarantee wins in modern warfare and that transformation into a completely new way of thinking and ideation is required has lead to the acceleration of the emergence of female national defense leaders who have not practiced shooting once.

Another factor to consider is that there are more areas that women can utilize their strengths, such as analyzing the delicate psychology of various stakeholders, building international cooperation, and strengthening cooperation with civilians. One of the classic books in cultural anthropology, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” by American cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, was also written based on data requested by the U.S. Department of Defense for its psychological warfare against Japan in the 1940s, which was in the middle of the Pacific War. As widely known, Benedict who did not visit Japan once in her lifetime analyzed in close detail the psychology of the Japanese that is difficult to understand from the Western point of view, such as suicide squad Kamikaze, contributing largely to the victory of the U.S. It was one of the examples of how women’s meticulous attention to detail can contribute to winning a war and may have been a signal forewarning the era of female defense leaders about 70 years later.

Jung-Min Ha dew@donga.com