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New book by Jody Prescott on ‘Armed Conflict, Women and Climate Change’

* COL (Ret.) Jody Prescott is a lecturer at the University of Vermont, where he teaches Environmental Law, Energy Law & Climate Change, and Cybersecurity Law & Policy.

Armed Conflict, Women and Climate Change (see Armed Conflict, Women and Climate Change Flyer for 20% discount)

Since the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in 2000, there is has been significant, if uneven, progress in realizing its goals with regard to the incorporation of gender perspectives into the activities and operations of military organizations around the world.  This progress has been hampered in many cases because advocates of gender’s operationalization have not satisfactorily answered two important questions.  First, is gender relevant in all military efforts from a perspective of operational risk?  Second, is it possible to answer the first question without having established methodologies that can quantify and qualify the operational risk of failing to consider gender in particular activities and missions in language that can be both understood and acted upon?

In Armed Conflict, Women and Climate Change, I argue that the answer to the first question is no, and that in certain situations the risk posed by failure to consider gender is at best de minimis, when taken in context with all the other factors that are in play.  Similarly, the answer to the second question is also no.  From the perspective of prudent planning and mission analysis integrity, a military organization cannot reach a negative conclusion until it has first done its homework to properly assess what the risk to operations would actually be.  Proper assessment in any given situation must have started years ago, when gender analysis was addressed in doctrine, embedded in military education, trained in realistic scenarios, and resourced through the career development of gender advisors who would eventually field the right types of expertise, with sufficient rank on their collar to be listened to in planning cells.

So where does climate change factor into this?  I am not the first one to suggest this, but it appears in areas of the world affected by both armed conflict and climate change, the two likely have a compounding effect upon some of the most at-risk populations, women and girls.  Failure to recognize this potential compounding effect in the conduct of civilian-centric operations, such as stability and humanitarian relief missions, means that the military organizations conducting them are missing a critical part of the operational risks they confront.

The Relationships between these Factors

UNSCR 1325 recognizes that in general, armed conflict has both a differentiated and more severe impact on women and girls than it does on men and boys.  Similarly, the international development community has recognized that the negative impacts of climate change likewise have such a gender-dependent effect.  Scientific research as of yet only supports the idea that climate change might have indirect causal links to armed conflict.  Whether armed violence breaks out in or between different populations experiencing climate change impacts appears to be heavily mediated by factors such as the degree of ethnic fractionalization, governmental competence and responsiveness, the availability of human and financial capital, and the possibilities of alternative livelihoods.

Regardless, the inverse relationship does appear to exist – armed conflict often results in environmental degradation.  This damage likely makes environments less resilient to climate change’s negative impacts, thereby increasing climate-change related risks to the people who live and make their livings within them.  Climate change’s effects will impact different countries in different ways, at different times.  Increased global average temperatures appear likely to result in rising sea levels and more extreme and perhaps more frequent weather and weather-related events in the future, including storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires.

In developing countries among those most likely to be impacted by climate change earliest, there are often sections of these states in which social, economic and political discrimination against women and girls places them particularly at risk to the ravages of war.  Similarly, they are particularly at risk to the negative effects of climate change.  The likelihood of the impacts of armed conflict and climate change having a compounding negative effect on women and girls in these areas should prudently be considered to be a threat to the operational success of civilian-centric military missions conducted there, such as humanitarian, counterinsurgency and stability operations.  How are different military organizations approaching this threat?

Operationalization of Gender in the Australian, U.K. and U.S. Militaries

As to the gender aspect, there has been uneven progress within the intelligence and analysis collaboration arrangement of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S, the so-called “Five Eyes Community.”  The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has in many ways taken the lead in operationalizing gender in its activities and operations, through its continuing staffing of gender advisor positions in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and at home, and the incorporation of gender issues in large-scale multinational exercises such as Talisman Sabre.  Although the ADF has made significant progress in updating certain important doctrinal documents, the speed of revision appears hampered by the large number of tasks assigned to a limited number of doctrine writers.  This perhaps delays the extent to which gender-related concepts are comprehensively included in education, training, planning, and operations.

The U.K. was among the earliest countries to adopt a national action plan pursuant to UNSCR 1325, and it is already on its fourth plan.  This history, the deliberate and critical way in which the U.K. has assessed its own efforts, and the experiences of its military gender advisors likely provide it bench depth in this regard.  It is not clear, however, that gender is being taken up quickly in certain important doctrinal areas, or that the current metrics used to measure the U.K.’s progress in operationalization are sufficiently challenging to reflect the effort required to effect meaningful change.

There has been significant progress in certain areas within the U.S. defense establishment.  Examples include the doctrinal revisions authored by the U.S. Army Peacekeeping & Stability Operations Institute, the work in multinational executive education done by the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the annual conferences held by the Naval War College on women, peace and security, and the recent gender advisor course conducted by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.  In general, however, the pace of U.S. gender operationalization has lagged behind that of Australia.  This poses challenges to achieving seamless interoperability in multinational civilian-centric missions – inefficiencies that could both work as a drag on efforts in theater and result in greater suffering being endured by women and children because of it.

Despite these indicators of progress in addressing gender in military activities and operations, what these countries have not yet begun to do is factor climate change into the risk posed by failure to account for gender.

Potential Paths Forward?

The connections between armed conflict, women and climate change are not necessarily obvious from an operational perspective.  In exploring these relationships, and digging into the strategy and doctrine of NATO and members of the Five Eyes community, Armed Conflict, Women and Climate Changesurveys recent and ongoing work in different military and civilian organizations to incorporate gender considerations into the full range of military activities and operations.  It also provides practicable examples that could leverage military institutional and operational strengths to deal with the risks posed by the relationships between armed conflict, women and climate change in an affordable way, such as revising civil-military affairs and environmental protection doctrine, and the use of gender-cognizant surveys conducted by military personnel in civilian-centric operations.  These are perhaps small steps.  But if measures such as these could be developed as a result of a holistic approach to gender in the areas of human resource development, doctrine writing, military education, and training by military organizations, they would be the result of methodologies with analytic rigor.  This should be the goal we aim for, rather than just an assortment of one-off, ad hoc measures that end up being promising experiments, but operational orphans nonetheless.