The notion that weapons of mass destruction (WMD), especially nuclear weapons are a deterrent to severe armed conflict among the possessor states is a widely accepted proposition in the international security discourse.[i] This premise has, in a customary way, legitimized the possession of the nuclear weapons by the global powers. Various perspectives have tried to analyse the ideas of proliferation of these weapons and other WMDs through the lens of the structures of security and diplomacy. However, one important perspective brings into question the hierarchical structures of international security as well as the discourse on disarmament, i.e. the feminist perspective.
The main tenets of the feminist perspective question the inherent gendered hierarchy of the global power structure. This power structure is what aids the possession of these nuclear weapons and other WMDs. The other important factor that is focused on by feminists is the wide disparities in the representation of people along the gender spectrum in the discourse of WMD Disarmament.
Gender is a social construction of the normative roles and these roles may take different forms depending on culture, ethnicity and other social considerations[ii]. However, some attributes are often considered to be universally “masculine” and “feminine” and this is the aspect that the feminist perspective seeks to draw our attention to. The international security arena is not oblivious to these gendered traits. The very reason as to why the deployment and development of these weapons is a favoured practice in the international arena is that it projects higher masculine traits that seeks to empower a state against others. Scholars often agree to the idea that conflict and war is often considered to be a masculine practice whereas the issues of peace and ‘disarmament’ fall under the category of femininity.
This distinction also presents itself in the hierarchy that exists in the global power structures. The said hierarchy is between the possessors and the non-possessors of Nuclear Weapons. The Nuclear Weapon States are often considered to be the flag-bearers of international security and hence their ‘masculinity’ will protect the more feminine or non-nuclear states. When it comes to the discourse on disarmament, the proponents of nuclear weapons proliferation often use this argument of strength and protection to make a case for the deployment of such and other WMDs.[iii] The role of women in this discourse is often attributed to the concepts of ‘moral mothers’ or their maternal instincts.[iv]
These hierarchical distinctions are further reflected in the practical aspects of the disarmament discourse in the international arena. The latest report from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) on Gender Balance in Arms Control, Non-Proliferation, Disarmament and Diplomacy titled “Still behind the Curve (2019)” empirically highlights the gender ratio skewed in favour of men in dialogue forums. According to the report the participation of women in Arms Control and Disarmament discussions in various forums varies from 0 to 37%.[v] The report especially highlights that even though there has been a rise in the participation of women, the field is still dominated by more ‘masculine’ notions of security. The First Committee of the United Nations dealing with the issues of disarmament and non-proliferation saw the participation of only 32% of female delegates.[vi] These statistics highlight the grave gender disparities that exist in forums of international security.
The Prospects of the WMD Free Zone
While arguing in favour of advancing the WMD Free Zone in the Middle East, it becomes imperative to draw the common attention to the human cost of the usage of these weapons. In this light, various feminist theorists such as Carol Cohn have highlighted the general attribution of such humanitarian concerns to ‘femininity’ by the male dominated discourse.[vii] Hence, often it becomes easy to overlook the humane aspects of the discourse while the focus remains on the more “loud” and “masculine” aspects of security and conflict.
In this regard, when we consider the prospects of creating a WMD Free Zone, a significant lesson to be learnt is the representation of diverse voices from the region. The general situations of war or armed conflict affects men and women differently. While the more masculine traits of fighting a war are attributed to men, women constitute the major part of the population directly affected by the various human rights violations during an armed conflict.[viii] In this regard, when we consider the impact of WMDs, it is far greater than an ordinary armed conflict. Even though the usage of WMDs would affect men and women alike, it is the underlying ideology and the gendered perspectives behind the proliferation of such weapons that need to be understood.
The feminist perspective seeks to challenge the very nature of the structures of power that are built on the assumptions of the dichotomy of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’.[ix] Therefore, in order to advance the cause of the WMD Free Zone it is important to pay heed to these structures that contribute to the maintenance of weapons of mass destruction.
In conclusion, various lessons can be drawn from the feminist perspective towards the creation of the WMD Free Zone, but the most important is the diversification and inclusion of the concerns and opinions of the many voices that exist within the region. This is because the usage of the WMDs would have an effect on all the people, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or ideologies
* Nelson Mandela Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, India
[i] There are currently nine states that possess nuclear weapons – US, UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea
[ii] J. Butler. Gender Trouble. New York & Oxon: Routledge (1990).
[iii] Ray Acheson. “A Feminist Critique of the Atomic Bomb”. The Green Political Foundation (2018). Accessed on 11th September 2021: https://www.boell.de/en/2018/10/12/feminist-critique-atomic-bomb
[iv] Yashna Agarwalla. “The Gendered Dimensions of Anti-Nuclear Weapons Policy”. E-International Relations (2020). Accessed on 13th September, 2021: The Gendered Dimensions of Anti-Nuclear Weapons Policy (e-ir.info)
[v] Renata Hessmann Dalaqua, Kjolv Egeland and Torbjorn Graff Hugo. “Still Behind the Curve: Gender Balance in Arms Control, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Policy”. UNIDIR (2019).
[vi] Marylia Hushcha. “Might Feminism Revive Arms Control? Why Greater Inclusion of Women in Nuclear Policy is Necessary and how to achieve it”. International Institute for Peace (2020). Accessed on 13th September : https://www.iipvienna.com/news-reports-publications/2020/4/28/might-feminism-revive-arms-control-why-greater-inclusion-of-women-in-nuclear-policy-is-necessary-and-how-to-achieve-it
[vii] Carol Cohn and Sara Ruddick. “A Feminist Ethical Perspective on Weapons of Mass Destruction”. Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights (2003).
[ix] Marylia Hushcha. “Might Feminism Revive Arms Control? Why Greater Inclusion of Women in Nuclear Policy is Necessary and how to achieve it”. International Institute for Peace (2020). Accessed on 13th September : https://www.iipvienna.com/news-reports-publications/2020/4/28/might-feminism-revive-arms-control-why-greater-inclusion-of-women-in-nuclear-policy-is-necessary-and-how-to-achieve-it