With passage of the 2017 Women, Peace and Security Act, the United States became the first country to mandate implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) framework. In accordance with act requirements, Congress released a report in July 2022 evaluating the progress of the four US government agencies charged with implementation—the Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and US Agency for International Development (USAID). While progress was noted across all agencies, it was inconsistent. According to the report, for example, the Department of States invested $110 million, USAID $239 million, and Department of Defense $5.5 million for execution. Setting aside the discussion of how much is the proper amount to spend to fulfill the requirements specified by Congress—a vital discussion that should continue and be informed by regular reviews of progress made by each agency—DoD is clearly lagging far behind, a fact that becomes even more apparent when considering the vastly larger budgets apportioned to it than either the Department of State or USAID. Moreover, the differences in budget allocations among the implementing organizations create and exacerbate a WPS implementation gap and hamper collaboration. They also reflect differing perspectives on WPS relevance to organizational mission success. Thus, understanding relevance is a prerequisite to successful WPS implementation and education becomes both a fiscally responsible and necessary step in moving WPS implementation forward within DoD.

In 1986, Congress passed the sweeping Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reorganization Act, designed to address issues associated with intraservice rivalries that hampered mission success during the Vietnam War, the Iran hostage crisis, and the invasion of Granada. In addition to establishing command structure changes, Goldwater-Nichols also mandated that military officers complete joint professional military education (JPME) as a prerequisite for certain joint assignments and promotion categories. Education was thereby recognized as the right means for instilling “jointness” both within and between services. Subsequently, through designations of special areas of emphasis and legislation, education has repeatedly been recognized as the right means for mainstreaming key concepts and topics relevant to the military into the forces. As the July 2022 congressional report section on professional military education (PME) states, “The Department has recognized that WPS is an important field of study and as such, must be incorporated into how the Department educates its commissioned and non-commissioned officers to think strategically and identify creative approaches to joint warfighting and sustaining momentum in the Department’s campaigns.” While the benefits of mainstreaming WPS relevance through JPME are clear, integrating WPS into JPME has been hampered by organizational silos and organizational cultures that often still see security as primarily linked to men.

The Benefits of Mainstreaming WPS Relevance Through JPME

There are multiple benefits to incorporating WPS into JPME. Doing so would not only help align DoD with its Department of States and USAID counterparts to alleviate the already widening WPS knowledge gap between the agencies, but would do so with minimal fiscal impact to the DoD budget. JPME institutions already exist, are fully staffed—many including a WPS chair or lead—and are increasingly working together on WPS implementation. Incorporation of WPS principles into the core curriculum of JPME organizations is a logical next step. Further, incorporation addresses Defense Objective 1 in the 2020 DoD WPS Strategic Framework Implementation Plan, to ensure that the DOD “exemplifies a diverse organization that allows for women’s meaningful participation across the development, management, and employment of the Joint Force,” and mandates that DoD do so through JPME. In addition to abiding by published directives, incorporating WPS principles into JPME provides the United States with a stronger voice when encouraging partner nations to do the same.

More directly, incorporating WPS principles into DoD through JPME enhances readiness. In other words, WPS enables a US military that is a more effective fighting force, one that is better equipped and more capable of fulfilling any of the broad range of mission it may be tasked with. Failure to have troops prepared in advance resulted in the United States’ initial struggle to engage and work with a key source in the Middle East, women. Rather than being ready for the fight, the United States was forced to play catch-up, driving the development of rushed, ad hoc, separate training for cultural support teams and female engagement teams, while already at war. Having WPS principles incorporated throughout JPME would ensure gender perspectives, empirically shown to be relevant to conflicts and DoD missions, are part of standard operating procedures in future engagements.

For example, during the resettlement of Afghan evacuees into the United States after the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Operation Allies Welcome was the first time two specific roles—gender focal points (GFPs) and gender advisors (GENADs)—were part of the mission planning process, as opposed to being an afterthought. Trained gender advisors were deployed to each of the eight task forces established throughout the country to serve as a cultural bridge between Afghanistan and the United States. They were there, as stated by Northern Command, to “provide a gender perspective into decision making; build relationships and trust with female guests; ensure women had equitable access to information and were able to voice their issues, concerns and ideas; and provide English classes and education on US cultural norms and expectations.” Accounting for those considerations better situated the task forces to advance an otherwise hectic mission, enhance evacuees’ perceptions of the United States, and ultimately contribute to more positive diplomatic and national security benefits. Unfortunately, gender perspectives and considerations prevalent in Operation Allies Welcome remain operational exceptions, rather than the norm.

Additionally, mainstreaming WPS principles into DoD through JPME provides future forces, including US allies who attend JPME, with valuable threat assessment, strategy development, and force enhancement tools, like the consideration of gender, not available elsewhere. In essence, incorporating WPS in JPME will not only benefit the United States on a national level; educating international officers attending JPME (many of whom are the future leaders of their respective countries) will, undoubtedly, also benefit the United States from a diplomatic and international perspective.

On June 16, 2023, with the publication of its WPS Strategic Action Plan, the Department of the Air Force became the military department to establish how its services—the Air Force and the Space Force—would implement WPS. The plan specifically identifies training as the department’s first WPS objective. Within that objective, intermediate objectives are identified that explicitly state that the department “incorporates WPS principles and gender perspectives into all training and professional military education.” Formalizing a strategic action plan that recognizes the role PME plays in institutionalizing WPS is a step in the right direction, but DoD-wide implementation requires other services to commit to the same, and then follow through. Follow-through in this regard has been slow, at best.

Inhibitors: Educational Silos and Organizational Culture

Gender is not the first topic difficult to understand and implement through JPME. But the JPME enterprise has rightly tackled those difficult topics—topics that span multiple overlapping academic silos and are vital to US national defense—just as it must with gender.

One of those difficult topics has been jointness. Part of the rationale behind the Goldwater-Nichols JPME requirement was to promote jointness. Jointness is essentially a force enhancer, intended to improve military effectiveness, and thus is a topic overlapping all aspects of military operations. Consequently, instilling jointness required integration into multiple JPME lessons across multiple, often siloed, departments for it to become standard operating procedure and part of future operations and doctrine. In crises, military organizations execute how they train, and they train according to doctrine.

The requirement to integrate jointness throughout JPME curriculum meant that every faculty member had to understand and seamlessly integrate it into the curriculum. At times, and at some PME institutions, faculty had to be incentivized. For example, for a time, the Naval War College annual faculty ratings included considerations of how well individuals instilled jointness into their teaching. Being part of their annual ratings encouraged faculty to become familiar with and incorporate jointness into their courses. Incentivizing faculty might also need to be the case with WPS.

Space security provides another example of challenges that accompany integrating crosscutting topics into military studies. Space operations includes four mission areas: space force enhancement, space support, space control, and space force application. Within space force enhancement, space capabilities aren’t important somewhere, they are important everywhere. Space security also has highly technical aspects and classification issues, further complicating its understanding and teaching. Consequently, JPME institutions have long struggled with questions regarding how to teach its importance, uses, and limitations as those considerations require at least limited knowledge of physics, engineering, policy, law, strategy, and security considerations. DoD has worked to address these issues for decades, and became part of the impetus behind the 2019 creation of the Space Force. Creation ensured the development of a critical mass of individuals with the requisite knowledge, clearance, and access to decision-makers to make inclusion of space security considerations part of national security standard operating procedure.

The incorporation of both jointness and space security in JPME offers insights applicable to WPS. In the case of jointness, the limited technical or classification components involved eased its incorporation, which should similarly make JPME incorporation of WPS more achievable. Additionally, as with jointness, the will and faculty motivation to incorporate concepts into their classrooms is key to implementation. The space security example offers an example of how, with the creation of the Space Force, DoD looked externally, to different organizations, to attract the expertise required to successfully develop and achieve the mission. This could also be the case with WPS, at least initially. In both cases, jointness and space security were topics that encountered organizational friction in JPME integration. In the case of gender considerations, however, in addition to friction, despite presidential and congressional direction to implement WPS, there has been outright organizational resistance centered on outdated notions of whether and how gender is relevant to national security.

Though well-established empirically, the relationship between gender and security has been largely unrecognized in academic courses related to international relations or security studies in both civilian and PME academic institutions. In military commands and PME institutions, that knowledge gap inhibits WPS implementation, forcing WPS advocates to rely on individual access to senior leaders and those individual leaders’ willingness to learn about WPS. The creation of two courses, WPS 100 and WPS 200, offered through Joint Knowledge Online was intended to provide leadership an introduction to WPS, at times and in ways convenient to them, but it remains utilized predominantly by action officers—those specifically tasked with ensuring a unit or organization is fulfilling WPS requirements—rather than the broader cohort of leaders necessary to effect widespread cultural change.. WPS 100 and WPS 200 are currently prerequisites of GFP and GENAD training, training essential to building a formally trained cadre of experts that serves an entirely separate, but equally beneficial, purpose. Separate from GFP and GENAD training, broadly integrating WPS principles throughout JPME ensures all service members have a basic understanding of WPS relevance to security. One does not, and is not intended to, replace the other as both are essential to expand the understanding and relevance of gender to security and military operations within DoD.

The perspectives of authors whose works are being read, promoted on military reading lists, and included as core curriculum in JPME remain predominantly male authored. This, in itself, evidences that security is still seen as a primarily male field by leadership and JPME administrators. For context, among 2022 military reading lists, the Air Force list was the most diverse, with 8 of 21 of the recommended books authored by women; followed by the Navy, 4 of 12; the Marines, 7 of 46; and the Army, 1 of 113. Regarding core curriculum readings, based on two in-house surveys regarding articles used in JPME, women authored or coauthored only about 10 percent of students’ readings. Conversely, a quick review of articles in Foreign Affairs between May/June 2022 and May/June 2023 shows that women authored or coauthored nearly 37 percent of works published. Similarly, 55 percent of articles and editorials published by the Harvard International Review from April 2022 to April 2023 were authored by female scholars. The issue, then, is not a lack of women-authored security-related articles being available, but rather, a lack of recognition and endorsement of such work in military institutions.

Organizational cultures tied to gender stereotypes and adverse to thinking beyond those gender stereotypes are inherently skeptical of recognizing gender as a security factor tied to readiness and mission success. But, as with JMPE being effectively used to overcome service rivalries in favor of jointness, even if faculty had to be incentivized to do so, education can effectively drive the change that is required to effectively implement WPS.

Incremental Steps

It is laudable that many JPME institutions have hired WPS chairs, conducted workshops, and held conferences on WPS. But, like gender advisors and gender focal points within other commands, WPS chairs can only do as much as their personal access to amenable leaders allows. JPME offers a means to continuously reach and educate the fighting force as a whole. Further, one person (or even a handful of people) cannot integrate gender perspectives into a curriculum taught by multiple faculty members in various departments. It must be integrated by the entire faculty.

Understandably, however, many JPME faculty members are reluctant to integrate gender considerations into curriculum, as most are largely unfamiliar with the subject themselves. Ensuring integration of gender perspectives into course material requires offering faculty development opportunities to learn about WPS. Like jointness, gender is not a stand-alone topic, but one that permeates throughout security studies. Like space, gender considerations must be worked into wargaming, exercises, and doctrine. While this is beginning to happen, it is still only by exception. Development of a WPS primer outlining core elements of WPS that institutions can adapt to their circumstances, faculty, student body, and budget and that is flexible enough to be used by both domestic and international organizations is needed. This primer would provide guidance on what key topics need to be integrated into core curriculum, not how to teach it, and would facilitate WPS standardization across JPME.

Finally, but not inconsequentially, mainstreaming WPS into DoD through JPME serves as a mechanism to address the issues continually surrounding and negatively impacting the military regarding sexual assault. At a March 2023 briefing on the 28 percent rise in sexual assault and harassment reports at military service academies, a DoD official called the statistics “extremely upsetting and disappointing.” In April 2023, DoD provided Congress with its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for fiscal year 2022, reporting a total of 8,942 sexual assault reports throughout DoD, a 1 percent increase from the previous year. In addition to the immeasurable trauma experienced by survivors, these statistics also represent a threat to maintaining an effective workforce and readiness, making sexual assault and sexual harassment a direct threat to US national security. While DoD is taking steps to counter sexual assault in the military (addressing the issues that already exist), WPS education at JPME would contribute to preventing sexual assault (taking steps to address issues before they develop).

DOD has an opportunity build on the successes noted in the July 2022 congressional report and JPME provides the mechanism to do so effectively. Failure to consider efficient implementation of WPS in JPME will only hamper opportunities to facilitate mission readiness and ensure mission success.

Tahina Montoya is an officer and gender advisor in the Air Force Reserve and a fellow at Women in International Security.

Joan Johnson-Freese is a professor emeritus at the Naval War College, senior fellow at Women in International Security, and author of Educating America’s Military and Women, Peace and Security: An Introduction.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense, or that of any organization the authors are affiliated with, including the Department of the Air Force and the Naval War College.

Image credit: Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl, US Navy