Understanding the cultural effect of identity politics on national security

19.09.2018, Warsaw.

The changes happening in the world, which are fueled by the exponential growth of technology, lead to a constant increase of complexity. And the more complex the world becomes, the more important the role of national security becomes, since it alleviates fear among the general population, and it provides a framework to achieve long-term goals. In such situations, fostering a sense of security among the general population cannot just be reduced to having a strong military or a robust government. In fact, the rise of right-wing populism despite a situation of economic growth, in Germany or Austria for example, shows that having a stable economy and government is not nearly enough. Culture itself becomes a political factor. The cultural environment not only shapes “the incentives for different kinds of state behavior but also the basic character of states – state ‘identity’” (Katzenstein 1996). Hence the analysis of the cultural environment becomes increasingly important in defining national security. This is even more pressing during our times of global uncertainty and increasing global instability.

The topic of how culture influences national security has been the focus of many studies since the early 70s. Given the limitations on our discussions today, I will reduce the amount of quoted literature to the minimum necessary to provide a general overview of this topic.

Theories about the role of culture in national security have seen dramatic change after the collapse of the Soviet Union, because the collapse occurred without any easily observable rational cause. “Why did the Soviet Union consider it to be in its interest to withdraw from Eastern Europe in the late stages of the Cold War, while it had rejected such suggestions many times before?” (Katzenstein 1996) – asks Katzenstein, a renowned scholar on the topic of culture and its influences on national security. If earlier research, namely of realist and neo-realist in nature, considered state identity and interests as given, i.e. not changeable, then research after the collapse of the Soviet Union looks deeper into what influences state identity and behavior. In his book The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics (Katzenstein, 1996) the authors go deeper into the analysis of how social practice influences the international and domestic cultural environments, the chief factors contributing to the formation of a state identity.

When examining cultural environments, (Katzenstein 1996) identifies three layers that affect national policy:

  1. Formal institutions or security organizations: NATO, OSCE, WEU, etc.
  2. The world of political culture: the rule of law, “standardized social and political technologies, transnational political discourse carried by such international social movements as Amnesty International and Greenpeace” (Katzenstein 1996).
  3. International patterns of friendship and enmity.

The OSCE is undoubtedly a formal institution that determines the norms for European security. Hence, it is important to understand what cultural framework is being constructed at the OSCE, since this influences most of the actors inside the European Union. This cultural framework is a determining factor in constructing a state identity for the European Union, and it becomes an important factor in understanding the future behavior of nations that constitute the union.

But before we can proceed, first we need to evaluate what culture is and how it can be defined. In the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, anthropologists who studied culture have analyzed it as a means of survival through an adaptation mechanism for society. Edward Burnett Tylor, the founder of cultural anthropology, defined culture as the “complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Tylor 1871). In the context of today’s world, the most important part of this definition is “man as a member of society”. Each member of modern society adopts certain beliefs, and he follows complex morals and laws in order to be part of society and thus to increase his own chances of survival.

To function in society, each of its members needs to understand the importance of every other member, so as not to decrease the overall might of any given society. Hence throughout history humanity has continued to create larger and greater civilizations, starting from ancient Sumer, to ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Chinese Empire, and so on. This was also needed to escape the tyranny of nature: “Culture constitutes a sphere of moral, religious, political, philosophical and technological values that permit man to “humanize” himself, i.e. escape the tyranny of the state of nature” (Castro-Gómez 2002). Humanization in this context means developing a rational mind that helps members of society to disregard their primal instincts for long-term survival. Therefore, culture becomes a “mental map that guides us in our relations with our surroundings and with other people” (Downs 1971). Another increasingly important part of cultural analysis is “societal control, which helps to ensure conformity to societal norms for an ordered society” (Oladiran and Adadevoh 2008).

What is the mental map that guides us in building relationships with our surroundings and with other people?  And what part does the OSCE play in defining this map and ensuring conformity to societal norms? Undoubtedly, identity politics is a large part of this mental map which is built via the OSCE. In other words, identity politics, and in a narrower sense gender politics, have become vital to formulating a cultural framework within the OSCE. In the next part, we will analyze identity politics in general and gender politics in detail to understand the cultural effect it has on society.

 

Identity politics culture – focusing on oppression and domination

Identity politics has become a central point of the political discourse since the 1990s. The term itself, however, followed the political movement of the 1960s and ‘70s in the western world, and originated ideologically from the New Left. “Without the birth, success, and failures of the New Left, identity politics as we knew it in the final decades of the twentieth century – and continue to understand it now – is an unimaginable project” (Farred 2000). Which beliefs lie at the heart of identity politics?

As the renowned political theorist Iris Marion Young writes (Heyes 2018):

“Identity politics as a mode of organizing is intimately connected to the idea that some social groups are oppressed; that is, that one’s identity as a woman or as a Native American, for example, makes one peculiarly vulnerable to cultural imperialism (including stereotyping, erasure, or appropriation of one’s group identity), violence, exploitation, marginalization, or powerlessness

(Young 1990) favored the approach of identifying different social groups as minorities, against whom oppression takes place. In the beginning, these only included racial minorities like blacks or gender groups like women. Later, these groups started including subjects of sexual oppression, like lesbian or gays.Over the past 30 years, these communities then started to include bisexuals, transgenders, queers and any other community that does not want to be part of mainstream gender stereotypes, often abbreviated by the *-Sign. This very quickly formed the LGBTQ* communities, which created the appearance of fighting against oppression together.

The mechanisms proposed by the advocates of Identity Politics include the formation of social groups centered around specified minorities, which consequently form Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, NGOs become increasingly important in representing minorities: “NGOs and other community-based organizations can help identify and articulate the needs and wishes of those individuals” (United Nations Development Programme 2007). In a sense, these NGOs are given political power to use administrative and legislative resources in defending individuals who are part of a selected minority. The following cultural factors are created:

  1. The creation of a victimhood culture

The narrative of identity politics views each of these social groups as oppressed victims. Change for these minorities only becomes possible when a stronger entity takes action. This is usually the state. However, the only “weapon” against oppression in the state’s arsenal is to change the legal system. A legal mechanism for addressing cultural problems created to benefit one minority is always seen by members of other minorities as limitations on their own rights, which can again be interpreted as oppression. A vicious circle is created, where everyone views themselves as a victim. And that is how a victimhood culture is created. Members of social groups start believing themselves to be incredibly weak, marginalized, and oppressed.

  1. When everyone is fighting, a division of society occurs

In order to even out the distribution of power, social and political technologies have been created that focus on administrative and legal authority. This cultural environment favors dividing players using behavioral incentives. Continuing the division of minorities is seen as more reasonable  than to unite these minorities. Uniting means sharing, while division means gaining additional resources. By offering political, administrative and legislative authority to cultural players, society becomes increasingly divided, weakening the drive towards a universal culture, which is, necessary for a democratic society.

  1. Respecting and understanding each other becomes impossible due to the rise of tribal thinking

The main determining factor shifted away from the question “what kind of future do these players want to build?” towards the “history and heritage to which supposedly they belong” (Malik 2016). This creates a tribe-like mind state that sees others as potential threats and enemies. The existence of additional players on the cultural field is interpreted as a risk that rewards from the state will be reduced. Therefore, every additional player is only seen as an enemy. Respecting and understanding others in this kind of cultural environment becomes unthinkable.

The result of these mechanisms is that instead of uniting the quest of emancipation for all of humanity, including men and women, or gender equality, men’s right movements were created in a backlash to feminism (Maddison 2013). On one hand, members of each minority are seen as victims of oppression. On the other hand, members of any given minority are also seen as contributing to the domination of others. Men are somehow responsible for oppressing women; yet at the same time, they are also victims of women’s intrigues. Women are victims of the patriarchy, but they are of groups who oppress others. Discerning the real reason for oppression becomes impossible.

Another example is whites in the US who, as the dominant race, have started seeing racism or identity politics, as a “zero-sum game that they are now losing” (Norton and Sommers 2011). Essentially, progress by one group is made at the expense of another, which further intensifies the culture of victimhood within these groups. This occurs while global inequality continues to rise at an unprecedented rate (Alvaredo et al. 2018).

Where there is oppression and domination, there are victims. The victims themselves, by definition, are unable to change the outcomes for themselves. Those who believe themselves to be the victims of oppression are unable to begin a dialogue with representatives of other groups, since they already fear losing their privileges. Understanding others, respect for others – this all becomes a luxury awarded only to a chosen few. Victims will constantly require the intervention of a larger entity – be it an NGO or the state. Thus, the cultural environment cultivates a slave-like mentality across every social group. And when this culture becomes dominant, national security becomes threatened. The German armed forces – the Bundeswehr – is a prime example of the effect of victimhood culture on national security.

 

The spread of a victimhood culture among the German Armed Forces – The Bundeswehr

In discussing identity politics in context of the German Bundeswehr, one problem particularly stands out. The Bundeswehr does not have a clear idea of its own identity, which is simply because of the criminal history of the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of Nazi-Germany. Even now, many soldiers still look up to the soldiers of Nazi Germany as an example of what it means to be a soldier. Each attempt at bringing about a solution, namely the Bundeswehr regulations on tradition of 1963, 1982 and 2017, have not achieved a satisfying solution in reducing the far-right disposition amongst military personnel.

The matter has become additionally complex after the Bundeswehr was forced to accept women as regular troops based on a decision from the European Court of Justice. In 2000 a women name Tanja Kreil wanted to join the Bundeswehr, but she was rejected on the basis of being a female. She brought her case to the highest legal authority in Europe – the European Court of Justice, where a decision was made in her favor. The Bundeswehr itself was against this decision, as was every democratic party, except the liberal Free Democratic Party. But the legal decision had been made, and the Bundeswehr had to change.

Such a legislative solution to a cultural problem did not have a positive effect. Many women who started service in the Bundeswehr have become subject to discrimination. According to a study by the Military History Research Office of the Bundeswehr from 2014, about half of women serving in the military have experienced harassment (Kümmel 2014). According to the same study, the proportion of soldiers who believe that the Bundeswehr had changed for the worse after integration attempts has increased from 52% in 2001 to 57% in 2011, with a continued upward trend (Kümmel 2014).

This also brings about the division that we touched upon earlier. Kümmel (Kümmel 2015) has pointed out: “Confronted with the hitherto largely unknown presence of women in the military, male soldiers heighten the boundaries of the dominant organizational culture, stress differences instead of similarities, and try to establish a certain distance towards the tokens. Usually, this leads to the marginalization and isolation of the tokens. Sexual harassment is one such polarization strategy”. This conclusion is another example of victimhood culture, since the male at that point sees himself as a victim of the law, instead of supporting these choices. And harassment is a direct consequence of this inner protest. Finding a solution requires dialogue and respect for each other,  and most importantly – trust. But this becomes impossible, since both female and male soldiers see themselves as victims of oppression.

And since women are then an oppressed minority, the German state had to introduce a law to for preferential treatment towards women. In 2005 the German government passed a law to ensure the equality of men and women in the Bundeswehr (SGleiG 2005), which is again a legislative solution to a cultural problem. A German newspaper even called the Bundeswehr “a victim of constant reforms” (Müller 2018).

The gender equality law in the Bundeswehr gives out many privileges to women, essentially guaranteeing them job opportunities, increasing their chances for promotion, in addition to granting more opportunities to obtain further training and education. This is done in order to offset the oppression that women may encounter while still being in an overwhelming minority. Until a 15% quota of women is achieved in the Bundeswehr, these privileges are set in place by law.

Furthermore, physical training standards have been lowered for women because of biological differences, even though extreme situations do not discriminate across gender. This has already had a negative effect on soldiers’ morale, while an increasing part of the Bundeswehr believes that this impedes the general capabilities of the armed forces (Kümmel 2014).

To ensure these legal requirements are met, the law also requires the introduction of an Equal Opportunities Officer, who will oversee the realization of said law. One does not need to be a senior officer in the armed forces, she only needs to be a woman, because men are prohibited from occupying this post. The Equal Opportunities Officer can then go against every staffing decision be the chain of command if she believes that women’s rights have been discriminated against. The Equal Opportunities Officer also takes part in creating an Equality Plan, where every measure to ensure gender equality needs to be documented, and unsatisfactory integration results must be explained in detail.

It is easy to understand how this cultural environment in the Bundeswehr facilitates the victimization of its members. And there is yet another problem that is linked to a victimization, which is the radicalization of the members. When the victimhood culture becomes internalized to a sufficient degree, people react by adopting a more radicalized viewpoint. And this can be seen in the rise of far-right extremism across the Bundeswehr.

In this sense, it is important to analyze the connection between the rise of far-right extremism among certain groups and the victimhood culture itself. This connection arises because of the victim’s drive to delegate responsibility to others. If victims are weak, marginalized, and oppressed, then the need to find a savior, some kind of Führer, becomes incredibly enticing. And in fact, it has been widely agreed upon that a victimhood culture has permeated the far-right movement after the Second World War and even prior to it.

In the analysis of identity politics, Furedi (Furedi 2017) points out that the politicization of identity began in the late 18th century as a counter-Enlightenment movement that mostly encompassed far-right groups, which the German Nazis then took to an extreme. He writes: “During the interwar era, the counter-Enlightenment focus on national identity took an extreme form with the Nazis. This meant that anti-universalist particularist politics became associated with racism and, ultimately, the Holocaust”. Furedi (Furedi 2017) basically argues that an extreme form of identity politics gave rise racism and the Holocaust. According to Furedi (Furedi 2017) after identity politics became largely unpopular in the aftermath of the Second World War; however, the New Left adopted the politicization of group-related identities 20 years after the war. And as we have already discussed, today’s approach largely builds upon the success of the New Left.

The German Nazis believed themselves to be the pinnacle of creation, yet they also believed themselves to be the victims of some Jewish conspiracy, which ultimately resulted in the Holocaust. Considering oneself the victim of a conspiracy is nothing more than a deep internalization of the victimhood culture. It is no wonder then that we can observe a strong rise of Neo-Nazi sentiments in the Bundeswehr (DPA 2018).

And this is a grave danger to any democratic society. If the politicization of identity in its extreme forms historically led to the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the Holocaust, then what measures are being implemented today to counteract the cultural influence of this approach? And is it even remotely enough? Is it even possible that a cultural environment that facilitates victimization, division, and marginalization is capable of counteracting these tendencies?

Across the world, the rise of the far-right has been seen as a danger to democracy. Yet the cultural environment created by identity politics have played a decisive role in creating the necessary conditions for this rise. A cultural policy that takes national security seriously cannot continue the politicization of identity, and it should provide other forms of support.

Cultural policy is a very important instrument. And a serious attitude towards national security absolutely requires stopping the identity politics, which permeate today’s mainstream. A serious analysis of the process that the culture of victimization has started, as well as a radically new approach towards addressing these problems is necessary.

 

Bibliography

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This is the full text of Tony Siewert’s speech at the plenary OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) that took place on September 19, 2018. Tony Siewert is a member of the Essence of Time movement and a journalist from the Rossa Primavera News Agency. This speech was also published in “Essence of Time” newspaper issue 297 on September 29, 2018.

 

Source (for copy): http://eu.eot.su/?p=18954&preview=true

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