'Be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill' : counterinsurgency, masculinity and British military doctrine
Cornish, Hilary Ann
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Contemporary counterinsurgency has been characterised by a shift from the ‘kill or capture’ of insurgents to prioritising winning over civilian populations. This focus on the population brings a particular skillset to the centre of military practice. Prioritising understanding culture, training, mentoring and relationships, practices previously associated with peacekeeping operations are conducted alongside combat. Feminist literature on peacekeeping has traced the relationship between entrenched hierarchies of gender and race in military institutions and abuses perpetrated by peacekeepers. This thesis contributes to that literature. It focuses on the British Armed Forces to analyse how identity is constructed in relation to contemporary counterinsurgency, in order to understand changing military roles and the potential impact on civilian populations. The thesis comprises a feminist discourse analysis of select British military doctrine. Doctrine draws together practice, teaching, and policy and offers a productive site to study institutional identity. The analysis shows how these non-combat practices are made sense of in relation to different configurations of masculinity, which don’t evoke combat or aggression. Nonetheless, they are constructed as masculine identities, hierarchical in organisation and constituting relations of power. I argue this recourse to masculinity enables the framing of non-combat practices as warfare and so valuable military activity. However, this framing simultaneously restrains the ways in which they can be understood. The thesis further highlights an ambiguity in the texts which argue both for widespread institutional adaption to the practices, and their limitation to a specific specialism and personnel. This ambiguity I argue is productive for an institution facing an uncertain future, leaving open possibilities for reform, or to revert to focussing on traditional understandings of core combat related military tasks. This thesis contributes to feminist debate about the possibility for military reform, and the capacity for Armed Forces to act as agents for peace. I argue that military reform is possible and occurring; the British Armed Forces are developing more sophisticated approaches to gender, human security and culture. However, whilst this is likely to have some benefit, the (re)establishment of gendered and raced hierarchies, limit the extent to which such reform offers meaningful change.