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Encouraging diversity in the armed forces

When thinking about current challenges to global peace and security, only few would think of the question of diversity and inclusion in our western security institutions. Syria, Russia, and North Korea, or Migration and Energy might come to mind as the most pressing issues.

Why spend a single thought or breath on diversity in security, when there is so much actual security work to be done: allies to be swayed, troops to be trained, and enemies to be spied on?

All security work, however, relies on one asset and one asset alone: people. Without people, no tank will roll, no foul plot will be uncovered and no ally will be convinced to support our national interests. To attract and hold qualified people is therefore a key challenge.

Simply looking at demographics, it becomes abundantly clear that diversity matters.

In the United States and many countries in Europe, White Christians soon will not be the majority anymore. In Germany, for example, over 23% of the population is first or second-generation immigrants. According to the BPB report and the Federal Statistical office micro-census data, more than a third of children under 8 years belongs to that group of first or second generation immigrants.

That group, however, is not really a homogeneous group. Migrants come from a variety of countries of origin. The children of these migrants maybe partially or fully socialized into a Western context, while having some connection to their home-culture. Some of them feel very German, others less, some might even despise their new-found home.

The question of diversity does not stop at ethnic or geographic roots. Homo, bi, trans and other forms of gender and sexuality are more and more openly lived. The feminist movement has opened virtually all professions to women.

Whether we actually want that diversity is being hotly debated all across the western world.

The United States has its fence project to protect Americans from Mexican “rapists”. French right-wing movements are mobilizing citizens against French-Arabs while Germans are marching for alternatives to the current administration, deeming it too foreigner and Muslim-friendly. What all of these movements have in common, however, is their implicit wish to turn back time to the less complicated world. This aspiration is futile.

Diversity is and will increasingly be the reality our societies have to deal with. Willingly or not.

How does this affect our security institutions then?

For one, recruitment processes have to be altered and thought about.

To recruit John or Sally, for example, it might be very feasible to convince them about their individual benefit of joining the Marines or the CIA. In the case of Mahmud or Maria, however, it might also be necessary to convince their parents, cousins or religious leaders.

Different groups have different needs and they have to be identified and met.

For all of that, data is necessary. Germany, where I am from, is very slow and hesitant at polling diversity numbers. The historic component of having once used such data to identify and murder unwanted groups is a strong factor here. However, without meaningful data on diversity, the factual reality of workforce composition becomes a matter of personal observations and more or less valuable opinions. Stringent, expertly collected data is therefore the cornerstone of every meaningful diversity policy.

Finally, the question of ‘why care about this’ needs to fill the ranks.

For some, this question of who we allow into our militaries, intelligence agencies, police forces, etc. is an ideological one. Do we want Muslims, blacks, Latinos, women, gays, and transgender people to carry our flags, and wear our colors?

Pragmatically, we can refer to the previous arguments and then the answer is easy and clear: yes.

Many citizens go out of their way to avoid any service, so we should be happy for anyone and everyone who volunteers. Recruitment goals cannot be met without minorities and women, and many studies have shown that diverse groups are more effective.

Aside from the pragmatism, being able to serve one’s country is a privilege.

It shows that you are willing to give your time and potentially sacrifice your well-being for your country and its values. It shows that you, as a representative of your community, feel so connected to your country and its values, that you would give your life to defend them.

Taking this privilege away from one specific group, not for objectively sound but ideological reasons, is more a statement about the excluder than the excluded.

It says that even if someone is well qualified to protect you, you would rather accept a disadvantage than to be protected by someone from that group. You would rather agree to a greater threat against your values, your family, and yourself from an outsider, than to allow someone from the excluded community to pick up a weapon and stand in harm’s way on your behalf.

So, in the end, the question of diversity in security is not whether we feel comfortable with black, female, or transgender soldiers or policemen and policewomen but whether the ideologically driven denial of opportunity to serve to specific groups is worth the safety of our nations and families.

The answer to that should be obvious.


If you want to the chance to hear Dominic talk this weekend on immigration and diversity, or discuss these topics and more, join the German American Conference at HKS from 5th to 7th of October 2018!