Defining militarised sexualities

East Asia is now one of the most militarised regions of the planet, hosting the huge standing armies of the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the smaller armies of Taiwan, Vietnam and Mongolia. There are also US troops stationed in Japan and South Korea. China is second in the world in military expenditure, while Japan’s Self-Defence Force is in the top eight. The so-called demilitarised zone between North and South Korea is the focus of constant tension. Several countries in the region require a period of military service of their young men (Vietnam, Taiwan, Mongolia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea). When societies are pre­occupied with military matters, this impinges on every aspect of government policy, civil society, and interpersonal relations — including sexuality. As we shall see, sexualities can also be implicated in international relations.

Modern nation-states have always been concerned with the sexuality and reproductive capacities of their citizens. This involves sexual hygiene measures, policing the boundaries of sex and gender, promoting heteronormative family forms which facilitate the reproduction of citizens, workers and soldiers, regulating marriage and divorce, controlling access to the means of reproductive control, and managing the size of the population through pro-natalist policies or through population limitation (Mackie 2009a: 139—63; also see chapters by Bille; Earl; Kam; Choi; Kim in this volume).

Where a nation-state’s policies have a particular focus on the military, this will also have corresponding effects on gender relations and the management of sexuality. In a militarised society, governments manage the sexuality of all citizens, not just soldiers, through promoting particular heteronormative family forms, through promoting the reproduction of children (potential soldiers and supporters of the military), through placing the heteronormative family at the centre of national identity, and through positioning women and children at the home front as those who need to be protected by the military.

Military institutions have always managed the sexuality of soldiers and civilians (Enloe 1983; 1989; 1994; 2004). Armies manage the sexuality of soldiers in their training, through the (direct or indirect) provision of access to brothels, through the provision of prophylactics, through testing soldiers and sex workers for sexually transmissible diseases, through regulating marriage, through prohibiting same-sex sexual activity, and through excluding homosexuals from service in the military. Until relatively recently, most armies were exclusively masculine institutions.