The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy by Valerie M Hudson and Patricia Leidl (Columbia University Press, £19.95) “Women’s rights are human rights”: Hillary Clinton’s statement to the UN’s Fourth World Conference in Beijing has become so famous that it’s easy to forget this was just 20 years ago. In their new book, professor Valerie M Hudson and journalist Patricia Leidl offer a comprehensive overview of how women’s rights have become better accepted as a part of US foreign policy in the years since then—as well as how much more still needs to be done.
The moral imperative to further women’s rights is clear, but the so-called Hillary Doctrine goes further, holding that the subjugation of women around the world constitutes a security threat to the US. In the words of Clinton: “Give women equal rights and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nations is almost certain.”
Hudson and Leidl’s defence of the doctrine is ambitious—they have interviewed everyone from victims of violence in Guatemala to US statesmen—but not watertight. They explore some interesting avenues, but too much of the argument rests on the observation that peace and stability often go hand-in-hand with improved rights for women, without demonstrating that it is the latter that leads to the former, rather than vice versa. Their characterisation of women as agents of peace is debatable. And there is the complex problem of Saudi Arabia, often considered the US’s most stable ally in a difficult region, while also being one of the world’s greatest deniers of women’s rights.
As the first book-length study of the Hillary Doctrine this is a valuable and energetic start—but more will need to be done to convince sceptics.