Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

“Women …have to have a seat at the cyber table to have an impact on national security.”

Rhea Siers, executive director for cybersecurity and information at the Risk Assistance and Network Exchange

A Place at the Table: Women's Role in National Security

June 25, 2018

“Promoting Global Leadership” was the theme for the 2018 Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Conference, which was held at the Watson Institute May 31 – June 1. Now in its seventh year, the conference was co-sponsored by the U.S. Naval War College (NWC), the A. Alfred Taubman Center for American Politics, and the Watson Institute.

This year’s theme, according to Susan Moffitt, Taubman Center director and associate professor of political science and international and public affairs, “fits very well with Watson’s themes of development, governance and security,” “While the Taubman Center focuses on the American context, we do so with a global eye, [by evaluating] the reverberating impact of American policy globally and learning from our global partners.”

Keynote speaker Luc Cassivi, Rear-Admiral, Canadian Armed Forces, kicked off the conference discussing the challenges to embracing cultural inclusiveness while noting how adhering to basic tenets – respect the dignity of all persons, duty before self, and obey all lawful orders, for example – leads to inclusiveness and operational success. He lauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s initiative to encourage more women to enter peace-keeping positions with the Royal Mounted Canadian Police, the military, and other organizations, and said Canadian defense chiefs will network with their foreign counterparts to share best practices in striving to achieve the goals of the U.N. Security Council’s landmark WPS resolution. That October 2000 resolution urged all actors to increase the participation of women, incorporate gender perspectives in all U.N. peace and security efforts, and protect women and girls from gender-based violence in armed conflicts.

Conference chair Mary Raum, Swanee Hunt Academic Chair, WPS, and professor of national security affairs at the NWC selected experts from academia, military, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to participate on panels that discussed topics such as education, cybersecurity, and genocide. Conference attendees were high-ranking representatives from foreign and domestic military institutions, NGOs, and academic institutions.

During a discussion panel on genocide, Kevin Gentzler, an assistant professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, said, “We’re working to develop leaders who understand genocide and mass atrocities, how to prevent them and how to respond to [those] situations.” Given women’s growing role within the national security framework and the need to develop future leaders, the subject of genocide and mass atrocities connects well with WPS, he added.

“Genocide is gendered from the very beginning to the very end,” said fellow panelist, Dave Cotter, deputy director of the Department of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. “Beyond mass killings, staff officers must recognize rape as a weapon of war [that] … can destroy families and societies.… Rape becomes weaponized when used as a tool by the state … to implement ethnic cleansing.” The widespread weaponization of rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina gave rise to international awareness, he added.

“Women …have to have a seat at the cyber table to have an impact on national security,” said cyber panelist Rhea Siers, executive director for cybersecurity and information at the Risk Assistance and Network Exchange, who worked for the National Security Agency for 30 years.” Far from being new to cyber, she said, “Women were pioneers in cryptology.”

That said, women represent only 11 percent of information security professionals in the United States. Siers pointed to hostile work environments, a “techno-bro” culture, and high attrition rates to explain the dearth of women in leadership information security positions.   

In another panel presentation, military leaders from Jamaica, Uruguay, and Chile evaluated their nations’ successes and challenges relative to the resolution’s goals and objectives. Former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manly’s progressive views on diversity helped foster more favorable attitudes, according to Major General Rocky Meade, chief of defense staff of the Jamaica Defense Force, though many still believe that leadership positions should be held by men. Increased training, evidence-based research and more enlightened leadership can address such attitudes, he said. Chilean attitudes changed after the nation’s first female minister of defense was shown responding to a flood, said Rear Admiral Alberto Soto. Soto said that Chile, now facing a huge wave of feminist action, was the first South American nation to begin to implement the aforementioned U.N. resolution.

Major Dana Grigg, a staff judge advocate with the Nevada Air National Guard, discussed what she and her team learned by working in the tiny island nation of Tonga. Her take-away messages: learn about the country you’re working with and its people, culture and traditions; listen to their needs; build trust and a capable team; leverage resources and knowledge; and identify next steps. Tonga’s next steps are to engage local citizens and military personnel to draft a WPS national action plan.

“Why are we discussing women in our security study courses?” “What does WPS mean?” Security practitioners at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies frequently ask these questions, said Professor Saira Yamin. Such questions are “an opportunity to explain that women are equal stakeholders in security. They represent 50 percent of the global population…. It’s more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in today’s war zones,” she added, where “90 percent of [such] casualties are civilians.”  Women are also significantly affected by terrorism, human trafficking and natural disasters, added Yamin.

Moffitt and Raum say they appreciate the growing relationship between Brown and NWC. Noting that the NWC supports the interface between the two campuses, Raum said that, given what’s going on in the world, global leadership should be an instrumental element of this year’s WPS discussion. Now that at least 72 countries have national action plans for WPS, Raum sees the need to think about next steps.

--Nancy Kirsch