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More women in government roles leads to greater national security

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The United States is facing an unprecedented economic and health crisis due to the coronavirus. Decisions made now will have repercussions that last for years. Recovery from this crisis will require sound policy focused on national security. Involving more women within the decision making process is key to achieving sound policy choices for the future.

When it comes to national security, women leaders drive better choices. They tend to assign resources to areas that affect stability at higher rates than men. So as the United States looks to recover from this pandemic, having more women, especially women of color, at the table will lead to improved outcomes both today and tomorrow. It is time to incorporate more diverse thinking in national security decision making now.

In response to the coronavirus, officials need to balance current interests with long term stability. As both party candidates prepare for the future of foreign policy, each must make assembling a diverse team a high priority. The pandemic gives the next president a grand opportunity to reimagine foreign policy and national security. In order to fire on all cylinders and to think past this crisis, both President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden should include women on their national security teams.

The number of women in top national security positions, while on the rise in recent years, remains relatively low. The top diplomatic roles, like those with the State Department, tend to feature greater equality. Nonetheless, national security and defense roles lag behind. While certain initiatives do show increased attention to promoting the empowerment of women both domestically and internationally, the lack of attention to elevating women to the top echelons of national security persists in our country.

Indeed, less than 20 percent of the most senior positions at the Defense Department are occupied by women. Before President Obama left office, women held only seven cabinet positions, while only four women serve in cabinet positions under Trump today. Just three women have ever served as secretary of the State Department, two as secretary of the Homeland Security Department, and one as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. This lack of diversity negatively impacts the foreign policy and national security decision making process of the government.

The rationale for a balanced national security team is clear. Diversity helps avoid groupthink and incubates innovative ideas. Women often challenge the assumptions that are accepted as truth. Women had championed the idea of destroying Syrian chemical weapons at sea, an undertaking never before attempted. Moreover, having women at the table can lead to less competitive atmospheres and improve working relationships.

When invited to participate, women have strengthened peace processes. According to one study, peace agreements that women helped draft were 20 percent more likely to last at least two years and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. Despite all of this, only 13 percent of negotiators, 4 percent of signatories, and 3 percent of mediators all across the world from 1992 to 2018 were women. Given that half of all peace agreements signed in the 1990s were broken within five years, why are more women not involved in the negotiation, mediation, and signing of treaties? The United States must assign more women to negotiation teams.

They must also be included in emergency planning. The women heads of government have emerged as leaders in the fight against the coronavirus. In Germany, Angela Merkel began mass testing and contact tracing early, preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed and reducing the number of deaths. Because of the quick response by Tsai Ing Wen, Taiwan did not need to implement lockdowns and is now assisting other countries with sending face masks. Finally, as a result of the prompt action by Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand has only seen 20 confirmed coronavirus deaths to date, and the country is starting to reopen after only a month.

As the coronavirus threatens to upend the international order, American national security officials must respond by cultivating diverse thinking in the decision making process. Trump and Biden should develop response plans that account for long term implications. Each must ensure diverse thinking in his planning to craft more creative and sustainable solutions. This pandemic has demonstrated the necessity for resilient policies and processes. Women have demonstrated they can deliver both.

Katie Galgano is a research assistant with the executive team focused on global affairs with the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

Tags Diplomacy Economics Government International Pandemic Security Women

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