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National Security Today Through 2028: Women Leading the Next Decade

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National Security Today Through 2028: Women Leading the Next Decade

Hillary Dickinson and Alexandra Trent

William & Mary Whole of Government Center of Excellence

A dearth of near-peer competitors in the post-Cold War era and the September 11th terrorist attacks incentivized more recent American decision-makers to treat non-state actors as the foremost danger to our national security. But in the years since the commencement of the global war on terror, our security environment has changed: near-peer competition from Russia and China; North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities; and threats in non-traditional domains like space and cyberspace all threaten American safety.

Such complex challenges cannot be solved in isolation by individual agencies; rather, they require cohesive strategies that involve all stakeholders, public and private. As William & Mary (W&M) commemorates 100 years of coeducation and the inauguration of President Katherine A. Rowe, our Whole of Government Center of Excellence held its Second Annual National Security Conference, “National Security Today Through 2028: Women Leading the Next Decade,” on Thursday, April 4, 2019 to discuss the future national security environment with some of the nation's top leaders.

The conference brought together over 100 experts from local, state, and federal governments, civilian agencies, and the military, as well as scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates. Together, they illustrated that all of society is needed to create comprehensive solutions to our toughest problems, and female national security experts—in addition to their male counterparts—provide invaluable contributions. Among the key themes of the day were the importance of a shared understanding, the escalation of cyber threats to our national security, and the need to cultivate long-term relationships.

Defining the Bigger Picture: A Shared Understanding of Our Nation’s Challenges

When we say Whole of Government what we really mean is how to ensure that the expertise and capabilities that reside in the US government come together to protect American interests and advance American values.”

Dr. Nadia Schadlow, former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy and Assistant to the President of the United States.

Solving our most intricate problems demands the entirety of the United States’ expertise, according to former Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. Nadia Schadlow. Indeed, Schadlow’s definition of “whole-of-government” is the synthesizing of expertise in order to produce a better outcome. To achieve a true whole of government effort, stakeholders need to possess a shared understanding of the problem and a mutual sense of urgency to solve it.

Throughout her Keynote Address, Schadlow cited the development of the 2017 National Security Strategy as a case study on the importance of building strong coalitions. By coordinating strategic analysis and forging consensus across multiple government departments, Schadlow’s team earned buy-in from the agency stakeholders who would eventually execute the strategy. Key to building an effective coalition was the acknowledgement that efficiency must sometimes trump equity: while having a diversity of perspectives is an asset, not every player can participate in each and every decision. Instead, leaders should allow the nature of the problem to dictate which voices are heard during decision-making.

Our country’s challenges span the military, political, and economic domains, and require solutions by players who agree on the big picture. Developing these solutions involves cultivating stakeholder coalitions built upon mutual understanding and a shared sense of urgency.

Surveying Critical National Security Challenges

“We, as a nation, need to wake up!...What happens when our government’s defense is dependent on another nation’s technology?”

Major General (ret.) Patricia Frost, Director of Cyber, Partners in Performance America; former Director of Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Information Operations, U.S. Army

According to the aforementioned 2017 National Security Strategy, “America’s response to the challenges and opportunities of the cyber era will determine our future prosperity and security.” A panel of three seasoned national security experts discussed their experiences managing high-profile threats in the modern era. This panel, chaired by Professor Elizabeth Andrews, Director of W&M Law School’s Virginia Coastal Policy Center, described the landscape of our future security challenges and affirmed that our response must be characterized by collaboration in order to succeed. Brigadier General Michelle M. Rose, TRADOC System Safety Engineer, Director of Logistics, National Guard Bureau-J4, highlighted the National Guard’s efforts in building strong relationships through its State Partnership Program.  Since 1992-93, this program enabled the National Guard to establish 76 partnerships between individual state guards and foreign militaries. As shared with the conference, the Virginia National Guard partners with Tajikistan, which has the longest border with Afghanistan, and thus their partnership focuses on border security. The State Partnership Program seeks to nurture understanding of the other’s culture, as well as foster interpersonal relationships between individual officials, which is important for the long-term security objectives of the United States.

Alexis Sullivan, Chief of Staff, Bureau of International Information Programs and former Senior Watch Officer, Operations Center at the U.S. Department of State, emphasized the importance of shared understanding to interagency collaboration. Conditions on the ground must dictate, for example, who participates in a task force responding to a natural disaster. Further, cultural, educational, and public diplomacy must be operating at all levels of national security. Recognizing that “humans are humans,” Sullivan emphasized how we are a results-driven species. This drive affects which strategies are executed and who is included.

Major General Patricia Frost, U.S. Army (ret.), former Director of Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Information Operations, concluded the panel by discussing the need for a universal appreciation for the gravity of cyber security threats. Twenty years ago, cyber attacks were “irritants.” Now, they pose a strategic threat because technology penetrates into every level of our operations. Therefore, we collectively need to identify our organizations’ “soft underbellies” so as to prevent our adversaries from exploiting our vulnerabilities. This requires buy-in from a massive number of stakeholders: every employee influences an organization’s cybersecurity. Furthermore, government entities utilize tools produced by the private sector and in foreign countries. These realities invite tough questions about the level of cooperation our government can expect from these stakeholders. Frost invited the American private sector to embrace the role they could play in bolstering our cybersecurity. Conversely, Frost cautioned against becoming overly dependent on technologies developed in foreign countries by actors with little regard for our safety.

Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) White Paper Presentations

The Whole of Government Center of Excellence argues that our national security community underutilizes assets such as undergraduate scholars who are conducting cutting edge research. Our Center and the Global Research Institute supports and promotes undergraduate research through initiatives like the Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS). A think tank for undergraduate scholars, PIPS bridges the gap between the academic and foreign policy communities in the area of undergraduate education. PIPS research fellows identify emerging international security issues and develop original policy recommendations to address those challenges.

This year, the conference featured five undergraduate female students’ research in order to ensure that the national security community can access such scholarship, and vice versa. Presenting on topics ranging from the impact of manufacturing expertise on great power competition to the consequences of the international garbage market, the students provided novel analysis that complemented and augmented the narratives of the conference’s established national security professionals.

  • Jenna Galberg, "Scattered for Safety: Boko Haram, Girls, and the Promise of Distance Learning"
  • Marie Murphy, "Cathedrals and Conscripts: Taking Advantage of Russia's Intra-Military Elitism"
  • Liz Rosen, "Picking Waste, Preserving Democracy: Global Recycling and State Instability"
  • Elizabeth Sutterlin, "Mob Violence, Mobile Phones: Private Messaging and the Future of Peacekeeping"
  • Lindsey Washington, "Cornering the Graphene Market: Countering Beijing's Strategy for Industry Domination"

The Future of Women in National Security

This year’s conference showcased the instrumental contributions of female leaders to our nation’s security. Throughout the individual presentations, the importance of stakeholder collaboration came up repeatedly. The challenges to America’s safety are too complex to be tackled in isolation. Instead, they require a holistic approach that utilizes a range of expertise. Women are – and will remain – vital to the success of any national security solution, as are our male counterparts.

The conference participants demonstrated deep knowledge and discussed impressive accomplishments achieved while in senior leadership positions. These Herculean tasks, or should we say Athenean, included building coalitions under difficult and time-sensitive circumstances to achieve a mission objective in an efficient and collaborative manner. From drafting the National Security Strategy to heading off the next 9-11, getting the right players around the table at the right time is a prerequisite for lasting success. As W&M nurtures a Whole of Government approach to our country’s security challenges, we will serve as an important conduit with our interagency partners to the endurance of our values, country, and culture.

To learn more, contact wmcoe@wm.edu.

About the Author(s)

The mission of the William Mary Whole of Government Center of Excellence is to train a new generation of future leaders who have hands-on, practical experience working across the different organizational cultures that must be harmonized in order to facilitate true interagency collaboration — long before finding themselves forced to deal with such issues during a foreign deployment or national emergency.