Podcast: Problems Passing on the Torch
12 October 2021
Leading by example – this story begins a series focused on promoting equal gender voice in security related issues. Visegrad Insight sat down to talk to the first ever female NATO Deputy Secretary General.
Arriving to NATO with slightly shaky legs, I was struck by the grandiosity and beauty of the new NATO HQ in Brussels, and equally surprised when I met the first Madame Deputy Secretary of NATO for an interview whose commanding presence was tempered by a welcoming posture.
Born in heartland of America, her interests in international security were awoken when, on a walk with her father, she saw the Russian
satellite Sputnik in the sky. Space fascinated her from then on, but it was the space race which made her go deeper into the affairs of the cold war and which marked her later career path.
Mapping out Rose Gottemoeller’s – the first female NATO Deputy Secretary General – trajectory in life as well as her successes in international security show one possible course for women to use as inspiration when breaking into the traditionally more masculine domains.
Gottemoeller seems at ease discussing why there are fewer women in such roles as hers and downplayed any discrimination she might have experienced, saying: “If you are a good expert, they tend to forget your sex in the course of the conversation.”
Truthfully, her career was not that easy; in the 1960s, when she started on her path, the country and the world were going through a tumultuous period; however, the experience and knowledge garnered during this time must have given her the self-assurance and drive which has been notable throughout her career.
Understanding the strategic importance of the space race and cold war, Gottemoeller became fluent in Russian and then served as
research fellow for Colonel Thomas W. Wolfe at RAND, focusing on arms control and international security.
From there, Gottemoeller’s successive achievements include enviable positions for anyone working in security. She worked at the United States National Security Council and got appointed for the posts of Deputy Under Secretary of Energy for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and Assistant Secretary and Director for Nonproliferation and National Security at the U.S. Department of Energy, later serving nearly five years as the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. Department of State.
As Under Secretary, Gottemoeller advised the Secretary of State on arms control, nonproliferation and political-military affairs. While acting in this role, she concurrently served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance where she was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation. Previously, Gottemoeller had led the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Moscow Centre. Her posts might be further enumerated, but these mentioned highlight the breadth of roles she has performed.
Succinctly, Gottemoeller is one of a relatively small number of women who have been successful in research posts and aides to two U.S. Administrations – working for both Obama and Clinton.
Now, she has assumed a post that had never been filled by a woman before – she works as NATO’s Deputy Secretary General. Prevailing over the universal obstacles which come with achieving such a position in addition to the added complexity and challenge of often being the only woman in a room filled with men in suits and uniforms is a remarkable task, especially when considering she did this during the turbulent geo-political setting of the last several decades. As an example, Gottemoeller was able to easily cope with her Russian partners when sitting at, apart from herself, a completely male-dominated table during the nonproliferation talks.
When I spoke to DSG Gottemoeller, I got the feeling she is not content with the fact that security matters are often covered predominantly by men, and NATO puts a lot of effort encouraging women’s engagement, still the HQ is overwhelming filled with men. That being said, DSG Gottemoeller has reiterated on numerous occasions that she is not satisfied with the status quo and would like to see more women involved in these high-level discussions and negotiations.
When asked why more women are needed, her answer was again short and balanced if not refreshingly clear, “Because women bring good solutions and pragmatism.”
Gottemoeller has been an important voice supporting the empowerment of women and women’s equal presence in all her roles. During our discussion, she underlined the importance of the #MeToo movement and many different informative and role-model initiatives that she happily supports as well as certain policies that support greater gender balance, such as one in California that mandates corporations to include women on their boards of directors.
But Gottemoeller went further to state that it is the men who are responsible for engaging more women into public positions, and it is in their highest interest to have them there! It is important that women advocate for other women, but change will come when men also do the same and recognize that a team only wins when they bring all their talent to bear – not leaving half of them on the bench.
This article is part of the #DemocraCE project series run by Visegrad/Insight and the Res Publica Foundation in cooperation with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as well as editors of leading newspapers across Central Europe.