Women We Want to See at This Year’s Aspen Security Forum

The Aspen Security Forum (ASF), the annual alpine conclave of the West’s national security elite, has become known as one of the foremost venues for shaping the dialogue on national security and foreign policy. The four-day event held every July at the Aspen Institute bills itself as the go-to place for luminaries from a wide-range of professional backgrounds “to answer critical questions about national and homeland security.”

Indeed, one of the most appealing things about the event is the fact that it’s one of the few security-related conferences where attendees have been able to find the director of the ACLU in the same room as the director of the NSA.

It’s for this reason that we are joining the voices calling for this year’s forum to feature more female leaders than it has in years past. ASF’s 2015 speakers list is so far dominated by (as in, consists entirely of) men who have long been in positions of power in the national security arena. To be fair, the forum’s organizers are still putting together the agenda for July’s event. With this in mind, we thought we’d recommend a number of women (in random order) who would add to the quality of the discourse at this year’s forum. It’s worth noting that despite their stature, none of the leaders listed below have yet appeared on stage at an ASF.

(It’s also worth noting how ridiculous it is that in 2015, we still feel compelled to write a blog post about how “women also have something to say about…”)

The list:

Anne Marie SlaughterSlaughter is the first woman to have lead the State Department’s highly influential policy planning unit where she oversaw the creation of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, a blueprint for the State Department’s strategic planning modeled after the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review. Formerly the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, Slaughter is currently CEO of the New America Foundation where she has started security-related initiatives such as the Future of War project.

Adm. Michelle Howard — In her role as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the nation’s second highest-ranking naval officer, Howard is pioneering a number of paths that include serving as the first member of the US Naval Academy’s class of 1982 to become an admiral, the first female 4-star admiral in the US Navy, the highest ranking uniformed woman in US military history, the highest ranking African American woman in US military history, and the first African American woman to command an American warship. Howard proved her battlefield chops by, among other things, leading the naval task force that rescued of the crew of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates in 2009.

Hina Shamsi — As director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, Shamsi has extensive experience in national security law, civil liberties, torture, and targeted killings. She is also a former senior advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Shamsi would bring serious expertise to any discussion of the law, policy, and practice of both counterterrorism and torture.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — Gabbard is currently a member of the US House of Representatives, sitting on the House Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Foreign Affairs Committees. She is also a combat veteran, having served in Iraq as a member of the Hawaii National Guard. In addition to her role in setting national security policy, Gabbard is one of the few millennial voices in Congress.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — The former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein has been a central figure in the debate about US government surveillance in recent years. Feinstein has been criticized (and praised) for both her support of the Intelligence Community and for her fight to release her committee’s report on CIA torture after she caught the agency spying on committee staff. 

Amb. Samantha Power — As the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Power is a renowned expert in human rights, the UN, and foreign policy. Coupled with her previous stints on the National Security Staff at the White House and her years of academic research on these topics, Power could lend her diverse background and perspective to a number of the discussions at the ASF this year.

Susan RiceRice is serving as President Obama’s National Security Advisor, and as such the rationale for her presence at the Aspen Security Forum is self explanatory. The former US ambassador to the UN has held prominent positions in diplomacy and national security since her days as a senior advisor to the National Security Council in the Clinton White House and as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the late 1990s.

Hillary ClintonClinton’s resume on national security and diplomacy matters is well known and the likely 2016 presidential candidate is one of the most prominent women in the field.

Rachel Kleinfeld — Currently a senior associate in the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Project and the founding president and CEO of the Truman National Security Project, Kleinfeld is an expert in fragile states and states in transition.

Sec. Deborah Lee James — The second woman to serve as the Secretary of the Air Force, James has more than thirty years of national and homeland security expertise in both the private sector and federal government. She’s held leadership roles with the defense giant Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and previously served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

Rosa Brooks — As a professor at Georgetown Law and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, Brooks is an outspoken expert on drones and emerging technologies. Between 2009 and 2011, Brooks served in several roles focused on the rule of law and humanitarian policy at the Pentagon.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) — Sitting on the Armed Services and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees, Ayotte is emerging as a strong voice on national security issues in the Senate.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) — Duckworth has been a pioneer for Iraq War veterans in Congress since being elected to the US House of Representatives in 2012. Deployed in 2004 as part of the Illinois Army National Guard, Duckworth served as one of the first women to pilot Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq where she she lost both legs after her helicopter was hit by an RPG. Given her personal experiences as a soldier and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Duckworth has a unique perspective to offer on ASF discussions on the use of military force.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) — A 21-year veteran of the US Army Reserve and the Iowa National Guard who served in Kuwait from 2003–2004, Ernst is the first female Senator from Iowa. Ernst is a rising star among Republican lawmakers, having provided the Republican response to the State of the Union this year. The newly minted Senator sits on the Armed Services and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees, and the ASF would provide an excellent forum for the public learn more about her perspective on national security issues.

Jody Williams — A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for her efforts to ban anti-personnel landmines, Williams has long been a leader in the arms control and human rights field. Her latest efforts to ban autonomous weapons systems make hers a critical voice on the use of killer robots or other emerging technologies in military operations.

Bonnie Docherty — An expert on disarmament and international humanitarian law, Docherty is a senior researcher in the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch and a lecturer at law and senior clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. She, like Jody Williams, would bring an important perspective to any discussion about the human rights implications of automated weapons in conflict.

Jill Abramson — As the first woman to serve as the Executive Editor of The New York Times, Abramson has significant experience in covering national security issues, ushering the paper through some of its most high profile leak stories in recent memory. As such, she would be well positioned to participate any discussion as the ASF of how the media interacts with the national security establishment.

Kara Swisher — A Silicon Valley luminary and founder of the influential tech news site Re/code and longtime journalist covering the digital space, Swisher is an expert on a broad range of Internet-related issues, including surveillance and emerging technologies.

Marissa MayerMayer is the CEO of Yahoo! Inc., and a former senior executive at Google. Mayer’s Chief Information Security Officer, Alex Stamos, famously confronted NSA director Mike Rogers last month on the value of “back doors” that would allow governments to access tech firms’ encrypted customer data. Her attendance at Aspen would be a perfect opportunity to hear more about government surveillance and the US tech industry from one of Silicon Valley’s leading figures.

Andrea PrasowPrasow is the current deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and has considerable global human rights experience. She also served as a defense attorney in the Office of Military Commissions, representing Salim Hamdan in his commission trial.

Sarah Holewinski — Currently serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Amb. Power and as the former Executive Director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, Holewinski has been a leading voice on human rights issues facing civilians during armed conflict.

Gen. Janet WolfenbargerWolfenbarger is the first female four-star general in the Air Force and currently serves as commander of the Air Force Materiel Command which is in charge of logistics, procurement, and research and development for the Air Force.

Amb. Tina Kaidanow — As the Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department and with previous posts at the US embassies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kaidanow is an expert on both terrorism and American diplomacy in post-conflict zones.

Amb. Deborah K. JonesJones was appointed as the US Ambassador to Libya in the months following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. As a career member of the Foreign Service, Jones has a wealth of knowledge about the Middle East and North Africa, having been posted in Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, Ethiopia (with regional responsibility for Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan), and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

Martha Raddatz — As the Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent for ABC News, Raddatz has spent much of her career covering American foreign policy. There are few people better placed to speak about how the media covers wars and other national security topics.

Madeleine AlbrightAlbright was the first female Secretary of State and she currently sits on Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board and the board of the Aspen Institute, to name just a few of her accomplishments.

Cindy CohnCohn is currently the Legal Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is an expert on civil liberties and national security law. She has led a number of cases challenging government surveillance programs, and has an important voice to contribute on the topic.

Michele Flournoy — As the Co-Founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Flournoy is an incredibly influential voice on defense and national security.

Karen GreenbergGreenberg is currently the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham School of Law. She is a widely respected expert on national security law, civil liberties, and terrorism and is well positioned to join any discussion on terrorism trials, Guantánamo, or torture.

Jelena Pejic — Pejic is an internationally renowned expert in the laws of armed conflict and currently works as a senior legal advisor to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Jennifer Granick — This is a shameless bit of Just Security self-promotion. Granick is a founding editor of this site and the Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center on Internet and Society. With stints in both the private sector and at the Electronic Frontier Foundation under her belt, Granick is an expert on Internet law and policy, cyber issues, and surveillance.

Kerstin Vignard — As the current Chief of Operations and Deputy to the Director of the UN Office of Disarmament Research, Vignard is an international disarmament expert. Given the ASF’s current slate of military experts, Vignard would provide a valuable voice on arms control issues.

Missy CummingsCummings is a highly influential expert on artificial intelligence and robotics in national security circles who leads the Humans and Autonomy Lab at the Duke School of Engineering. She was also one of the first female Navy fighter pilots, flying F/A-18 Hornets under the callsigns “Medusa” and later the Shakespeare-inspired “Shrew.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) — Hirono became the first Asian American woman elected to the US Senate when she took office in January 2013. Hirono serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining the Senate, Hirono served in the US House of Representatives, where she sat on the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.

Asst. Sec. S. Leslie IrelandIreland is currently the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the Treasury Department, and used to serve as the Iran Mission Manager in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. With her background in the Intelligence Community and at Treasury, Ireland is perfectly placed to speak on issues related to threats to the international financial system.

Editors’ note. This isn’t the first time we’ve had to point out a shortage of women on the rosters of important security related discussions. See this piece on the lack of women at last year’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons discussion of autonomous weapons. 

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).

John Reed

Managing Editor of Just Security (2014-18). Follow him on Twitter (@ReedJustSec).

Sarah Knuckey

Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, Director of the Human Rights Clinic, Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute, Former Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions (2007-2016) Follow her on Twitter (@SarahKnuckey).