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Leonid Bershidsky

Why Europe Puts Women in Top Defense Roles

Europe's five female defense ministers reflect changing priorities and new vision of the military's role.
Minister of Peace.

Minister of Peace.

Photographer: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

At Thursday's meeting of European Union defense ministers all five of the bloc's biggest economies (minus the U.K.) were represented by women -- a coup completed by the fresh appointment of Sylvie Goulard as the defense chief in French President Emmanuel Macron's government. This remarkable evolution of what was a traditionally male portfolio reflects the current European attitude toward military force and its raison d'etre.

The five women at the table on Thursday included Germany's Ursula von der Leyen, France's Goulard, Italy's Roberta Pinotti, Spain's Maria Dolores de Cospedal and the Netherlands Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. Not one of them has any kind of military background. Von der Leyen is a doctor by training whose first political appointments were in the traditionally "female" area of social policy. Goulard and Hennis-Plasschaert are both former European Parliament members whose previous work centered on EU integration. Pinotti has a degree in literature and a history of far-left politics. Cospedal is a career diplomat. They're political appointees -- but it's hardly accidental that they ended up with defense portfolios at the same time.