Early on, I realized that Antonov had an excellent team of young women on his delegation. In fact, he took pride in telling me that he had selected the best young female diplomats to participate—at the same time complaining that he couldn’t get enough men because they were not going into the Foreign Ministry but into banking and business instead. All the women were sitting in the back row, along with other top experts from the Russian agencies. I decided I would do my best to encourage his back row, especially the women in it.
I started out conveying my own expertise, to message that women could do nuclear policy just as well as men. I used early plenary sessions to give detailed tutorials about how capable Russian missiles were and how Moscow, therefore, did not need to worry about U.S. missile defenses. These had the added advantage of showing that I knew a lot about technical topics—there were nods from the Russian military experts.
Later, I started reaching out to the women more directly. In December, I gave each of them a White House Christmas ornament, and when February came, there were the beads. One of our delegation members hailed from Louisiana, and for fun she had Mardi Gras beads shipped out to the delegation. I sent a basket of them down to the Russian Mission, prominently labeled “for the women on the Russian delegation.” At that point, Antonov complained that I was showing unfair attention to the female side of his team. “Where are my beads?” he demanded.
I told him all along that he needed to let some of the capable female experts on his delegation into the front row and that they should be allowed to speak. Finally, toward the end of the negotiations, it happened. He announced that his female lawyer would be given a speaking role at the next plenary session. When she appeared in the front row that day and he turned to her, she exclaimed, “At last I get to speak!” Then she launched into a good summing-up of some legal business that we were bringing to conclusion.
One mistake I made in this campaign was to respond to a dinner invitation involving the women on his delegation. We did give and receive dinner invitations from time to time, and I thought it would be a chance to lend continuing support to the Russian women. No way. I dropped into the dinner late, when it was well underway, at a Thai restaurant not too far from the Russian Mission. It was evident that Antonov was behaving in a typical Russian way, dispensing drinks, giving toasts, and waxing lyrical about the special role that women play as the nurturers and supporters of men. He pounced on my arrival to pay some elaborate compliments to me in a similar vein. There were not a few grim smiles around the table. I soon made my apologies and left, reflecting that it would be a while before women would rise in the Russian diplomatic corps. My little games were fun for them, maybe, but I wasn’t going to change their reality.
As I reflect on the “tough-girl negotiator” incident, I think part of it was inevitable. No woman had ever led a negotiation about nuclear arms reduction in the 50-year history of U.S. and Soviet/Russian negotiations. The fact was going to attract comment, and it was going to rouse discomfort. The Russian discomfort I fully expected. In the end, Antonov and I were able to work through it, and he showed himself to be the capable, experienced and well-connected diplomat that he is.
I did not expect the same reaction on the U.S. side of the table, but I have to admit that I had to deal with some of it. While we were still in the early plenary exchanges, my delegation pushed me several times in confidential preparatory meetings to show more anger, to be tougher on the Russians. I was keeping to my own way: talking reasonably and delivering my lectures to the Russians, but the men wanted to see some temper. So one day, I decided to comply.
It was an early plenary meeting, and the Russians were continuing to push the notion that they needed missile defense constraints in the new treaty. They had already been trying, but I always had the same message in response: President Obama and President Medvedev had agreed in London in April that this negotiation was going to be about strategic offensive forces, not missile defense, period.
This time, I engaged in some street theater. I brought my hand down hard on the table and shouted, “President Obama and President Medvedev agreed in London in April that this negotiation is going to be about strategic offensive forces, not missile defense!” I heard afterward that I turned bright red in the bargain. The tantrum had its desired effect: The Russians were surprised, but more importantly, the men in my delegation were jubilant—she could pound the table when she needed to!
I got many compliments in the final team meeting that day. Most importantly, I didn’t need to throw another tantrum for the rest of the negotiations. It was sufficient that I had proved I could do it if I had to. Male negotiators have many styles, some more histrionic, others more measured. I was able to show that women negotiators have the same range, although if I don’t have to blow up, I won’t.