Sarah Chayes

Senior Associate
Democracy and Rule of Law Program
South Asia Program
Chayes, formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations.


MA, Islamic History, Harvard University


Arabic; English; French


Sarah Chayes is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. Formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations. She is working on correlations between acute public corruption and the rise of militant extremism.

A former reporter, she covered the fall of the Taliban for National Public Radio, then left journalism to remain in Kandahar in order to contribute to the reconstruction of the country, living there almost continuously since December 2001. After running a nongovernmental organization founded by President Karzai’s brother Qayum, Chayes launched a manufacturing cooperative that produces skin-care products for export from licit local agriculture. The goals were to help revive the region’s historic role in exporting fruit and its derivatives, promote sustainable development, and expand alternatives to the opium economy. Deeply embedded in the life of the city and fluent in Pashtu, Chayes gained a unique perspective on the unfolding war.

In 2009, she was tapped to serve as special adviser to Generals David McKiernan and Stanley McChrystal, commanders of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). She contributed her unique understanding of the Afghan south to the decisionmaking process, built ISAF’s anticorruption policy, and assisted the U.S. embassy in developing an integrated approach to Afghan kleptocracy. In 2010, Chayes became special adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, contributing to strategic policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arab Spring.

Chayes is author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (Penguin Press HC, 2006). She is a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times opinion section, and her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, among other publications.

  • Op-Ed Politico Magazine June 18, 2014 中文
    Obama’s Dangerous New Terror War

    It’s important to understand the limits of U.S. assistance: It can help build security institutions, but it cannot shape how those institutions are commandeered for personal, political, or communal aims.

  • Paper June 6, 2014 عربي
    Corruption: The Unrecognized Threat to International Security

    Acute, structured government corruption impacts many of the West’s security priorities. But the role it plays in exacerbating international insecurity is often overlooked.

  • Op-Ed Washington Post May 17, 2014
    Nigeria’s Boko Haram Isn’t Just About Western Education

    Amid the pressure to respond to the anguish, the United States is right not to overdo its counterterrorism assistance to Abuja. As has become an unfortunate pattern where terrorism is concerned, officials might reinforce the root of the problem in their impulse to hack off the branch.

  • Ukraine
    Op-Ed May 16, 2014
    How Corruption Guts Militaries: The Ukraine Case Study

    Ukraine is a case study in one of the ways corruption threatens international security: it guts armies. It makes them useless for defending their borders and as allies.

  • Op-Ed Defense One April 6, 2014
    The Military Must Hunt Corruption, Not Just Terrorists

    Acute and systemic corruption has taken hold in a number of countries and it is driving indignant populations, who are networked and communicating as never before, to extremes.

  • Article April 1, 2014
    Does the Afghan Presidential Election Matter?

    The upcoming election in Afghanistan marks neither the end of a long post-Taliban transition nor a crucial turning point for the troubled country.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times March 27, 2014
    Where Corruption and Insurrection Go Hand in Hand

    Nearly every country facing an extremist insurgency is run by a kleptocratic clique. Corruption, in other words, has security implications.

  • Article March 27, 2014
    How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement

    Without the muscular involvement of a powerful labor union, it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about.

  • Op-Ed Wall Street Journal March 7, 2014
    Book Review: ‘The Tyranny of Experts’ by William Easterly

    Why does poverty persist across so much of the world, despite billions of dollars in international aid and the efforts of armies of development professionals?

  • Op-Ed POLITICO Magazine February 27, 2014
    The Money Pit

    Over the past decade, corruption in Afghanistan has crystallized into a business of structured networks, with subordinates paying up the line for protection from repercussions.

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