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; Pashtu


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 NPR, 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 Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015) and 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.

  • Paper September 30, 2015 Full Text
    The Oil Curse: A Remedial Role for the Oil Industry

    The political and economic dysfunction known as the “oil curse” is a complex, structural phenomenon, caused largely by poor management or investment of oil revenues by the governments of oil-producing countries.

  • Corruption in Afghanistan
    Interview E-International Relations September 30, 2015
    Characteristics and Causes of Global Corruption

    All cases of acute corruption exemplify three traits: whole governments structured around the objective of maximizing corrupt profits, enormous sums of money, and clear victims of such abuse.

  • Interview Center for International Private Enterprise July 21, 2015
    On Corruption and Security

    Donor agencies and Western investors need to think harder about who they’re doing business with and expand their notions of corporate social responsibility to encompass potential responsibility for reinforcing kleptocratic governments.

  • Global Kleptocracy
    Interview Guernica July 15, 2015
    Global Kleptocracy

    In some countries, the government is not a government that may be failing. It’s a criminal organization that’s succeeding.

  • Seminar Note St. George’s House, Windsor Castle June 25, 2015
    Corruption, Protest, and Militancy

    After a long period in which corruption garnered little public or political interest—it was considered an occasional blemish on a fundamentally sound system—corruption is becoming a topic of high-level interest.

  • Article June 2, 2015
    How to Reverse Nigeria’s Oil Curse

    Multinationals and Western governments should help Nigeria’s new president clean up the country’s oil sector and turn it into a model for its resource-rich neighbors to emulate.

  • Feature Article World Politics Review April 28, 2015
    Thunder God: Values, Corruption, and Nigeria’s Election

    Fed up with the venality that had spread through their society, Nigerians voted for discipline in last month’s election.

  • Interview Wall Street Journal April 10, 2015
    Corruption ‘Isn’t Just the Cost of Doing Business’

    Practically all the really hot security events today can partially be explained as extreme reactions to acute public corruption against which people had no recourse.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times April 4, 2015
    5 Hope-and-Change Take-Aways From Nigeria’s Election

    For the first time since its independence, Africa’s most populous and economically powerful country voted an incumbent president out of office, defying all expectations.

  • Interview Guardian March 15, 2015
    Living in Afghanistan and Sleeping with a Kalashnikov

    Corruption unsettles local populations and directly threatens global security.

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