Thomas Carothers

Vice President for Studies
Carothers is a leading authority on international support for democracy, human rights, governance, comparative democratization, and U.S. foreign policy relating to democracy and human rights.


JD, Harvard Law School
MSc, London School of Economics
AB, Harvard College


English; French; Spanish

Contact Information


Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He directs the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and oversees several other Carnegie programs, including Carnegie Europe in Brussels, the Energy and Climate Program, and the D.C.-based Europe Program.

Carothers is a leading authority on international support for democracy, human rights, governance, comparative democratization, and U.S. foreign policy relating to democracy and human rights. He has worked on democracy-assistance projects for many organizations and carried out extensive field research on aid efforts around the world. He also has broad experience relating to human rights, rule of law development, civil society building, and think tank development in transitional and developing countries.

He is the author of six critically acclaimed books and many articles in prominent journals and newspapers. He has worked extensively with the Open Society Foundations (OSF), previously serving as chair of the OSF Global Advisory Board and currently serving as chair of the OSF Think Tank Fund.  He is a distinguished visiting professor at the Central European University in Budapest and was previously a visiting faculty member at Nuffield College, Oxford University, and Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Prior to joining the Endowment, Carothers practiced international and financial law at Arnold & Porter and served as an attorney adviser in the office of the legal adviser of the U.S. Department of State.

His recent publications include “Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose” (Journal of Democracy, January 2015), Closing Space: International Support for Democracy and Human Rights Under Fire (2014), and Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution (with Diane de Gramont, 2013).

  • Paper April 20, 2015 Full Text
    The New Global Marketplace of Political Change

    Western democratic powers are no longer the dominant external shapers of political transitions around the world.

  • Journal of Democracy January 13, 2015
    Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose

    Democracy aid has arrived not at a crisis, but at a crossroads, defined by two very different possible paths forward.

  • Paper October 20, 2014
    Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Inclusion: A New Development Consensus?

    The wide-reaching consensus around the normative and instrumental value of accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion remains less solid than enthusiasts of these concepts might wish.

  • Article June 3, 2014
    Non-Western Roots of International Democracy Support

    Rising democracies are becoming key players in global democracy promotion, but they often struggle to detach the external support they provide from their own transition experiences.

  • Report February 20, 2014 Full Text
    Closing Space: Democracy and Human Rights Support Under Fire

    After seeing its reach increase for decades, international support for democracy and human rights now faces a serious challenge.

  • Article May 14, 2013 عربي
    Egypt’s Dismal Opposition: A Second Look

    It is time for U.S. and other Western observers to put aside comparisons based on imagined ideals of opposition quality and behavior and more realistically and thoughtfully attempt to understand Egypt’s new political life and possible political futures.

  • Report January 11, 2012
    Democracy Policy Under Obama: Revitalization or Retreat?

    The overall record of Obama's democracy policy is mixed, combining valuable revitalization with continued troubling shortcomings.

  • Alliance Magazine December 1, 2011
    Approach Analogies with Caution

    Analysts of the Arab Spring should be cautious when invoking historical analogies to explain recent events in the Middle East and North Africa.

  • Paper November 29, 2011
    Aiding Governance in Developing Countries: Progress Amid Uncertainties

    International aid donors have learned important lessons about how to provide effective governance assistance to developing countries, but turning these insights into practice remains a major challenge.

  • Paper July 12, 2011
    Looking for Help: Will Rising Democracies Become International Democracy Supporters?

    Rising democracies from the developing world have the potential to assist and revitalize international democracy support. Encouraging these countries to do more to support democracy abroad should be a priority, but it will not be easy.

  • Foreign Policy March 10, 2011
    Think Again: Arab Democracy

    While the wave of political change sweeping through the Arab world is reminiscent of the political upheaval in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, historical analogies cannot capture the complex and dramatic events occurring or predict how this change will end.

  • Article January 19, 2011 Français
    The “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia: Not Just Another Color

    The recent revolution in Tunisia demonstrates that the complete stifling of political opposition does not guarantee longevity for authoritarian regimes.

  • Journal of Democracy October 19, 2010
    The Elusive Synthesis

    Over the past twenty years, democracy promoters and development practitioners have become increasingly interconnected and the distinctions between the two communities have become blurred.

  • Report October 27, 2009
    Revitalizing Democracy Assistance: The Challenge of USAID

    USAID—the largest source of U.S. democracy assistance—requires deep-reaching reforms if the Obama administration hopes to adequately address challenges to democracy around the world.

  • Op-Ed The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs April 22, 2009
    Rule of Law Temptations

    World leaders should avoid overestimating the degree of consensus about what building the rule of law means in practice, reducing the concept down to a procedural minimum, and embracing the idea that the rule of law should precede democracy.

  • Paper February 25, 2009
    Stepping Back From Democratic Pessimism

    Good news on democratization, though often less visible, has occurred in roughly equal proportion to bad news. By taking on this more balanced perspective, the Obama administration can ensure that unnecessary pessimism does not hinder important U.S. support for democracy around the world.

  • Policy Outlook February 23, 2009
    Democracy Promotion Under Obama: Finding a Way Forward

    The Obama administration can find a positive new way forward on democracy promotion by changing how the United States supports democracy abroad rather than what emphasis to place on it relative to other interests.

  • Journal of Democracy January 1, 2009
    Democracy Assistance: Political vs. Developmental

    The divide between the political and developmental approaches to assisting democracy starts from contrasting ideas about both democracy and democratization and leads to very different configurations of assistance programs. Yet this division need not represent a rift in the world of democracy aid. Both have a significant place in U.S. and European efforts in supporting democracy around the world.

  • Sada - Analysis August 19, 2008 عربي
    Five Myths about Western Political Party Aid in the Arab World

    Until recently Western assistance programs aimed at strengthening political parties were less present in the Arab world than in almost all other areas of the developing world. As part of the heightened U.S. and European interest in promoting Arab political reform, however, such programs are multiplying in the region.

  • Democracy and Development June 23, 2008
    Does Democracy Promotion Have a Future?

    Thomas Carothers analyzes current challenges to democracy promotion in "Does Democracy Promotion Have a Future?" published in a new book on Democracy and Development, edited by Bernard Berendsen ( KIT Publishers, Amsterdam).

  • Policy Outlook Carnegie Endowment May 19, 2008 عربي
    Is a League of Democracies a Good Idea?

    Influential policy experts on both sides of the U.S. political aisle are proposing a “League of Democracies” as a way for the next administration to restore the credibility of U.S. foreign policy priorities and put democracy promotion efforts back on track. However, in a policy brief,Is a League of Democracies a Good Idea?, Thomas Carothers argues that the proposal rests on a false assumption.

  • Journal of Democracy October 1, 2007
    A Quarter-Century of Promoting Democracy

    I salute the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and congratulate it on this important occasion, taking note of the significant contribution that NED has made to democracy worldwide. I would like to highlight what I believe are some of the main advances and achievements of democracy assistance over the past quarter-century and also to examine the challenging road ahead.

  • Report Carnegie Endowment September 5, 2007
    U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush

    The main U.S. presidential candidates have voiced support for democracy promotion, but not yet outlined plans to put it back on track.

  • National Interest August 6, 2007
    Response to The Democracy Crusade Myth

    Tony Smith's response to Tom Carothers article, The Democracy Crusade Myth. and Carothers' retort.

  • Journal of Democracy July 17, 2007
    The Debate on “Sequencing”

    The July 2007 issue of Journal of Democracy showcases a debate on Thomas Carothers’ “The ‘Sequencing’ Fallacy” featuring Edward Mansfield, Jack Snyder, Francis Fukuyama, Sheri Berman, and Carothers. Mansfield and Snyder reassert their view that rapid democratization can be a dangerous recipe for civil or interstate violence. Carothers responds by explaining that Mansfield and Snyder mischaracterize his analysis while failing to address his central assertions.

  • The National Interest July 5, 2007
    The Democracy Crusade Myth

    ATTENTION in Washington begins to turn to the likely or desired shape of a post-Bush foreign policy, calls for a return to realism are increasingly heard. A common theme is that the United States should back away from what is often characterized as a reckless Bush crusade to promote democracy around the world. Although it is certainly true that U.S. foreign policy is due for a serious recalibration, the notion that democracy promotion plays a dominant role in Bush policy is a myth.

  • Journal of Democracy January 10, 2007 中文
    How Democracies Emerge: The "Sequencing" Fallacy

    In the second half of the 1990s, a counterreaction emerged to the heady enthusiasm about democracy promotion that flourished during the peak years of democracy’s “third wave” in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Believing that the global democratic wave had been oversold, several policy experts and scholars produced a series of influential articles articulating a pessimistic, cautionary view.

  • Live Discussion March 7, 2006
    The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion - Live Discussion

    The U.S. efforts to promote democracy are nefarious to regimes. The U.S. must fight this perception by not selling democracy as solely American concept and being consistent in speaking for political reform in nations that have been less scrutinized for their assistance in fighting terrorism.

  • Policy Outlook Carnegie Endowment January 25, 2005
    A Better Way to Support Middle East Reform

    The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), part of the Bush’s policy of promoting reform, is falling short and should be relaunched as a private foundation funded by the government. Such a relaunch would permit MEPI to develop greater expertise in the region, use more flexible, effective aid methods, and gain some independence from other U.S. programs and policies that serve conflicting ends.

  • Current History December 1, 2004
    Democracy's Sobering State
  • Carnegie December 1, 2003
    Democracy: Terrorism's Uncertain Antidote
  • Policy Outlook Carnegie October 3, 2003 Washington, D.C.
    Avoiding the Dangers of Early Elections in Iraq
  • National Interest July 1, 2003 Washington, D.C.
    Zakaria's Complaint
  • Paper Carnegie June 12, 2003 Washington, D.C.
    Is Gradualism Possible? Choosing a Strategy for Promoting Democracy in the Middle East
  • Op-Ed Carnegie March 16, 2003 Washington, D.C.
    Quick Transformation to Democratic Middle East a Fantasy

    It is hard not to be tantalized by the notion that with one hard blow in Iraq the United States could unleash a tidal wave of democracy in a region long gripped by intransigent autocracy. But although the United States can certainly oust Saddam Hussein and install a less repressive regime, Iraqi democracy would not be soon forthcoming.

  • Paper January 28, 2003 Moscow
    Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: The Problem of Knowledge

    The rapidly growing field of rule-of-law assistance is operating from a disturbingly thin base of knowledge—with respect to the core rationale of the work, how change in the rule of law occurs, and the real effects of the changes that are produced.

  • Foreign Affairs January 1, 2003 Washington, D.C.
    Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror

    The U.S. faces two contradictory imperatives in the war on terror: on the one hand, it tempts the U.S. to put aside its democratic scruples and seek closer ties with autocracies throughout the Middle East and Asia. On the other hand, the U.S. has increasingly come to believe that it is precisely the lack of democracy in many of these countries that helps breed Islamic extremism.

  • Policy Outlook Carnegie October 7, 2002 Taipei, Taiwan
    Democratic Mirage in the Middle East
  • Carnegie July 1, 2002 Washington, D.C.
    Forum on The End of the Transition Paradigm
  • Journal of Democracy January 16, 2002
    The End of the Transition Paradigm
  • Policy Outlook Carnegie May 17, 2001
    Ousting Foreign Strongmen: Lessons from Serbia
  • Carnegie February 1, 2001 Washington, D.C.
    Democracy, State and AID: A Tale of Two Cultures

    USAID and the State Department operate under two distinct philosophies on how to promote democracy abroad. USAID underwrites technocratic democracy aid programs and sees democratization as a long-term developmental process. In contrast, the State Department focuses on politicians and political events, not on developmental processes, and wants immediate results.

  • Paper Carnegie September 12, 2000
    Clinton Record on Democracy Promotion
  • Carnegie January 1, 2000
    Think Again: Civil Society

    Click here to download full text article.

  • East European Constitutional Review September 1, 1999
    Western Civil-Society Aid to Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union

    Western aid for civil-society development in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union needs to be evaluated from a past-present-future standpoint. It is also important to place the aid in the context of developments in the region.

  • Foreign Affairs March 1, 1998
    Rule of Law Revival
  • Democratization October 1, 1997
    Democracy Assistance: The Question of Strategy
  • Foreign Policy July 1, 1997
    Think Again: Democracy
  • Journal of Democracy July 1, 1997
    Observers Observed
  • Foreign Affairs January 1, 1997
    Democracy Without Illusions
  • Problems of Post-Communism October 10, 1996
    Aiding Post-Communist Societies: A Better Way?

    Since 1989, the US sponsored a wide array of assistance programs aimed at helping the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union transition to capitalism and democracy. The worrying trend away from market reforms and liberal democracy in a number of countries of the region has fueled debate as to whether the assistance effort has fallen short and, if so, why.

  • World Policy Journal March 1, 1996
    Aiding--and Defining--Democracy
  • Dissent March 1, 1996
    Promoting Democracy in a Post-Modern World
  • Paper October 8, 2015 Full Text
    The Complexities of Global Protests

    The spike in global protests is becoming a major trend in international politics, but care is needed in ascertaining the precise nature and impact of the phenomenon.

  • Development Country Ownership
    Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development October 6, 2015
    The Deeper Struggle Over Country Ownership

    The development community faces a struggle between the push to make country ownership a fundamental tenet of foreign aid, and movement toward viewing societies as the true partners of such assistance.

  • Op-Ed Foreign Policy June 3, 2015
    Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy

    New technologies offer powerful tools for empowerment, yet democracy around the world is stagnating.

  • Paper April 20, 2015 Русский Full Text
    The New Global Marketplace of Political Change

    Western democratic powers are no longer the dominant external shapers of political transitions around the world.

  • Journal of Democracy January 13, 2015
    Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose

    Democracy aid has arrived not at a crisis, but at a crossroads, defined by two very different possible paths forward.

  • Op-Ed Washington Post December 23, 2014
    Why Is the United States Shortchanging Its Commitment to Democracy?

    Supporting democracy, human rights, and better governance more effectively will not produce instant solutions to the current global crises. But such aid can be a crucial part of the necessary longer-term solutions.

  • Year in Crisis December 10, 2014 Русский 中文
    The World in 2015

    Our take on the year ahead.

  • Op-Ed Alliance Magazine December 1, 2014
    Learning Lessons on Lessons Learned

    Egypt’s principal political actors have repeatedly violated almost all of the received ‘best practices’ of democratic transitions. In fact, the very lessons that the visiting experts most frequently emphasized are among the most glaring failures of Egypt’s attempted democratic transition to date.

  • Oxfam November 6, 2014
    The Four Magic Words of Development

    The consensus on incorporating transparency, accountability, participation, and inclusion as core principles of aid will only solidify if its strongest proponents recognize how shaky it still is.

  • Op-Ed Washington Post October 24, 2014
    Egypt’s Repression of Civic Activists is a Serious Mistake

    Accepting the Egyptian crackdown on civil society with only a token fuss might seem like a small price to pay for maintaining cordial relations with a stable, relatively friendly government in a region roiled by instability and conflict. This would be a serious mistake.

  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace April 16, 2013
    Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution

    The overdue recognition that development in all sectors is an inherently political process is driving international aid providers to try to learn how to think and act politically.

  • Book Review September 17, 2008
    Democracy and Discontent

    The next U.S. administration will have to go beyond simply righting the wrongs of President Bush’s democracy promotion policies and reformulate the United States’ understanding of the relationship between its own democracy and the struggling democratic systems it seeks to help abroad.

  • Washington October 23, 2006
    Confronting the Weakest Link: Aiding Political Parties in New Democracies

    Political parties are the weakest link in many democratic transitions around the world—frequently beset with persistent problems of self-interest, corruption, ideological incoherence, and narrow electoralism. Thomas Carothers draws on extensive field research to diagnose deficiencies in party aid, assess its overall impact, and offer practical ideas for doing better.

  • Washington January 1, 2006
    Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge

    Promoting the rule of law has become a major part of Western efforts to spread democracy and market economics around the world. Although programs to foster the rule of law abroad have mushroomed, well-grounded knowledge about what factors ensure success, and why, remains scarce.

  • Washington January 1, 2005
    Uncharted Journey: Promoting Democracy in the Middle East

    The United States faces no greater challenge today than successfully fulfilling its new ambition of helping bring about a democratic transformation of the Middle East. Uncharted Journey contributes a wealth of concise, illuminating insights on this subject, drawing on the contributors’ deep knowledge of Arab politics and their experience with democracy-building in other parts of the world.

  • Washington September 1, 2004
    Critical Mission: Essays on Democracy Promotion

    Demand for practical knowledge and lessons about how the United States and other countries can more effectively promote democracy around the world has never been higher. This timely book by Thomas Carothers, one of the foremost authorities worldwide on democracy-building, helps meet that need.

  • Washington October 27, 2000
    Funding Virtue: Civil Society Aid and Democracy Promotion

    A diverse, distinguished group of democracy experts and civil society practitioners from both donor and recipient countries analyze civil society aid in five regions, including country case studies of South Africa, the Philippines, Peru, Egypt, and Romania.

  • Washington December 31, 1999
    Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve

    This book examines democracy aid programs relating to elections, political parties, governmental reform, rule of law, civil society, independent media, labor unions, decentralization, and other elements of what Carothers describes as "the democracy template" that policy makers and aid officials apply around the world.

  • Africa's New Leaders
    Washington December 31, 1999
    Africa's New Leaders: Democracy or State Reconstruction?

    This is an important resource for policy makers and others forced to deal with countries where democratic change is both complex and protracted.

  • Washington January 1, 1996 Washington, D.C.
    Assessing Democracy Assistance: The Case of Romania

    This landmark study, an examination of U.S. democracy assistance efforts in Romania, is the first comprehensive analysis of the workings—and failings—of U.S. democracy assistance in one country.

  • CBC September 12, 2013
    Syrian Chemical Weapons Plan

    A Russia-brokered deal, which seeks to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, provides the Obama administration with breathing room but fails to solve the fundamental issues driving the Syrian conflict.

  • BBC World News July 1, 2013
    Uprising in Egypt

    The U.S. government should refrain from doing anything that would suggest interference in Egypt’s internal developments and instead support a peaceful resolution by domestic civilian actors.

  • RT CrossTalk November 5, 2012
    Exporting Freedom?

    The United States must balance its goal of democracy promotion with its economic, political, and security interests.

  • Foreign Policy Association October 28, 2011
    U.S. Response to the Arab Spring

    U.S. ambivalence toward the popular democratic outbursts of the Arab Spring stems from Washington’s economic and security concerns in the region.

  • CSIS June 28, 2011
    What Does the Arab Spring Mean for Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus?

    The Arab Spring has more in common with events in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s than Central and Eastern Europe in 1989. The impact of events in the Middle East for states outside the region will depend on the legitimacy and adaptability of their regimes.

  • KERA July 23, 2008
    A League of Democracies

    Carnegie's Thomas Carothers gives an in-depth interview on the proposed "League of Democracies" with Dallas’ NPR-affiliate, KERA. Carothers discusses the problems a league or concert of democracies would face in defining and selecting democratic member states—further undermining the credibility of U.S. democracy promotion efforts around the world.

  • Thomas Carothers
    Worldview May 19, 2008
    Improving U.S. Democracy Promotion Policy

    In his second inaugural, Bush put democracy promotion at the top of his foreign policy agenda and argued that the events of his first term proved that our freedom is inextricably linked to the freedom abroad. Thomas Carothers discusses the reputation of U.S. democracy promotion in the world and what a post-Bush administration can do to reclaim democracy promotion credibility in the world.

  • September 24, 2015 Washington, DC
    Searching for Answers to Troubled Democratic Transitions

    Can today’s leaders draw on lessons from successful experiences of democratization in previous decades to overcome transitional traps and other failures of democracy?

  • September 17, 2015 Washington, DC
    The UN General Assembly at 70: A Conversation With Assistant Secretary of State Sheba Crocker

    In advance of the 70th annual session of the UN General Assembly, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker discussed the U.S. priorities and preview some of the key events and activities during the Assembly’s High-Level Week.

  • Japan Maritime Self Defense Force
    July 29, 2015 Washington, DC 中文
    From Ocean of War to Ocean of Prosperity

    Over the past two hundred years, the Western Pacific has been the stage for war, peace, development, modernization, and prosperity. Its rich resources and vital shipping lanes are essential to the well-being of all countries within its bounds.

  • European Parliament
    February 18, 2015 Brussels
    How to Fix EU Democracy

    To everyday citizens, the EU institutions appear distant, obscure, and elitist. With populism and Euroskepticism on the rise, how can the EU win back the trust of its people?

  • February 4, 2015 Washington, DC
    Why Corruption Threatens Global Security

    Corruption is an unexpected link in the world’s multiplying security crises.

  • November 19, 2014 Washington, DC
    Understanding Hungary’s Political Path

    Hungary offers an important example of the problems that an apparently consolidated democracy can encounter. It also poses a test for the European Union and the United States on how to respond when democracy comes under stress in an EU member state.

  • November 5, 2014 São Paulo, Brazil
    Rising Democracies Network Meets in Brazil

    Carnegie’s Rising Democracies Network met in Brazil to engage with local and regional actors and exchange ideas for cooperation toward international democracy and human rights support.

  • September 11, 2014 Washington, DC
    New Thinking on Governance, Aid, and Development

    No issue in international development is as important, or vexing, as the relationship between governance and development.

  • Turkey; Police
    April 14, 2014 Brussels
    Closing Space: Democracy and Human Rights Support Under Fire

    International support for democracy and human rights faces a serious challenge after its increased influence in the last decades.

  • March 5, 2014 Washington, DC
    Closing Space in Democracy and Human Rights Support

    International support for democracy and human rights faces a serious challenge after its increased influence in the last decades.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.