Thomas Carothers

Senior Vice President for Studies
Carothers is a leading authority on international support for democracy, human rights, governance, the rule of law, and civil society.

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

  • English
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Thomas Carothers is senior vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In that capacity he oversees all of the research programs at Carnegie.  He also directs the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program and carries out research and writing on democracy-related issues.

Carothers is a leading authority on international support for democracy, human rights, governance, the rule of law, and civil society. He has worked on democracy assistance projects for many organizations and carried out extensive field research on aid efforts around the world.

He is the author of six critically acclaimed books and many articles in prominent journals and newspapers. 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 Support Strategies: Leading With Women’s Political Empowerment” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 2016), “Is the United States Giving Up on Democracy Promotion? (Foreign Policy, September 2016), and “Look Homeward, Democracy Promoter” (Foreign Policy, January 2016).

    • Paper

    The New Global Marketplace of Political Change

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

  • Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose

    • January 13, 2015
    • Journal of Democracy

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

    • Paper

    Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Inclusion: A New Development Consensus?

    • October 20, 2014

    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

    Non-Western Roots of International Democracy Support

    • June 3, 2014

    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

    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

    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

    Democracy Policy Under Obama: Revitalization or Retreat?

    • January 11, 2012

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

  • Approach Analogies with Caution

    • December 1, 2011
    • Alliance Magazine

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

    • Paper

    Aiding Governance in Developing Countries: Progress Amid Uncertainties

    • November 29, 2011

    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

    Looking for Help: Will Rising Democracies Become International Democracy Supporters?

    • July 12, 2011

    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.

  • Think Again: Arab Democracy

    • March 10, 2011
    • Foreign Policy

    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

    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.

  • The Elusive Synthesis

    • October 19, 2010
    • Journal of Democracy

    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

    Revitalizing Democracy Assistance: The Challenge of USAID

    • October 27, 2009

    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

    Rule of Law Temptations

    • April 22, 2009
    • The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

    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

    Stepping Back From Democratic Pessimism

    • February 25, 2009

    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

    Democracy Promotion Under Obama: Finding a Way Forward

    • February 23, 2009

    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.

  • Democracy Assistance: Political vs. Developmental

    • January 1, 2009
    • Journal of Democracy

    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

    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.

  • Does Democracy Promotion Have a Future?

    • June 23, 2008
    • Democracy and Development

    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

    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.

  • A Quarter-Century of Promoting Democracy

    • October 1, 2007
    • Journal of 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

    U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush

    • September 5, 2007

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

  • Response to The Democracy Crusade Myth

    • August 6, 2007
    • National Interest

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

  • The Debate on “Sequencing”

    • July 17, 2007
    • Journal of Democracy

    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 Democracy Crusade Myth

    • July 5, 2007
    • National Interest

    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.

  • How Democracies Emerge: The "Sequencing" Fallacy

    • January 10, 2007
    • Journal of Democracy

    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.

  • The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion - Live Discussion

    • March 7, 2006
    • 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

    A Better Way to Support Middle East Reform

    • January 25, 2005

    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.

  • Democracy's Sobering State

    • December 1, 2004
    • Current History
  • Democracy: Terrorism's Uncertain Antidote

    • December 1, 2003
    • Policy Outlook

    Avoiding the Dangers of Early Elections in Iraq

    • October 3, 2003
  • Zakaria's Complaint

    • July 1, 2003
    • National Interest
    • Paper

    Is Gradualism Possible? Choosing a Strategy for Promoting Democracy in the Middle East

    • June 12, 2003
    • Op-Ed

    Quick Transformation to Democratic Middle East a Fantasy

    • March 16, 2003

    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

    Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: The Problem of Knowledge

    • January 28, 2003

    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.

  • Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror

    • January 1, 2003
    • Foreign Affairs

    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

    Democratic Mirage in the Middle East

    • October 7, 2002
  • Forum on The End of the Transition Paradigm

    • July 1, 2002
  • The End of the Transition Paradigm

    • January 16, 2002
    • Journal of Democracy
    • Policy Outlook

    Ousting Foreign Strongmen: Lessons from Serbia

    • May 17, 2001
  • Democracy, State and AID: A Tale of Two Cultures

    • February 1, 2001

    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

    Clinton Record on Democracy Promotion

    • September 12, 2000
  • Think Again: Civil Society

    • January 1, 2000
  • Western Civil-Society Aid to Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union

    • September 1, 1999
    • East European Constitutional Review

    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.

  • Rule of Law Revival

    • March 1, 1998
    • Foreign Affairs
  • Democracy Assistance: The Question of Strategy

    • October 1, 1997
    • Democratization
  • Think Again: Democracy

    • July 1, 1997
    • Foreign Policy
  • Observers Observed

    • July 1, 1997
    • Journal of Democracy
  • Democracy Without Illusions

    • January 1, 1997
    • Foreign Affairs
  • Aiding Post-Communist Societies: A Better Way?

    • October 10, 1996
    • Problems of Post-Communism

    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.

  • Aiding--and Defining--Democracy

    • March 1, 1996
    • World Policy Journal
  • Promoting Democracy in a Post-Modern World

    • March 1, 1996
    • Dissent
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