Thomas Carothers

Harvey V. Fineberg Chair for Democracy Studies
Interim President
tel +1 202 939 2260 fax +1 202 483 4462
Thomas Carothers is interim president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He 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; French; Spanish

Contact Information


Thomas Carothers is interim president of 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 or editor of ten critically acclaimed books and many articles in prominent journals and newspapers, including most recently, Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization (Brookings Press, 2019, co-edited with Andrew O'Donohue). He has been a visiting faculty member at the Central European University in Budapest, 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.

  • 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
  • A peace dove flies past a relief of Alfred Nobel after it was released in front of the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway
    October 13, 2021
    Christian Lange, Andrew Carnegie, and the Arc of Internationalism

    One hundred years ago, Christian Lange won the Nobel Peace Prize and set a manifesto for internationalism. Is there much hope left for his cause?

  • Op-Ed Foreign Affairs July 23, 2021
    Washington’s Democracy Dilemma

    After four years of the Trump administration’s slash-and-burn approach to democracy at home and abroad, U.S. President Joe Biden’s focus on reviving U.S. leadership on global democracy represents a breath of fresh air.

  • American Purpose March 10, 2021
    The Chastened Power

    The Biden administration has staked its agenda on the conviction that American foreign and domestic priorities are deeply interlinked and that U.S. renewal at home would allow it to project strength abroad. Its challenge now is to turn rhetoric into reality.

  • Op-Ed SAIS Review of International Affairs March 1, 2021
    Understanding Protests in Authoritarian States

    Authoritarian states have not been immune to the global surge of antigovernment protests. Many autocrats have faced significant challenges from the street in recent years, especially from diffuse, leaderless protest movements of the type that have confronted numerous democracies.

  • Activists women clash with riot police during a demonstration in Mexico
    February 17, 2021 Spanish
    Divisive Politics and Democratic Dangers in Latin America

    In Latin America, the coronavirus pandemic has raised the already high temperature of divisive politics. In Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, managing polarization will be key to preserving democracy.

  • How Middle-Power Democracies Can Help Renovate Global Democracy Support
    Paper February 4, 2021
    How Middle-Power Democracies Can Help Renovate Global Democracy Support

    Middle-power democracies should not tread water while waiting for the United States to address its own democratic crisis. They must help revamp global democracy support using their comparative strengths.

  • Op-Ed Foreign Affairs January 15, 2021
    America Needs a Democracy Summit More Than Ever

    President-elect Joe Biden’s proposed “Summit for Democracy” is a vital opportunity to reimagine American engagement on democracy issues at home and abroad.

  • Op-Ed Just Security December 17, 2020
    Pandemic Consequences: The Acceleration of Confrontational Politics

    Confrontational political dynamics have proven to be highly resilient, adapting to the pandemic and, in turn, being reinforced by it.

  • The Global Rise of Anti-Lockdown Protests—and What to Do About It
    Op-Ed World Politics Review October 15, 2020
    The Global Rise of Anti-Lockdown Protests—and What to Do About It

    Lockdown measures, especially stay-at-home orders and restrictions on mass gatherings, halted protests almost everywhere. Yet as the pandemic has dragged on, the increasingly strained relationship between governments and citizens in many countries has brought demonstrators back into the streets.

  • Polarisation a Pre-Existing Condition in Asia’s Troubled Democracies
    Op-Ed East Asia Forum September 16, 2020
    Polarisation a Pre-Existing Condition in Asia’s Troubled Democracies

    The roots of polarisation in these countries run deep, usually dating back to at least the first half of the 20th century and the formation of modern nation-states

  • Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization
    Brookings Institution September 24, 2019
    Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization

    Why divisions have deepened and what can be done to heal them.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Global Development Primer May 12, 2021
    What Democracy Assistance is Really All About.

    In cooperation with the Parliamentary Centre in Ottawa, we're happy to present this conversation about democracy assistance in international development.

  • On Opinion February 24, 2021
    Polarization Around the World

    A conversation that unpacks the concept of polarization: why it exists, how it changes around the world, and the impact coronavirus has had on polarized politics.

  • Recovery Project April 13, 2020
    Democracy in a Post COVID19 World

    COVID-19 has stressed state institutions and global relations. As we look ahead towards recovery, countries are going to be grappling with a variety of issues, some of them anticipated and others completely unforeseen.

  • 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.

  • Digital Repression: Confronting the Online Challenge
    October 19, 2021 Live Online
    Digital Repression: Confronting the Evolving Challenge

    To address issues of digital repression, the Carnegie Endowment has assembled the Digital Democracy Network—a diverse group of cutting-edge thinker-activists engaged in work on technology and politics. This event marks the launch of the network’s first compilation and their effort to describe challenges to governance posed by digital technology.

  • A Clash of Contagions: The Impact of COVID-19 on Conflict
    September 9, 2021 Live Online
    A Clash of Contagions: The Impact of COVID-19 on Conflict

    Eighteen months since the pandemic began, this event will assess how the pandemic and response measures are exacerbating instability and will identify solutions to strengthen conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and democracy.

  • Reimagining Regional Governance in Latin America
    July 20, 2021 Live Online
    Reimagining Regional Governance in Latin America

    As Latin America grapples with three overlapping crises--devastation from the coronavirus pandemic, severe economic contraction, and heightened political polarization and democratic backsliding--regional cooperation is falling badly short.

  • COVID-19 and Political Systems – Insights and Lessons One Year In
    April 22, 2021 Live Online
    COVID-19 and Political Systems – Insights and Lessons One Year In

    A year into the pandemic, new political challenges have emerged. For democracies, what lessons and reforms will they address following the crisis?

  • Addressing Inequality and Preserving Democracy in South Africa
    April 7, 2021 Live Online
    South Africa: When Inequality and Institutions Collide

    In this symposium, prominent experts engage with the authors of the recent major Carnegie paper, “South Africa: When Strong Institutions and Massive Inequalities Collide,” to probe these tensions and the prospects for South Africa political and economic future.

  • Taking Democracy’s Global Pulse
    March 12, 2021 Live Online
    Taking Democracy’s Global Pulse

    Is the global democratic recession of recent years continuing? Or are international political currents shifting? Join us for a presentation of the Varieties of Democracy 2021 Annual Report.

  • Liberal Internationalism and Crises of the Global Order
    December 8, 2020 Live online
    Liberal Internationalism and Crises of the Global Order

    Join John Ikenberry, Kori Schake, and Thomas Carothers for a conversation on the past, present, and future of the liberal international order, inspired by Ikenberry’s latest work, A World Safe for Democracy: Liberal Internationalism and the Crises of Global Order.

  • The Perils of Polarization in Southeast Asia
    September 23, 2020 Live Online
    The Perils of Polarization in Southeast Asia

    Rising levels of political polarization are hurting democracy in many Southeast Asian countries. The coronavirus pandemic is only ratcheting up political pressures further.

  • Rising Political Polarization in Southeast Asia
    September 9, 2020 Live Online
    Rising Political Polarization in Southeast Asia

    Deepening divisions, frequently fueled by majoritarian political agendas, are driving democratic regression in key countries throughout South and Southeast Asia regions.

  • Global Civil Society and the Pandemic
    May 20, 2020 Live Online
    Global Civil Society and the Pandemic

    Government responses to the coronavirus are disrupting civil society around the world. But the pandemic is also catalyzing new forms of civic activism. Members of Carnegie’s Civic Research Network share their insights.

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