It’s hard to get further inside than the insiders at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Founded in 1910, the endowment’s first home was literally across the street from the White House, and its presidents have included some of the most famous figures in foreign affairs, from its first, Elihu Root, to its unfortunate fourth, Alger Hiss. It also has a tradition of taking chicks under its left wing. The short history in its trustees handbook notes the number of organizations that have followed in its wake:
The endowment was itself a notable contributor to this proliferation by “incubating” new organizations—among them the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Institute for International Economics, and the Arms Control Association—until each was fully funded and staffed.
That tradition continues: the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations has nested in the last two Carnegie Endowment buildings.
The endowment is a massive enterprise, receiving multi-year grants in the late 1990s ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million from the Ford, MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Starr foundations—plus a like amount in piecemeal grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Carnegie committed itself to redefining the foreign policy agenda for a post-Cold War world with a blue-ribbon commission report, Changing Our Ways. Its prescriptive vision for multilateralism was reflected in the early Clinton Administration’s approach. That vision’s unspoken premise—to make America safe for the world—led a token conservative commissioner, Richard Perle, to demur when asked to sign the final report.
But as a window into the mindset of the foreign affairs cognoscenti, one sees through the Carnegie Endowment a worldview that is more confused than corrosive.
From Ancien Regime to New March of Folly
There have been two distinct phases in the endowment’s post-Cold War life, and the respective success and failure of each reflect the person at the helm.
Former State Department official Morton Abramowitz was Carnegie’s president from 1991 to 1997. Abramowitz took expertise in refugee and humanitarian affairs from the executive branch and threw himself into a crusade to change America’s Balkans policies. He helped form the bipartisan Action Council for Peace in the Balkans, and Carnegie benefited from his high-profile activism. He subsequently became involved in a coalition dealing with humanitarian and refugee disasters worldwide, the International Crisis Group.
Jeffrey Gedmin runs one of the most vital foreign policy projects in Washington, the New Atlantic Initiative. He has ample experience working with Abramowitz on trying to help the targets of Serbian totalitarian designs defend themselves when multilateral regimes stood in the way.
Gedmin describes Abramowitz as a kind of national treasure: “He marries the theoretical with the practical. He’s an advocate, with a real sense of genuine passion for what he does . . . . He’s an old Washington hand who has remained unaffected by conference speak and uncorrupted by diplomatic protocol . . . and always tells the truth.”
Beyond his own passionate agenda, inter-viewees who have worked at Carnegie cite the tremendous faith Abramowitz put in the scholars he brought into his stable, letting go and leaving them to flourish. This exemplary institutional leader pressed for excellence in his areas of expertise, while facilitating excellence outside that area.
The second post-Cold War captain of the ship doesn’t seem to follow this model. Coming aboard in May 1997, Jessica Tuchman Mathews was promising indeed: a former Clinton Administration official, former head of CFR’s Washington “bureau,” a Washington Post columnist, and the daughter of acclaimed historian Barbara Tuchman.
Abramowitz had viewed traditional security problems with a sense of the emerging disruptive effects of ethnic strife, migration, and bloodthirsty dictators. Mathews brought a new focus on areas such as environmental and population issues that are more tangential to the endowment’s putative focus: peace and national security. In the Spring 1989 issue of Foreign Affairs, she wrote, “Global developments now suggest the need for another, broadening definition of national security to include resource, environmental, and demographic issues.”
Most observers, however, take issue with her leadership style, not her agenda, saying she has so thrown herself into the management of the institution that her intellectual profile has waned. For instance, she no longer writes her Post column. One colleague of both Abramowitz and Mathews notes that the institution had benefited from high-profile substantive work by Abramowitz, but has not from Mathews.
Innovative Insights or Globaloney?
Even if she is not publishing as much, Mathews’s intellectual agenda is very much reflected in Carnegie’s work. Her greatest contribution is fashioning a new program on globalization, where the endowment’s most substantial research has been focused, including devoting the Carnegie journal Foreign Policy to the topic. (The cover of an issue reflecting this focus sported Lori Wallach, a chief organizer of globalization opponents at the Seattle World Trade Organization summit fiasco.)
It remains unclear precisely what is meant by the term “globalization.” Carnegie’s Web site, seminars, and publications do not effectively define it. It involves a “smaller world,” the impact of technology and communication, and economic interdependence between nation-states.
But is this such a leap from trends first spotted in the 1970s? Much as at the Council on Foreign Relations, with which Carnegie is intimately entangled, a focus on globalization never seems to require proof that the trend has qualitatively changed world politics, conclusively contributing to peace. In fact, armed conflict has broken out all over the world, as the number of current and proposed peacekeeping missions attest. And technology spawns weapons of mass destruction as easily as it does understanding and global communication.
The vague nature of its globalization research program, word of Mathews’s disproportionate concern about a new logo and letterhead, the whiz-bang Web site, pricey videoconferencing, and last year’s renovation of the shape and look of Foreign Policy indicate that the Mathews regime may be a triumph of form over substance.
This is not to say there are not some extremely influential figures associated with the global affairs program. Carnegie vice president Thomas Carothers has produced superb work on how to promote democracy abroad, with a subtle skepticism about implementation. Senior associate Robert Kagan, who defies ideological labels, has published widely on the need for bold American global leadership. Joseph Cirincione has increased attention to Carnegie’s work on arms proliferation, a subject Carnegie was involved in long before it was stylish.
All these success stories emerged within the organizational rubric of the globalization project. Yet none of them reflect the touchstones of the globalization agenda—namely, the issues of the information age, ecology, and multilateral bodies. To the institution’s credit, they appear to be successes despite Mathews’s vision for redefining security and peace.
An overall assessment also requires looking at the health of perennials in the endowment’s research, two of which are most noteworthy.
Proliferation studies have long been a strength, springing from a concern with arms control and peace negotiations. This legacy, of course, predates nuclear arms control gurus who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s. The first Carnegie president, Elihu Root, was an architect of the utterly impractical 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact.
Today, Carnegie’s work on arms control retains two problems prominent during the latter half of the Cold War: a distrust of high-tech defensive measures, such as missile defenses, and an emphasis on capabilities rather than intent (namely, the number of weapons rather than the peaceful or aggressive intentions of their owners). The first seems untouched by globalization proponents’ faith in the peaceful effects of technology. The second seems untouched by a key corollary to Carothers’s research—namely, that the world needs more democracies because democracies don’t fight wars with each other.
Still, the mere focus on the momentous threat of arms proliferation is a strength, as is the regular publication of surveys on nations’ arsenals, launched at Carnegie by an early expert on nuclear proliferation, Leonard “Sandy” Spector. There are significant threats to global security that cut across territorial borders; proliferation is the most important one. This focus, now coordinated by an energetic point man, Joseph Cirincione, is still one of Carnegie’s most worthwhile initiatives.
A second traditional strength at Carnegie is Russian area studies. Carnegie has a center in Moscow that received, for instance, a two-year $800,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1999. The program improved markedly when Stephen Sestanovich succeeded the idiosyncratic Dimitri Simes as its director.
As vice president for Eurasian studies, Sestanovich developed a vital program not just to study Russia’s transition, but to assist it. However, Sestanovich left four months after Mathews’s arrival to become the State Department’s policy czar for the former Soviet Union area, a position held by Strobe Talbott at the beginning of the Clinton Administration. Sestanovich’s successor, Arnold Horelick, stayed less than two years, given friction with scholars suffering from self-esteem surpluses high even by Washington standards and turbulence from the departure of the Moscow Center’s director. Now, Talbott—the author of a disastrous eight-year policy of “engagement” with Russia—is a new trustee.
Beyond arms control and Russian area studies, the think tank’s work on migration that blossomed under Abramowitz remains vigorous, buoyed by a $1.2 million Ford Foundation grant in 1999. A colleague lauds the scholarly work of Kathleen Newland and Demetrios Papademetriou as a particular strength at Carnegie. The project, however, is scheduled to be spun off this coming June.
Overall, Carnegie remains well-funded. Whether that will continue depends on the quality and actual consumption of Carnegie’s products. The think tank has many strengths, but its core program on globalization is more foam than espresso. So far, stylish packaging and cozy relationships with usual-suspect foundations have been enough to keep Carnegie in clover. But given the uneven quality of the endowment’s work, the question is: How long will those be enough?
Mark P. Lagon is a senior professional staff member at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was previously a Council on Foreign Relations international affairs fellow. The views expressed here are his alone.