Picture of Professor Thomas Biersteker


Honorary Chair Curt Gasteyger
Spoken languages
Areas of expertise
  • Governance, local and international
  • History of international relations
  • International and targeted sanctions
  • International organisations, UN
  • State-building
  • Terrorism, crime


PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Thomas Biersteker is the Gasteyger Professor Honoraire at the Graduate Institute, Geneva and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He previously taught at Yale University, the University of Southern California, and Brown University, where he directed the Watson Institute for International Studies from 1994 until 2006.

Author, editor, or co-editor of eleven books, his next book, co-edited with Oliver Westerwinter and Kenneth Abbott is Informal Governance in World Politics (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2022). He is also co-editor of Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of UN Action (Cambridge, 2016), Countering the Financing of Global Terrorism (Routledge, 2008), International Law and International Relations: Bridging Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2006), The Emergence of Private Authority in Global Governance (Cambridge, 2002), and State Sovereignty as Social Construct (Cambridge 1996).

His research focuses primarily on international relations, global governance, and international sanctions. In addition to providing annual sanctions training for incoming members of the UN Security Council, he is the principal developer of SanctionsApp, an interactive tool for the design and analysis of UN targeted sanctions.

UN SanctionsApp

His recent research activities include work with the UN and Member States on the reform of UN targeted sanctions. He has provided briefings on his research to the UN Security Council (in an Arria Formula meeting), the European Union, and the governments of Switzerland, the US, Norway, Korea, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Canada, the UK, Armenia, Slovenia, and Jamaica.

During the past seven years, he has consulted and drafted policy reports for the UN University’s Centre for Policy Research, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Global Affairs Canada, the Carter Center, the Asia Pacific Leadership Network, swisspeace, Intermediate, Humanitarian Dialogue, and the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies.

He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as the chair of the Social Science Research Council’s Global Security and Cooperation Committee, and was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on the Korean Peninsula.

He received his Ph.D. and M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his B.A. from the University of Chicago. A recipient of the Helen Dwight Reid Dissertation award from the American Political Science Association, he was awarded the University of Chicago’s Professional Achievement Award in 2020.

Until 2017 he was Director of the Global Governance Centre, formerly Programme for the Study of International Governance at the Graduate Institute


UN Targeted Sanctions

Biersteker co-directed the Targeted Sanctions Consortium (2009-2016), a group of more than fifty scholars and policy practitioners worldwide working on analysis of the impacts and effectiveness of UN targeted sanctions. They produced two databases (one qualitative, one quantitative) on 22 UN targeted sanctions regimes, two policy manuals describing findings from the research, a book with Cambridge University Press in 2016 (Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Sanctions), as well as UNSanctionsApp (Available at The App is updated annually and is currently in its sixth edition. Ongoing research includes work on the evolution of UN sanctions, how sanctions relief can be utilized to facilitate negotiations, and ways to make the App more useful for humanitarian actors facing the challenges of overcompliance with sanctions implementation.

Informal Governance in World Politics

This project entails a research collaboration with Kenneth Abbott and Oliver Westerwinter on the growth of informal governance mechanisms in international affairs. They have already published a special issue section about the project in the Review of International Organizations in 2021, and have a forthcoming book to be published by Cambridge University Press titled Informal Governance in World Politics, along with a special forum being prepared for the International Studies Review.

United Nations Reform and Effectivenss

This three year Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded project sought to improve our understanding of the nature and consequences of the United Nations’ varying abilities to reform in order to contribute to enhancing its effectiveness. The project systematically maps reform within five UN agencies across six dimensions of institutional design over time, and examines whether there is an observable relationship between different types of international organisation reform and the organisation’s performance and effectiveness.

Transnational Policy Networks

Non-state actors, trans-governmental networks, partnerships, and multi-stakeholder initiatives are playing an increasingly important role in the governance of emerging global issues. This research project explores the theoretical background of these different analytical constructs and synthesizes them with illustrations of transnational policy networks in contemporary security areas: targeted sanctions, piracy, private security and military companies, and Internet governance.

The Dialectics of World Orders

This multi-year, multi-national co-authored book project inspired by the late Hayward Alker has involved two Pakistani scholars, Tahir Amin and Ijaz Gilani (both in Islamabad), and one Japanese scholar, Takashi Inoguchi (Tokyo). The book explores the co-existence and mutual interpenetration of different conceptions of world order emanating from different parts of the world and operating in different issue domains. The book argues for an ontological shift to world orders as a unit of analysis, argues for an open-ended dialectical approach to analyze their contestation and interaction, and examines doctrinal debates synthesizing theories and practices over the course of the “long twentieth century” in global security, political economy, community formation, and ecology.




  • Informal Governance in World Politics, Co-edited with Oliver Westerwinter and Kenneth Abbott (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, 2022)

  • Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action Co-edited with Sue E. Eckert and Marcos Tourinho (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Journal articles

  • “Exploring the Relationships between UN Sanctions and Mediation” with Rebecca Brubaker and David Lanz, Lead article for a Special Section of Global Governance, forthcoming 2022.

  • “Are Sanctions on North Korea Working?” with Zuzana Hudáková Global Asia (September 2021)

  • “Informal Governance in World Politics” with Oliver Westerwinter and Kenneth Abbott, Special issue Section of the Review of International Organizations, 2021 DOI: 10.1007/s11558-020-09382-1.

  • “Kofi Annan’s Legacy of UN Reform” Caribbean Journal of International Relations & Diplomacy, Volume 5, No. 2, September 2020 (pp. 31-50).

  • “The Potential of Europe’s Sharp and Soft Power” Global Policy Journal, May 2020. “Global Perspectives on Security, Cooperation, International Institutions, and International Relations” Global Perspectives, Volume 1, Number 1, February 2020.

  • “The institutional ‘hinge’: How the end of the Cold War conditioned Canadian, Russian and Swiss IR scholarship” with Félix Grenier, Jonas Hagmann, Marina Lebedeva, Yulia Nikitina, and Ekatarina Koldunova, International Studies Perspectives, 2019 DOI 10.1093/isp/ekz021.

  • “Understanding Effectiveness of International Sanctions” MGIMO Review of International Relations, 2019.3(66).C.7-16. “UN Targeted Sanctions Datasets (1991-2013)” with Sue Eckert, Marcos Tourinho, and Zuzana Hudakova, Journal of Peace Research (May 2018).

  • “Création d’un espace discursif mondial : Les défis de l’interdisciplinarité, de l’esprit de clocher et de l’intégration des savoirs pratiques dans l’enseignement des Relations internationales” (Creating a global discursive space : the challenges of inter-disciplinarity, parochialisms, and integration of practical knowledge in the teaching of International Relations) Etudes Internationales Volume 46, Number 4, 2016.

  • “Self-Assessment Reviews and External Evaluation Exercises in IR Education” International Studies Review, 2016/

  • “Dialectical Reflections on Transformations of Global Security during the Long 20th Century” Globalizations, Volume 11, Number 5, December 2014

  • “Beyond the published discipline: Towards a critical pedagogy of international studies” with Jonas Hagmann, European Journal of International Relations, forthcoming 2014.

Book chapters

  • “Quantum Pedagogy: Teaching Copenhagen and Discovering Affinities with Dialectical Thinking in IR” in James Der Derian and Alexander Wendt (eds.) Quantizing International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming April 2022).

  • “International Sanctions on North Korea: Are They Working?” Co-authored with Zuzana Hudáková, forthcoming in Chung-in Moon and Robert Carlin (eds) Understanding North Korea (Lexington Books, forthcoming 2022).

  • “UN targeted sanctions: Historical development and current challenges” co-authored with Zuzana Hudáková in Peter van Bergeijk (ed.) Research Handbook on Economic Sanctions (Edward Elgar Publishers, December 2021).

  • “International Organizations” co-authored with Cecilia Cannon in Helmut Anheier and Theodor Baums (eds.) Advances in Corporate Governance: Comparative Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press November 2020).

  • “The ILO’s Role in Global Governance: Limits and Potential” with Velibor Jakovleski and Scott Jerbi in Gilles Carbonier and Christophe Gironde (eds.) The ILO at 100, (Brill Publishers, 2019).

  • "Counter-mapping the discipline: The archipelago of International Relations teaching" co-authored with Jonas Hagmann, forthcoming in Andreas Gofas, Inanna Hamati-Ataya, and Nicolas Onuf (eds.) SAGE Handbook of the History, Philosophy and Sociology of International Relations (SAGE Publishers, London: 2018)

  • “SanctionsApp as Expertise (and Exclusionary Ignorance) in a Global Policy Setting” in Anna Leander and Ole Waever (eds.) Assembling Exclusive Expertise. Knowledge, Ignorance and Conflict Resolution in the Global South (London: Routledge Publishers, 2018).

  • “The Materiality of Expertise: SanctionsApp as Expertise (and Exclusionary Ignorance) in a Global Policy Setting” in Anna Leander and Ole Waever (eds.) The Production of Ignorant Expertise: Assembling International Conflict Expertise (London: Routledge Publishers, forthcoming 2017).

  • “Have UN Targeted Sanctions Worked?” with Marcos Tourinho in Sebastian von Einsiedel and George Lopez (eds.) The Sanctions Enterprise: Assessing a Quarter-Century of UN Action for Peace, Security and Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2017).

  • “Connecting Scholarly Expertise to International Policy Practice at the United Nations” in Annabelle Littoz-Monnet (ed.) The Politics of Expertise in International Organizations (New York and London: Routledge Publishers, forthcoming 2017)

  • “Global Security Governance” in Myriam Dunn Cavelty and Thierry Balzacq (eds.) Routledge Companion to Security (New York and London: Routledge Publishers, 2016)

  • “Rising Powers and the Reform of Practices of International Security Institutions” with Erica Moret, in Jamie Gaskarth (ed.) Rising powers, global governance and global ethics (London: Routledge, 2015).

  •  “UN Targeted Sanctions as Signals: Naming and Shaming, or Naming and Stigmatizing?” in H. Richard Friman (ed.) Name, Shame and Sanction: The Politics of Leverage in International Relations (London: Palgrave, 2015).

  •  “Global Governance” in Robert Rotberg (ed.) On Governance: National and International Dimensions of Measuring Governance Effectiveness (Waterloo Ontario: CIGI, 2015).

  • “Participating in Transnational Policy Networks: Targeted Sanctions” in Mariano E. Bertucci and Abraham F. Lowenthal (eds.) Scholars, Policymakers and International Affairs: Finding Common Cause (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)

Policy Reports

  • UN individual sanctions listing and de-listing patterns and their interaction with autonomous measures: Considerations for mediators, with Aurel Niederberger (New York: United Nations University, 2022.

  • Sanctions relaxation and conflict resolution: Lessons from past sanctions regimes, with Zuzana Hudáková and Erica Moret, prepared for the Carter Center, Atlanta, Georgia, August 2021.

  • Enhancing Due Process in UN Security Council Targeted Sanctions Regimes, with Larissa van den Herik and Rebecca Brubaker, commissioned by the International Law Directorate of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, March 2021.

  • Negotiated Settlement through Sanctions Relief: Options for the Korean Peninsula, co-authored with David Lanz, Policy Brief Number 75, published by the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network, December 2020.

  • Options Paper for Yemen: Sanctions Relief Possibilities to Facilitate Mediation, Co-authored with Rebecca Brubaker and David Lanz as part of the Sanctions and Mediation Project, July 2020.

  • Sanctions relief to help achieve a negotiated settlement? Options for the Korean Peninsula, Co-authored with David Lanz, Non-published paper commissioned by from swisspeace by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, March 2020

  • Guardian of the Galaxy: EU cyber sanctions and norms in cyberspace, Co-edited with Patryk Pawlak, EUISS Chaillot Paper 155, October 2019

  • UN Sanctions and Mediation: Establishing Evidence to Inform Practice Co-authored with Rebecca Brubaker and David Lanz, United Nations University, Centre for Policy Research, February 2019

  • Breaking the Deadlock: Options for DPRK Sanctions Relief Non-published paper commissioned by Inter-Mediate, Co-authored with Zuzana Hudáková, Research Associate, The Graduate Institute, Geneva, and Marcos Tourinho, Assistant Professor, Fundação Getulio Vargas, São Paulo, December 2018

  • UN Sanctions and Mediation Processes: liability or asset? HD Briefing Paper for 2018 Oslo Forum, co-authored with Rebecca Brubaker (UNU) and David Lanz (swisspeace), June 2018

  • The New Deterrent? International Sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine Crisis, co-authored with Erica Moret (lead author), Francesco Giumelli, Clara Portela, Marusa Weber, Dawid Jarosz, and Cristian Bobocea (The Graduate Institute, Geneva, October 2016)

  • “How and when do sanctions work? The evidence,” EUISS Sanctions Report, Chapter One, co-authored with Peter van Bergeijk, (EUISS, Paris, September 2015)

  • Putting EU Sanctions in Context: The Complexities of Multilateralism, co-authored with Clara Portela. EUISS Brief, Paris, July 2015.

  • Sanctions and Peace Negotiations: Possibilities for Complementarity, with the assistance of Zuzana Hudakova and Marcos Tourinho, Oslo Forum Series Paper prepared for Humanitarian Dialogue, Geneva, September 2014.

  • Types of UN Targeted Sanctions and their Effectiveness: Research Note, with the assistance of Zuzana Hudáková, The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Note prepared for the Sanctions Unit of the UN Secretariat, New York, 23 July 2014.

  • The Effectiveness of United Nations Targeted Sanctions—Findings from the Targeted Sanctions Consortium (TSC), co-authored with Sue E. Eckert, Marcos Tourinho, and Zuzana Hudakova, Prepared for the launch of the Web version of SanctionsApp, November 2013.

Multimedia Devices

  • SanctionsApp, with Sue Eckert, Zuzana Hudakova, and Marcos Tourinho, Computer software, Apple App Store, 21 June 2013; Updated to Version 2.0, November 2014; Version 3.0 released in October 2015, Version 4.0 released in December 2016.

Thomas J. Biersteker
Thomas J. Biersteker

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