Picture of Professor Thomas Biersteker


Director of Policy Research
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 Gasteyger Professor of International Security at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. He previously directed the Graduate Institute's Programme for the Study of International Governance, the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University and has also taught at Yale University and the University of Southern California. He is the author/editor of ten books, including State Sovereignty as Social Construct (1996), The Emergence of Private Authority in Global Governance (2002), and Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action (2016). His current research focuses on targeted sanctions, transnational policy networks in global security governance, and the dialectics of world orders. He was the principal developer of SanctionsApp, a tool for mobile devices created in 2013 to increase access to information about targeted sanctions at the UN. He received his PhD and MS from MIT and his BA from the University of Chicago. Until 2017 he was Director of the Global Governance Centre, formerly Programme for the Study of International Governance at the Graduate Institute




United Nations Reform and Effectiveness

This three year Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded project seeks 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. It systematically maps reform within six 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 effectiveness.
International Relations Studies and Education

Although many factors influence contemporary international relations, there are good reasons to assume that international relations pedagogy plays an important role in shaping different worldviews and foundational orientations. The purpose of this two year SNSF project is to examine the international relations education curricula in three countries: Russia, Canada and neutral Switzerland, which recently played an instrumental role in mediating the conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine while it chaired the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2014.

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 UN targeted sanctions. They produced two databases (one qualitative, one quantitative) on all 22 UN targeted sanctions regimes, two policy manuals describing findings from the research, as well as SanctionsApp. 

Transnational Policy Networks

Non-state actors, trans-governmental networks, 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 four contemporary security areas: targeted sanctions, small arms, private military companies, and Internet governance.

Dialectics of World Orders

This multi-year, multi-national co-authored book project inspired by the late Hayward Alker involves 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 in different issue domains, including global security, economy, community and ecology.





  • 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

  • “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

  • “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

  • 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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