Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy


U.S. foreign policy; transatlantic relations; the United States and Asia; Russia and the West; the United States and the Middle East.


U.S. Foreign Policy Roundtable Series


Robert Blackwill is Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His current work focuses on American foreign policy writ large as well as China, Russia, the Middle East, South Asia, and geoeconomics. Ambassador Blackwill served as counselor to CFR in 2005.

Most recently, Ambassador Blackwill was senior fellow at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, from 2008 to 2010, after serving from 2004 to 2008 as president of BGR International, a Washington consulting firm. As deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for strategic planning under President George W. Bush, Ambassador Blackwill was responsible for government-wide policy planning to help develop and coordinate the mid- and long-term direction of American foreign policy. He also served as presidential envoy to Iraq, and was the administration's coordinator for U.S. policies regarding Afghanistan and Iran.

Ambassador Blackwill went to the National Security Council (NSC) after serving as the U.S. ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003, and is the recipient of the 2007 Bridge-Builder Award for his role in transforming U.S.-India relations. Prior to reentering government in 2001, he was the Belfer lecturer in international security at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. During his fourteen years as a Harvard faculty member, he was associate dean of the Kennedy School, where he taught foreign and defense policy and public policy analysis. He was faculty chair for executive training programs for business and government leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and Kazakhstan, as well as military general officers from Russia and the People's Republic of China. From 1989 to 1990, Ambassador Blackwill was special assistant to President George H.W. Bush for European and Soviet affairs, during which time he was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contribution to German unification.

Earlier in his career, he was the U.S. ambassador to conventional arms negotiations with the Warsaw Pact; director for European affairs at the NSC; principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs; and principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs. Ambassador Blackwill is author and editor of many articles and books on transatlantic relations, Russia and the West, the Greater Middle East, and Asian security. He edited the CFR book Iran: The Nuclear Challenge (June 2012). His best-selling book, co-authored with Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School, is titled Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World (MIT Press, February 2013) has sold 180,000 copies. He co-authored, with Ashley J. Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment, a Council Special Report, Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China (April 2015). His forthcoming Council Special Report, Xi Jinping on the Global Stage: Foreign Policy Under a Powerful but Exposed Leader, which he co-authored with Kurt Campbell of the Asia Group, will be published in February 2016. His newest book, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft, with Jennifer Harris will be published as a Belknap Press imprint by Harvard University Press. 

He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies; the Aspen Strategy Group; a non-resident senior fellow and on the international board of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; senior advisor to the Rector of Kazakhstan’s New Economic University; and on the board of the American University of Iraq, Suleimani.

Geoeconomics and Statecraft

From Russia's coercive economic pressure against Ukraine to the steady sums of financing Gulf monarchies have extended to the current Egyptian government to the varied economic penalties China has imposed on nations in its neighborhood, an increasing number of states are waging geopolitics with capital. Many countries today are more likely to air disagreements with the foreign policies of other governments through trade restrictions, or the buying and selling of debt, than through military responses. Despite gaining utility elsewhere in the world, geoeconomic statecraft has diminished in American policymaking in recent decades, a shift insufficiently recognized by both economists and foreign policy strategists. My work on the place of geoeconomics in U.S. foreign policy will result in a book with Jennifer Harris outlining what geoeconomics is, why it matters, and how the U.S. government can better utilize this national security tool.

U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China

The United States' relationship with China is arguably the most important bilateral relationship of the century. Over the years, U.S.-China relations have evolved from tense standoffs to a complex mix of diplomacy, rivalry, and intertwined economies. What currently remains absent from this crucial relationship is an American grand strategy. My work aims to identify the elements of Chinese grand strategy toward the United States, as well as to propose a U.S. grand strategy for dealing with Beijing. This project has culminated in a Council Special ReportRevising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China, with recommendations for policymakers.

U.S. Policy Toward Russia

Since the Ukraine crisis began in late 2013, it has become increasingly clear that the United States needs a new course of action to prevent Moscow from damaging American national interests around the world. My work on the topic examines the historical foundations of U.S. policy toward Russia, the impact of Russian domestic issues on its policy evolution, the agenda of President Vladimir Putin, and the effect of regional developments on U.S. policy toward Russia. The project's primary goal is to assess the Obama administration's policies toward Moscow and, as necessary, to enumerate alternative approaches.

Featured Publications

All Publications

Must Read

RAND: The Lessons of Mumbai

Authors: Angel Rabasa, Robert D. Blackwill, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, C. Christine Fair, Brian A. Jackson, Brian Jenkins, Seth G. Jones, Nathaniel Shestak, and Ashley J. Tellis

This RAND Corporation report analyzes the November 26, 2008, Mumbai terrorist attack and draws preliminary conclusions on what lessons can be derived from the incident, as well as its implications for India, Pakistan, and the world at large.

See more in India; Terrorist Attacks


Forgive Russia, Confront Iran

Author: Robert D. Blackwill
Wall Street Journal

Robert D. Blackwill writes, "we are well along in a systemic decline in Russia's relations with the West. There is a familiar list of complaints from the industrial democracies regarding Moscow's actions, many of them justified. But most of Russia's contemporary offenses pale before what should be the West's highest policy priority — preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons."

See more in Iran; Proliferation

Must Read

The India Imperative

Author: Robert D. Blackwill

The India Imperative by Robert D. Blackwill. National Interest, Summer 2005

What are the origins of the transformation of U.S.-Indian relations?

No bilateral relationship in George W. Bush's first term improved as much as that between the United States and India. The president has noted, "After years of estrangement, India and the United States together surrendered to reality. They recognized an unavoidable fact--they are destined to have a qualitatively different and better relationship than in the past." Some attribute the expansion in relations to the impact of 9/11. But this is not the case...

See more in India; Politics and Strategy; United States

Task Force Report No. 20

The Future of Transatlantic Relations

Notable opportunities exist for the U.S.-European relationship to help mold the twenty-first century’s international system. Despite the absence of the Soviet threat, the two sides of the Atlantic continue to share enduring vital interests and face a common set of challenges both in Europe and beyond. These challenges are so many and diverse that neither the United States nor the allies can adequately address these regional and global concerns alone, especially in light of growing domestic constraints on the implementation of foreign policy. Thus, promoting shared interests and managing common threats to the West in the years ahead will necessitate not only continued cooperation, but a broader and more comprehensive transatlantic partnership than in the past.

See more in Europe; United States; Politics and Strategy

Task Force Report No. 9

Arms Control and the U.S.-Russian Relationship

Five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and Russia stand at a crossroads on arms control. Many of the arms control regimes established by Republican and Democratic administrations are under serious challenge in both countries, with the potential to damage U.S. security. With these concerns in mind, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom joined together to sponsor an independent Task Force on U.S.-Russian arms control. The Task Force brief was to assess current and evolving political-military circumstances and the arms control regimes, and to recommend a U.S. policy for the next 12 months. In effect, the Task Force was asked how Americans in particular should think about arms control in the wake of the Cold War’s end and its importance, how to preserve what was worth preserving, and how to change what might need to be changed.

See more in Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament; Russian Federation


U.S. Foreign Policy Roundtable Series

Director: Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy
September 1, 2010—Present

The U.S. Foreign Policy Roundtable Series is an ongoing series that provides a forum for discussion with leading experts on the major issues and developments that impact U.S. foreign policy. The series has covered a broad range of topics, such as domestic and international counterterrorism efforts, the global financial crisis, evolving media coverage of international news developments, and U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

CFR Events

Meeting ⁄ Washington

What To Do About U.S.-India Relations

Speakers Alyssa Ayres

Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, U.S. Department of State (2010-2013)

, Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, David Rockefeller Studies Program, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Ambassador to India (2001-2003)

, Stephen P. Cohen

Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Former Member, Policy  Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State

Presider John D. Negroponte

Vice Chairman, McLarty Associates;
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State (2007-2009)

February 4, 2015 12:00–12:30 p.m. - Registration
12:30–1:45 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Session Three: End of the Cold War

Speakers Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

, Vitaly Churkin

Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

, Frank Elbe

Former Deputy Head, Department for Issues of Nuclear Disarmament, Foreign Office; Former Head, German Policy Planning Staff; Former Director, Foreign Minister Hans-Deitrich Genscher's Cabinet

Presider Mary Elise Sarotte

Visiting Professor of Government and History, Harvard University; Author, The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall

November 4, 2014 11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m.

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ New York

The New Indian Government

Speakers Alyssa Ayres

Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations

, Jagdish N. Bhagwati

Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Robert D. Blackwill

Henry Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider Charles R. Kaye

Co-Chief Executive Officer, Warburg Pincus LLC

May 28, 2014 12:30–1:00 p.m. - Lunch
1:00–2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ New York

The Strategic Consequences of the U.S. Energy Boom

Panelists Dennis C. Blair

Admiral (U.S. Navy, Retired); Co-Chairman, Commission on Energy and Geopolitics, Securing America's Future Energy; Former Director of National Intelligence; Former Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command

, John Browne

Author, Seven Elements that Changed the World: An Adventure of Ingenuity and Discovery; Partner, Riverstone Holdings, LLC; Former Chief Executive Officer, BP

Presider Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Coauthor, "America's Energy Edge: The Geopolitical Consequences of the Shale Revolution," Foreign Affairs March/April 2014

March 3, 2014 12:30–1:00 p.m. - Lunch
1:00–2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Iran: The Nuclear Challenge

Speaker Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Moderator Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

September 12, 2012 12:00–1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.


Meeting ⁄ Washington

Iran: The Nuclear Challenge

Speakers Elliott AbramsSenior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert DaninEni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Richard A. FalkenrathShelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider Robert D. BlackwillHenry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Editor, Iran: The Nuclear Challenge
June 7, 2012 6:00–6:30 p.m. - Dinner Reception
6:30–7:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ Washington

The United States and India: A Shared Strategic Future

Speakers K. Shankar BajpaiFounding Chairman, Delhi Policy Group; Former Indian Ambassador to the United States, Tarun DasFounding Trustee, Aspen Institute India; Former Chief Executive, Confederation of Indian Industry, Stephen J. HadleySenior Adviser for International Affairs, United States Institute of Peace, Former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, John D. PodestaPresident and Chief Executive Officer, Center for American Progress; Former White House Chief of Staff, Ashley J. TellisSenior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Former Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Southwest Asia, National Security Council
Presider Robert D. BlackwillHenry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Ambassador to India; Co-chair, U.S.-India Joint Study Group on Shared National Interests
September 19, 2011 6:00–6:30 p.m. - Dinner Reception
6:30–7:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Video Interview

To the Point: Indo-US Relations Important

Ambassador Robert Blackwill discussed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to accept an invitation from President Obama to visit the White House following the United Nations General Assembly in September. Alongside Meera Shankar, former Indian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Blackwill also analyzed the importance of revitalizing the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.



Next Indo-Pak Conflict Could Be in Afghanistan: Blackwill

"Speaking at the 'Ambassadors Roundtable' involving five American envoys to India in the last two decades, Blackwill said 'there is no evidence that [the] Pakistan military has changed its view' that its primary role is to prevent the rise of India..." (Source: Business Standard)


Review: A Soothsayer In Singapore

"The authors, a team of eminent strategy thinkers, took the opportunity of recording his views on the world, and the way it's likely to take shape over the next quarter century. The result is this concise, but important book, that looks at the futures of China, the US and India, as well as important contemporary issues, from globalisation and democr­acy to Islamic extremism—all delivered in Lee's characteristically incisive, and occasionally politically incorrect manner." (Anvar Alikhan,


Singapore Looks to Ties that Bind

"In a new book released in February, Kuan Yew – now a passive 89-year-old Member of Parliament – voices worries about China's rise in power.

'Many small and medium countries in Asia are concerned (and are) uneasy that China may want to resume the imperial status it had in earlier centuries,' Kuan Yew says.

'They have misgivings such as being treated as vassal states.'

'China tells us that countries big or small are equal, that it is not a hegemon,' Kuan Yew writes.

'But when we do something they do not like, they say you have made 1.3 billion people unhappy. So please know your place.'"

(Seah Chiang Nee, The Star)


Noonan: A Statesman's Friendly Advice

"I found myself engrossed this week by the calm, incisive wisdom of one of the few living statesmen in the world who can actually be called visionary. The wisdom is in a book, 'Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States and the World', a gathering of Mr. Lee's interviews, speeches and writings....He is now 89, a great friend of America, and his comments on the U.S. are pertinent to many of the debates in which we're enmeshed." (Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, subscription required)


Book Review: Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World

"Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World sets down the thoughts of an 89-year-old veteran of 20th century history with much to say about the future. The book is densely packed with Lee's characteristically blunt assessments of issues, countries and people. The text has been deftly assembled and extensively footnoted. The editors have not offered their own views, letting the former Singaporean leader speak for himself." (Stephen Minas, LSE Review of Books)


Book Review: "Lee Kuan Yew"

"[An] artfully synthesized collection of statements by Lee—long and short, written and spoken … Where Lee excels is in his pithy evaluations of regional and national strengths and weaknesses. At his best, the man is a cross between Confucius and Machiavelli." (Aram Bakshian Jr., Washington Times)


Interview: Lee Kuan Yew on the Future of U.S.-China Relations

"In the following conversation, Lee trains his sights to the most prominent geopolitical issue of our time: the rise of China. Rather than attempt to thwart China's emergence as a global superpower, Lee argues, the United States should find ways to work constructively with China in forging a new global order." (Atlantic)


Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill Discuss New Book on Lee Kuan Yew

"Belfer Center Director Graham Allison and Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill discuss their new book Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World. The event was moderated by Belfer Center's Executive Director for Research Gary Samore." (Source: Belfer Center)



Wise Man for the World

"Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World forms a kind of last testament of the ailing, 89-year-old Mr. Lee…. The book focuses forward on Mr. Lee's prognostications, not backward on his accomplishments. Allison and Blackwill refrain from commentary on the man and his ideas, letting readers interpret for themselves." (Karen Elliott House, Wall Street Journal)


Questions for Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill

"Graham Allison and Bob Blackwill have important questions to ask about China, America and the extraordinary impact of the relationship of those two countries on the rest of the world. For answers, they turned to Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first premier and one of the world's most formidable geopolitical thinkers and strategists. The result is a fascinating book called Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World." (Ian Bremmer, Reuters)

Radio Interview

Insights From Asia’s Senior Statesman Lee Kuan Yew

"We talk about China's rise, its surging wealth and power, but the U.S. has been Number One for so long it's hard to really picture what it means, or will mean. Hard to really know what to think.

Lee Kwan Yew knows. Asia's most senior statesman. A longtime friend of the US. A grand master of global strategy out of little Singapore. And here's what he sees.

Does China want to be Number One? Of course. Will they be? Pretty likely. Will we fight? We'd better not."

Tom Ashbrook speaks with Robert Blackwill and Graham Allison about the collected wisdom of grand master Lee Kuan Yew during this February 13 broadcast of NPR's On Point.



Foreseeing Red: Lee Kuan Yew on China

"Lee's powerful intellect is captured in a new book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Now 89, officially retired and somewhat frail, Lee has mellowed with age — not unlike his creation Singapore, governed today with a lighter touch even as its citizens grow more vocal. Yet, as the book, and the adaptation here of the China chapter, reveal, Lee is as sharp, direct and prescient as ever." ( Time Magazine)


India Is a Nation of Unfulfilled Greatness

Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of modern Singapore, is currently one of the world's most sought-after elder statesmen. Widely praised for helping make Singapore the economic powerhouse it is today, Lee, who was the citystate's PM from 1959 to 1990, has also been criticised for leaving a distinctly authoritarian stamp on its polity. Now, a new book, 'Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World' , by Graham Allison, Robert D Blackwill and Ali Wyne, features the statesman's views on a range of global issues. (Times of India Crest Edition)


Development: Learning from Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew

"The question of whether nations can learn from history nag policymakers around the world. Part of the problem is that history is handed down through a variety of interpretations that do not reflect reality. But contemporary history, if genuine presented, can offer policy makers with lessons they can learn from.

This is the central message in the newly released book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World, by Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, with Ali Wyne....His central message is that history can repeat itself in a positive way if the world community pays attention to contemporary lessons." (Calestous Juma, Technology+Policy Innovation@Work)

Video Interview

Robert Blackwill on the War in Afghanistan

Editor Gideon Rose and Ambassador Robert Blackwill discuss the option of a partial U.S. force reduction in Afghanistan, specifically from the Pashtun region. The "Plan B in Afghanistan" author argues that President Obama made a significant strategic mistake by announcing a deadline for U.S. withdrawal, and that total drawdown will lead to turmoil both in the nation and the region. Inevitably policymakers must also consider U.S.-Pakistan relations, the ongoing Indian-Pakistani conflict and its nuclear implications, and whether the United States should be so preoccupied with this part of the world.


Radio Interview

Voice of Russia: Why Americans Still Care About Russia?

"While the United States and Russia are exactly on the same accord on a number of foreign policy issues, including Missile Defense System in Eastern Europe and the International community's handling of violent situations in Libya and Syria, the Obama administration touts a reset of relations with Russia amongst its foreign policy achievements. The Task Force on Russia and US interest have released a report detailing why Americans still need to care about Russia." (Voice of Russia)


Why Israel Is a Strategic Asset to the United States

"Written after a telephone interview with Ambassador Blackwill regarding his November 2011 report Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States, coauthored with Walter B. Slocombe and published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Contrary to Washington wisdom, Israel is a clear strategic asset to the United States, says a new study by a bipartisan pair of veteran diplomats" (Lee Smith, TabletMag)


Caution Fills Obama's Playbook

"The statesman finds opportunity," even in adversity, notes Robert Blackwill, a Republican foreign policy expert who worked for Kissinger and both Bushes. That's a good prescription for Obama. He's in damage-limitation mode — sensible enough in a time of uncertainty but not really a strategy. What's the opportunity — in Pakistan, in India, in Turkey, in Syria — and yes, in the Palestinian state that inevitably will be declared? (David Ignatius, Washington Post)


Doing Right by India: Bam's Visit to a Natural U.S. Ally

"As former Bush administration Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill wrote in 2007, "the alignment between India and the United States is now an enduring part of the international landscape." It is cemented, Blackwill notes, by our democratic systems, by the growing, highly successful community of Indian-Americans in this country and by a wary eye on China.

The last factor will never be explicit. "There is no way to clear a drawing room in India quite like saying we're going to 'contain' China," Blackwill says. But no one knows how China will evolve. If the US has strong relationships with Japan, South Korea, Australia and India, it can raise a barrier to China's seaward expansion." (Rich Lowry, New York Post)


Obama Message in India: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

"I don't have any doubt that President Obama is going to wow the Indian masses," former Bush-era U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill told journalists on a call organized by the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. "He is in Indian eyes an extraordinary example of the diversity and pluralism of American democracy, being the first African-American president. At the most basic level, the Indian people are going to find him extremely attractive and charismatic and so forth." (Laura Rozen, Politico)


Plan E for Afghanistan

"Robert Blackwill, former U.S. ambassador to India and later New Delhi's lobbyist in Washington, has stirred up a heated debate with his now famous Plan B for Afghanistan. This involves effectively partitioning the country, with Pashtun-predominant southern Afghanistan ceded to the Taliban and, by proxy, to Pakistan. (Ajai Shukla, Business Standard)