Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics


U.S. and international macroeconomic policy; debt restructuring and debt policy; financial markets.


The Roundtable Series on International Economics and Finance , The Global Economics Roundtable Series


Robert Kahn is the Steven A. Tananbaum senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. Dr. Kahn has held positions in the public and private sectors, with expertise in macroeconomic policy, finance, and crisis resolution.

Prior to joining CFR, Dr. Kahn was a senior strategist with Moore Capital Management, where his portfolio spanned Group of Seven(G-7) monetary and fiscal policy, regulatory reform, debt policy and debt workouts, and the crisis in Europe. Prior to that, he was a senior adviser in the financial policy department at the World Bank, where he focused on financial sector assessments for developing economies and was the Bank's liaison to the secretariat of the Financial Stability Forum.

Dr. Kahn also held staff positions at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where he worked on public policy and the resolution of debt crises in emerging markets. He was a member of the IMF team that worked closely with Korean authorities in 1997–98 to develop a system for comprehensive monitoring and reporting of external debt and reserves, and subsequently was involved in development of the Fund's policy for private sector involvement in crisis resolution.

Dr. Kahn has held various senior-level positions at Citigroup and was the managing director and head of the sovereign advisory group. He served as the head of the Office of Industrial Nations at the U.S. Treasury from 1995 to 1996. He was also a senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers from 1990 to 1991, as well as the Federal Reserve Board from 1984 to 1990 and 1991 to 1992.

Dr. Kahn received his BA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sanctions in the Twenty-First Century

The imposition of financial sanctions in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea represents a new application of sanctions to address foreign policy disputes. After September 11, the United States began targeting financial systems, effectively cutting off adversaries' access to financing. Over the next decade, sanctions were used successfully against al-Qaeda, Iran, and North Korea. The use of sanctions against Russia in 2014 is different, though, not only because of Russia's size and global importance, but also because the scale and complexity of Russia's ties to global economic markets may make it particularly vulnerable to sanctions that restrict access to trade and investment. My research assesses the short and longer-term cost of these sanctions, as well as the implications for their use elsewhere. Will we see a greater reliance on sanctions in the future? If so, will the risk of their misuse also grow? I will also consider what policymakers will need to keep in mind when considering their use. U.S. policymakers need to balance the benefits of financial sanctions against the costs of weakening the deep global financial markets for countries that adhere to international norms. These results will be presented in a CFR Council Special Report.

Strengthening the Framework for Sovereign Debt Restructuring

The difficulties associated with the Greek debt crisis and Argentina's ongoing legal standoff with holdout creditors has renewed calls to rethink policy for sovereign debt crises. Reformists have called for new statutory bodies that could resolve sovereign bankruptcies and rules to change the terms and conditions of IMF lending. But reformists have the case wrong. Sovereign debt markets largely work well, and the current official strategy—which emphasizes debtors negotiating market-based restructurings with IMF support—has proven effective at allowing most countries to exit crisis when facing distress. More could be done to improve the contracts on existing debt. But my larger concern is that creditor governments and the IMF are too slow to act, unwilling to address a persistent debt overhang in the eurozone, and adopting unrealistic assumptions about debt sustainability in Ukraine. I examine this issue on my blog (for example here and here) and in my July 2013 monthly report "Lessons Learned from Greece". I am also writing several articles and a book on the history of sovereign debt crises and prospects for meaningful reform.

The Growing Geopolitical Threat to Financial Markets

Financial markets are forward looking. Investors make decisions in light of all available knowledge about risk. Why then, in the midst of political upheavals in Europe and the Middle East, have markets been until recently so quiescent? I have already explored the dynamics underlying this tension and argued that the sea of global liquidity created by extraordinary monetary policy in the industrial world, as well as the seeming remoteness of potential risks, has allowed market participants to continue to price a benign view of future global economic growth. But such a scenario is unlikely to last for long, particularly as the political upheavals we currently face are not easily solved. The weakness of the eurozone economy is one place where political crisis could spill into financial trouble. In a series of monthly reports, op-eds and articles, I identify where else and how political risk might translate into financial distress, and how if at all the possibility of sharp market corrections should influence the policy debate.

Featured Publications

Foreign Affairs Article

Putin's Lehman Moment

Author: Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn argues that the West should be ready to impose more robust economic sanctions against Russia, in order to deter it from further infiltrating or destabilizing Ukraine. Russia's economic complexity means sanctions would meaningfully reduce Russian wealth and growth, since Russian oligarchs and business leaders have significant financial stakes in the West.

See more in Russia and Central Asia; Sanctions

All Publications

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly November 2015

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the concerns driven by China's economic problems are modest compared to the 1997 Asian financial crisis or the Great Recession. However, there are reasons for concern: large financial imbalances, weak global growth, inadequate official resources, and political pressures. While a severe global financial crisis remains a tail risk, policymakers need to be prepared to respond. 

See more in Global; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly: October 2015

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that China's growth prospect lies somewhere between hard-landing and muddle-through scenarios. However, uncertainty remains and is already being felt strongly and likely to put increasing pressure on emerging markets through trade contraction and financial contagion. For the United States, fragility in emerging markets is the critical risk and will dominate economic decision-making for months if not years to come. 

See more in Global; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly: August 2015

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that China’s request to include its currency, the renminbi (RMB), in an International Monetary Fund (IMF) currency basket, known as special drawing right (SDR), is political as much as economic in intent and effect. The inclusion would signal a milestone in China’s transition to a less-regulated economy. 

See more in China; Economics


Greece's Euro Future and U.S. Policy

Author: Robert Kahn

In his testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, Robert Kahn argues that although Greece's direct trade and financial links to the U.S. economy are small and there is less of a direct systemic threat to the United States than when the crisis began in 2009, the risks are still material.

See more in Greece; Eurozone; Financial Crises

Recent Activity from Macro and Markets


The Roundtable Series on International Economics and Finance

Director: Robert Kahn, Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics
March 2013—Present

The Roundtable Series on International Economics and Finance aimes to engender dialogue on implications of global economic events, with an emphasis on issues on which policymaker and market-participant views differ. The series is based in New York, New York.

The Global Economics Roundtable Series

Director: Robert Kahn, Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics
February 2013—Present

The Global Economic Roundtable Series aims to bring together current and past economic policy makers to dissect policy challenges to U.S. and foreign economies. The series is based in Washington, DC.

CFR Events

Meeting ⁄ Washington

What to Do About Russia and Ukraine

Speakers Karen E. Donfried

President, German Marshall Fund of the United States

, Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider Richard N. Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

June 9, 2014 6:00–6:15 p.m. - Registration
6:15–7:30 p.m. - Meeting
7:30–8:00 p.m. - Reception

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch