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.
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.
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.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that if Greece exits the eurozone, introducing a new currency could occur quickly; getting broader economic policies right is the more difficult challenge facing the country.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the United States should empower the International Monetary Fund and Group of Twenty to better address currency manipulation concerns.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that it is time for central banks to debate whether a higher inflation target would improve the operation of monetary policy.
The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seeks to address a critical infrastructure gap in the region, but it is also a challenge to the existing global economic order, says CFR's Robert Kahn.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that while new collective action clauses are a step forward in dealing with sovereign debt crises, countries must work to change old debt that lacks the clauses to the new standard as quickly as possible.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that with sovereign debt woes in Greece and Ukraine testing markets and governments, now might be the time for policymakers to rethink the architecture for resolving debt crises.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the Russian economy is not yet facing a full-blown economic and financial crisis. An upturn in inflation and a deeper recession will be the real tests in the coming months.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that unless Japan begins to undertake structural economic reforms, its growth will be almost entirely dependent on easy money, increasing global economic tensions in 2015.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that with the European Central Bank's stress test completed, now is the time for Europe to get back on the path to growth by tackling its debt problem.
Europe can no longer afford to put off its debt problem. Robert Kahn recommends that policymakers draw lessons from the Paris Club to provide a rules-based approach to debt relief that can get Europe back on the path to growth.
Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that standards may be needed to govern the use of financial sanctions so that they do not undo the benefits of globalized financial markets.
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.
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.
What to Do About Russia and Ukraine
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