Expert Bio

Esther Brimmer is the James H. Binger senior fellow in global governance at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Brimmer’s career spans government, academia, and non-governmental organization leadership. Her primary areas of interest are governance of the global commons, international organizations, and transatlantic relations. Her U.S. government service includes leading U.S. policy in international organizations as the assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs from 2009 to 2013. She also served on the policy planning staff from 1999 to 2001. At CFR she is writing a book on the need for better governance mechanisms to manage expanding human activities in outer space, and she convenes the Council of Councils, which brings together twenty-seven international affairs research organizations from twenty-four countries for policy analysis and discussion.

In her academic career, Brimmer was the J. B. and Maurice C. Shapiro professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She was the first deputy director and director of research at the Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR) at the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies from 2001 to 2009, where she was also a member of the faculty. While at CTR, Brimmer was also a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium.

Brimmer has published numerous articles and edited eight books on transatlantic relations. Her work has been translated into five languages. Her edited books include Defending the Gains? Transatlantic Responses When Democracy is Under Threat, Changing Identities, Enduring Values: Is There Still a Transatlantic Community?, and The Strategic Implications of EU Enlargement (with Stefan Fröhlich).

Her research interests also include the governance of oceans and outer space. Brimmer served as project director for the 2017 CFR Task Force report, Arctic Imperatives: Reinforcing U.S. Strategy on America’s Fourth Coast

From 2017 through 2022, Brimmer was executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the largest nonprofit professional association dedicated to international education with around 10,000 members in over 160 countries. Early in her career, she was a senior associate at the Carnegie commission on preventing deadly conflict, an operating program of Carnegie Corporation of New York. Brimmer has served in the private sector as a senior advisor at McLarty Associates, and earlier as an associate at McKinsey & Company.

Brimmer received her bachelor's degree from Pomona College and masters and doctorate degrees in international relations from Oxford University.


  • Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, board member
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