allstaractivist note: These organizations are worth your time getting to know since they heavily shape our daily lives and are largely unseen. Whatever issue or policy you may be interested in, think tanks probably had some degree of input. Some are evil, others are not. All wield a considerable amount of influence in just about every area of our lives. In my opinion, it is these organizations that comprise a substantial amount of the shadow government. Lobbyists receive their political target lists from them, if not their actual funding. They are the intellectual architects crafting both the doorways and walls of our existence, whether benevolently or maliciously so. It should not be this way but is the reality more often than not in our highly corrupted system. Rule by the monied minority.
Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks
By ERIC LIPTON, BROOKE WILLIAMS and NICHOLAS CONFESSORESEPT. 6, 2014
Borge Brende, the foreign minister of Norway, in June at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The agreement signed last year by the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs was explicit: For $5 million, Norway’s partner in Washington would push top officials at the White House, at the Treasury Department and in Congress to double spending on a United States foreign aid program.
But the recipient of the cash was not one of the many Beltway lobbying firms that work every year on behalf of foreign governments.
It was the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research organization, or think tank, one of many such groups in Washington that lawmakers, government officials and the news media have long relied on to provide independent policy analysis and scholarship.
More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research.
The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign governments. And they have not registered with the United States government as representatives of the donor countries, an omission that appears, in some cases, to be a violation of federal law, according to several legal specialists who examined the agreements at the request of The Times.
As a result, policy makers who rely on think tanks are often unaware of the role of foreign governments in funding the research.
Joseph Sandler, a lawyer and expert on the statute that governs Americans lobbying for foreign governments, said the arrangements between the countries and think tanks “opened a whole new window into an aspect of the influence-buying in Washington that has not previously been exposed.”
“It is particularly egregious because with a law firm or lobbying firm, you expect them to be an advocate,” Mr. Sandler added. “Think tanks have this patina of academic neutrality and objectivity, and that is being compromised.”
The arrangements involve Washington’s most influential think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council. Each is a major recipient of overseas funds, producing policy papers, hosting forums and organizing private briefings for senior United States government officials that typically align with the foreign governments’ agendas.
Most of the money comes from countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, particularly the oil-producing nations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Norway, and takes many forms. The United Arab Emirates, a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House. Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.
Some scholars say the donations have led to implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments.
“If a member of Congress is using the Brookings reports, they should be aware — they are not getting the full story,” said Saleem Ali, who served as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and who said he had been told during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government in papers. “They may not be getting a false story, but they are not getting the full story.”
In interviews, top executives at the think tanks strongly defended the arrangements, saying the money never compromised the integrity of their organizations’ research. Where their scholars’ views overlapped with those of donors, they said, was coincidence.
“Our business is to influence policy with scholarly, independent research, based on objective criteria, and to be policy-relevant, we need to engage policy makers,” said Martin S. Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings, one of the oldest and most prestigious think tanks in Washington.
“Our currency is our credibility,” said Frederick Kempe, chief executive of the Atlantic Council, a fast-growing research center that focuses mainly on international affairs and has accepted donations from at least 25 countries since 2008. “Most of the governments that come to us, they understand we are not lobbyists. We are a different entity, and they work with us for totally different purposes.”
In their contracts and internal documents, however, foreign governments are often explicit about what they expect from the research groups they finance.
“In Washington, it is difficult for a small country to gain access to powerful politicians, bureaucrats and experts,” states an internal report commissioned by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry assessing its grant making. “Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access, and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only those foreign governments that provide funding.”
The think tanks’ reliance on funds from overseas is driven, in part, by intensifying competition within the field: The number of policy groups has multiplied in recent years, while research grants from the United States government have dwindled.
Foreign officials describe these relationships as pivotal to winning influence on the cluttered Washington stage, where hundreds of nations jockey for attention from the United States government. The arrangements vary: Some countries work directly with think tanks, drawing contracts that define the scope and direction of research. Others donate money to the think tanks, and then pay teams of lobbyists and public relations consultants to push the think tanks to promote the country’s agenda.
“Japan is not necessarily the most interesting subject around the world,” said Masato Otaka, a spokesman for the Japanese Embassy, when asked why Japan donates heavily to American research groups. “We’ve been experiencing some slower growth in the economy. I think our presence is less felt than before.”
The scope of foreign financing for American think tanks is difficult to determine. But since 2011, at least 64 foreign governments, state-controlled entities or government officials have contributed to a group of 28 major United States-based research organizations, according to disclosures by the institutions and government documents. What little information the organizations volunteer about their donors, along with public records and lobbying reports filed with American officials by foreign representatives, indicates a minimum of $92 million in contributions or commitments from overseas government interests over the last four years. The total is certainly more.
After questions from The Times, some of the research groups agreed to provide limited additional information about their relationships with countries overseas. Among them was the Center for Strategic and International Studies, whose research agenda focuses mostly on foreign policy; it agreed last month to release a list of 13 foreign government donors, from Germany to China, though the organization declined to disclose details of its contracts with those nations or actual donation amounts.
Michele Dunne resigned as the head of the Atlantic Council’s center for the Middle East after calling for the suspension of military aid to Egypt in 2013. Credit Global Development Network
In an interview, John J. Hamre, president and chief executive of the center, acknowledged that the organization’s scholars at times advocate causes with the Obama administration and Congress on the topics that donor governments have funded them to study. But Mr. Hamre stressed that he did not view it as lobbying — and said his group is most certainly not a foreign agent.
“I don’t represent anybody,” Mr. Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense, said. “I never go into the government to say, ‘I really want to talk to you about Morocco or about United Arab Emirates or Japan.’ I have conversations about these places all the time with everybody, and I am never there representing them as a lobbyist to their interests.”
Several legal experts who reviewed the documents, however, said the tightening relationships between United States think tanks and their overseas sponsors could violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the 1938 federal law that sought to combat a Nazi propaganda campaign in the United States. The law requires groups that are paid by foreign governments with the intention of influencing public policy to register as “foreign agents” with the Justice Department.
“I am surprised, quite frankly, at how explicit the relationship is between money paid, papers published and policy makers and politicians influenced,” said Amos Jones, a Washington lawyer who has specialized in the foreign agents act, after reviewing transactions between the Norway government and Brookings, the Center for Global Development and other groups.
At least one of the research groups conceded that it may in fact be violating the federal law.
“Yikes,” said Todd Moss, the chief operating officer at the Center for Global Development, after being shown dozens of pages of emails between his organization and the government of Norway, which detail how his group would lobby the White House and Congress on behalf of the Norway government. “We will absolutely seek counsel on this.”
Parallels With Lobbying
The line between scholarly research and lobbying can sometimes be hard to discern.
Last year, Japan began an effort to persuade American officials to accelerate negotiations over a free-trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of Japan’s top priorities. The country already had lobbyists on retainer, from the Washington firm of Akin Gump, but decided to embark on a broader campaign.
Akin Gump lobbyists approached several influential members of Congress and their staffs, including aides to Representative Charles Boustany Jr., Republican of Louisiana, and Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, seeking help in establishing a congressional caucus devoted to the partnership, lobbying records show. After those discussions, in October 2013, the lawmakers established just such a group, the Friends of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
To bolster the new group’s credibility, Japanese officials sought validation from outside the halls of Congress. Within weeks, they received it from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to which Japan has been a longtime donor. The center will not say how much money the government has given — or for what exactly — but an examination of its relationship with a state-funded entity called the Japan External Trade Organization provides a glimpse.
In the past four years, the organization has given the center at least $1.1 million for “research and consulting” to promote trade and direct investment between Japan and the United States. The center also houses visiting scholars from within the Japanese government, including Hiroshi Waguri, an executive in the Ministry of Defense, as well as Shinichi Isobe, an executive from the trade organization.
In early December, the center held an event featuring Mr. Boustany and Mr. Reichert, who spoke about the importance of the trade agreement and the steps they were taking to pressure the White House to complete it. In addition, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing later that month, Matthew P. Goodman, a scholar at the center, testified in favor of the agreement, his language driving home the very message Japan’s lobbyists and their congressional allies were seeking to convey.
The agreement was critical to “success not only for the administration’s regional economic policy but arguably for the entire Asia re-balancing strategy,” Mr. Goodman said.
Mr. Hamre, the center’s president, acknowledged that his organization’s researchers were pushing for the trade deal (it remains pending). But he said their advocacy was rooted in a belief that the agreement was good for the United States economy and the country’s standing in Asia.
Andrew Schwartz, a spokesman for the center, said that language in the agreements the organization signs with foreign governments gives its scholars final say over the policy positions they take — although he acknowledged those provisions have not been included in all such documents.
“We have to respect their academic and intellectual independence,” Mr. Otaka, the Japanese Embassy spokesman, said in a separate interview. But one Japanese diplomat, who asked not to be named as he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the country expected favorable treatment in return for donations to think tanks.
“If we put actual money in, we want to have a good result for that money — as it is an investment,” he said.
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — two nations that host large United States military bases and view a continued American military presence as central to their own national security — have been especially aggressive in their giving to think tanks. The two Persian Gulf monarchies are also engaged in a battle with each other to shape Western opinion, with Qatar arguing that Muslim Brotherhood-style political Islam is the Arab world’s best hope for democracy, and the United Arab Emirates seeking to persuade United States policy makers that the Brotherhood is a dangerous threat to the region’s stability.
The United Arab Emirates, which has become a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies over the past decade, turned to the think tank in 2007 after an uproar in Congress about the nation’s plan to purchase control of terminals in several United States ports. After lawmakers questioned whether the purchase would be a national security threat to the United States, and the deal was scuttled, the oil-rich nation sought to remake its image in Washington, Mr. Hamre said.
The nation paid the research organization to sponsor a lecture series “to examine the strategic importance” of the gulf region and “identify opportunities for constructive U.S. engagement.” It also paid the center to organize annual trips to the gulf region during which dozens of national security experts from the United States would get private briefings from government officials there.
These and other events gave the United Arab Emirates’ senior diplomats an important platform to press their case. At a round table in Washington in March 2013, Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador to the United States, pressed Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about whether the United States would remain committed to his country given budget reductions in Washington.
Mr. Dempsey’s reply was quickly posted on the Facebook page of the United Arab Emirates Embassy: The country, he assured Mr. Al Otaiba and others in the crowd, was one of America’s “most credible and capable allies, especially in the gulf region.”
Access to Power
Small countries are finding that they can gain big clout by teaming up with American research organizations. Perhaps the best example is Norway.
As one of the world’s top oil producers, a member of NATO and a player in peace negotiations in spots around the globe, Norway has an interest in a broad range of United States policies.
The country has committed at least $24 million to an array of Washington think tanks over the past four years, according to a tally by The Times, transforming these nonprofits into a powerful but largely hidden arm of the Norway Foreign Affairs Ministry. Documents obtained under that country’s unusually broad open records laws reveal that American research groups, after receiving money from Norway, have advocated in Washington for enhancing Norway’s role in NATO, promoted its plans to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and pushed its climate change agenda.
Norway paid the Center for Global Development, for example, to persuade the United States government to spend more money on combating global warming by slowing the clearing of forests in countries like Indonesia, according to a 2013 project document describing work by the center and a consulting company called Climate Advisers.
Norway is a major funder of forest protection efforts around the world. But while many environmentalists applaud the country’s lobbying for forest protection, some have attacked the programs as self-interested: Slowing deforestation could buy more time for Norway’s oil companies to continue selling fossil fuels on the global market even as Norway and other countries push for new carbon reduction policies. Oilwatch International, an environmental advocacy group, calls forest protection a “scheme whereby polluters use forests and land as supposed sponges for their pollution.”
Kare R. Aas, Norway’s ambassador to the United States, rejected this criticism as ridiculous. As a country whose territory extends into the Arctic, he said, Norway would be among the nations most affected by global warming.
“We want to maintain sustainable living conditions in the North,” Mr. Aas said.
But Norway’s agreement imposed very specific demands on the Center for Global Development. The research organization, in return for Norway’s money, was not simply asked to publish reports on combating climate change. The project documents ask the think tank to persuade Washington officials to double United States spending on global forest protection efforts to $500 million a year.
“Target group: U.S. policy makers,” a progress report reads.
The grant is already paying dividends. The center, crediting the Norwegian government’s funding, helped arrange a November 2013 meeting with Treasury Department officials. Scholars there also succeeded in having language from their Norway-funded research included in a deforestation report prepared by a White House advisory commission, according to an April progress report.
Norway has also funded Arctic research at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at a time when the country was seeking to expand its oil drilling in the Arctic region.
Mr. Hamre, of the center, said he was invited to Norway about five years ago and given a presentation on the Arctic Circle, known in Norway as the “High North.”
“What the hell is the High North?” he said in an interview, recalling that he was not familiar with the topic until then.
But Norway’s government soon began sending checks to the center for a research program on Arctic policy. By 2009, after the new Norway-supported Arctic program was up and running, it brought Norway officials together with a key member of Congress to discuss the country’s “energy aspirations for the region.”
In a March 2013 report, scholars from the center urged the Obama administration to increase its military presence in the Arctic Circle, to protect energy exploration efforts there and to increase the passage of cargo ships through the region — the exact moves Norway has been advocating.
The Brookings Institution, which also accepted grants from Norway, has sought to help the country gain access to American officials, documents show. One Brookings senior fellow, Bruce Jones, offered in 2010 to reach out to State Department officials to help arrange a meeting with a senior Norway official, according to a government email. The Norway official wished to discuss his country’s role as a “middle power” and vital partner of the United States.
Brookings organized another event in April 2013, in which one of Norway’s top officials on Arctic issues was seated next to the State Department’s senior official on the topic and reiterated the country’s priorities for expanding oil exploration in the Arctic.
William J. Antholis, the managing director at Brookings, said that if his scholars help Norway pursue its foreign policy agenda in Washington, it is only because their rigorous, independent research led them to this position. “The scholars are their own agents,” he said. “They are not agents of these foreign governments.”
But three lawyers who specialize in the law governing Americans’ activities on behalf of foreign governments said that the Center for Global Development and Brookings, in particular, appeared to have taken actions that merited registration as foreign agents of Norway. The activities by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Atlantic Council, they added, at least raised questions.
“The Department of Justice needs to be looking at this,” said Joshua Rosenstein, a lawyer at Sandler Reiff.
Ona Dosunmu, Brookings’s general counsel, examining the same documents, said she remained convinced that was a misreading of the law.
Norway, at least, is grateful for the work Brookings has done. During a speech at Brookings in June, Norway’s foreign minister, Borge Brende, noted that his country’s relationship with the think tank “has been mutually beneficial for moving a lot of important topics.” Just before the speech, in fact, Norway signed an agreement to contribute an additional $4 million to the group.
Limits on Scholars
The tens of millions in donations from foreign interests come with certain expectations, researchers at the organizations said in interviews. Sometimes the foreign donors move aggressively to stifle views contrary to their own.
Michele Dunne served for nearly two decades as a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the State Department, including stints in Cairo and Jerusalem, and on the White House National Security Council. In 2011, she was a natural choice to become the founding director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, named after the former prime minister of Lebanon, who was assassinated in 2005.
The center was created with a generous donation from Bahaa Hariri, his eldest son, and with the support of the rest of the Hariri family, which has remained active in politics and business in the Middle East. Another son of the former prime minister served as Lebanon’s prime minister from 2009 to 2011.
But by the summer of 2013, when Egypt’s military forcibly removed the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, Ms. Dunne soon realized there were limits to her independence. After she signed a petition and testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging the United States to suspend military aid to Egypt, calling Mr. Morsi’s ouster a “military coup,” Bahaa Hariri called the Atlantic Council to complain, executives with direct knowledge of the events said.
Ms. Dunne declined to comment on the matter. But four months after the call, Ms. Dunne left the Atlantic Council.
In an interview, Mr. Kempe said he had never taken any action on behalf of Mr. Hariri to try to modify positions that Ms. Dunne or her colleagues took. Ms. Dunne left, he said, in part because she wanted to focus on research, not managing others, as she was doing at the Atlantic Council.
“Differences she may have had with colleagues, management or donors on Middle Eastern issues — inevitable in such a fraught environment where opinions vary widely — don’t touch our fierce defense of individual experts’ intellectual independence,” Mr. Kempe said.
Ms. Dunne was replaced by Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., who served as United States ambassador to Egypt during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the longtime Egyptian military and political leader forced out of power at the beginning of the Arab Spring. Mr. Ricciardone, a career foreign service officer, had earlier been criticized by conservatives and human rights activists for being too deferential to the Mubarak government.
Scholars at other Washington think tanks, who were granted anonymity to detail confidential internal discussions, described similar experiences that had a chilling effect on their research and ability to make public statements that might offend current or future foreign sponsors. At Brookings, for example, a donor with apparent ties to the Turkish government suspended its support after a scholar there made critical statements about the country, sending a message, one scholar there said.
“It is the self-censorship that really affects us over time,” the scholar said. “But the fund-raising environment is very difficult at the moment, and Brookings keeps growing and it has to support itself.”
The sensitivities are especially important when it comes to the Qatari government — the single biggest foreign donor to Brookings.
Brookings executives cited strict internal policies that they said ensure their scholars’ work is “not influenced by the views of our funders,” in Qatar or in Washington. They also pointed to several reports published at the Brookings Doha Center in recent years that, for example, questioned the Qatari government’s efforts to revamp its education system or criticized the role it has played in supporting militants in Syria.
But in 2012, when a revised agreement was signed between Brookings and the Qatari government, the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself praised the agreement on its website, announcing that “the center will assume its role in reflecting the bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American ones.” Brookings officials also acknowledged that they have regular meetings with Qatari government officials about the center’s activities and budget, and that the former Qatar prime minister sits on the center’s advisory board.
Mr. Ali, who served as one of the first visiting fellows at the Brookings Doha Center after it opened in 2009, said such a policy, though unwritten, was clear.
“There was a no-go zone when it came to criticizing the Qatari government,” said Mr. Ali, who is now a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia. “It was unsettling for the academics there. But it was the price we had to pay.”
A think tank or policy institute, research institute, etc. is an organization that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Most policy institutes are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax exempt status. Other think tanks are funded by governments, advocacy groups, or businesses, or derive revenue from consulting or research work related to their projects.
The following article lists global policy institutes according to continental categories, and then sub-categories by country within those areas. These listings are not comprehensive, given that more than 6,800 think tanks exist worldwide.
While the term “think tank” with its present sense originated in the 1950s, such organizations date to the 19th century. The Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) was founded in 1831 in London. The Fabian Society in Britain dates from 1884.
The oldest American think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1910 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie charged trustees to use the fund to “hasten the abolition of international war, the foulest blot upon our civilization.” The Brookings Institution was founded shortly thereafter in 1916 by Robert S. Brookings and was conceived as a bipartisan “research center modeled on academic institutions and focused on addressing the questions of the federal government.” 
After 1945, the number of policy institutes increased, as many small new ones were formed to express various issue and policy agendas. Until the 1940s, most think tanks were known only by the name of the institution. During the Second World War, think tanks were often referred to as “brain boxes” after the slang term for skull. The phrase “think tank” in wartime American slang referred to rooms where strategists discussed war planning. Later the term “think tank” was used to refer to organizations that offered military advice—such as, perhaps most notably, the RAND Corporation, founded originally in 1946 as an offshoot of Douglas Aircraft Corporation, and which became an independent corporation in 1948.
For most of the 20th century, independent public policy institutes that performed research and provided advice concerning public policy were found primarily in the United States, with a much smaller number in Canada, the UK and Western Europe. Although think tanks existed in Japan for some time, they generally lacked independence, having close associations with government ministries or corporations. There has been a veritable proliferation of “think tanks” around the world that began during the 1980s as a result of globalization, the end of the Cold War, and the emergence of transnational problems. Two-thirds of all the think tanks that exist today were established after 1970 and more than half were established since 1980.
The effect of globalization on the proliferation of think tanks is most evident in regions such as Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia, where there was a concerted effort by the international community to assist in the creation of independent public policy research organizations. A recent survey performed by the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program underscores the significance of this effort and documents the fact that most of the think tanks in these regions have been established during the last 10 years. Presently there are more than 4,500 of these institutions around the world. Many of the more established think tanks, having been created during the Cold War, are focused on international affairs, security studies, and foreign policy.
Also see the United Nations Development Programme definition.
Think tanks vary by ideological perspectives, sources of funding, topical emphasis and prospective consumers. Some think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, which promotes conservative principles, and the Center for American Progress, a progressive organization, are more partisan in purpose. Others, including the Tellus Institute, which emphasizes social and environmental topics, are more issue-oriented groups. Still others, such as the Cato Institute, promote libertarian social and economic theories based on Friedrich von Hayek‘s idea of free markets and individual liberty.
Funding sources and the consumers intended also define the workings of think tanks. Some receive direct government assistance, while others rely on private individual or corporate donors. This will invariably affect the degree of academic freedom within each policy institute and to whom or what the institution feels beholden. Funding may also represent who or what the institution wants to influence; in the United States, for example, “Some donors want to influence votes in Congress or shape public opinion, others want to position themselves or the experts they fund for future government jobs, while others want to push specific areas of research or education.”
A new trend, resulting from globalization, is collaboration between policy institutes in different countries. For instance, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace operates offices in Washington, D.C., Beijing, Beirut, Brussels and Moscow.
The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania annually rates policy institutes worldwide in a number of categories and presents its findings in the “Global Go-To Think Tanks” rating index. However, this method of the study and assessment of policy institutes has been criticised by researchers such as Enrique Mendizabal and Goran Buldioski, Director of the Think Tank Fund, assisted by the Open Society Institute.
Several authors have indicated a number of different methods of describing policy institutes in a way that takes into account regional and national variations. For example:
- Independent civil society think tanks established as non-profit organisations –ideologically identifiable or not
- Policy research institutes affiliated with a university.
- Governmentally created or state sponsored think tanks.
- Corporate created or business affiliated think tanks.
- Political party think tanks and legacy or personal think tanks.
- Global (or regional) think tanks (with some of the above)
Alternatively, one could use some of the following criteria:
- Size and focus: e.g. large and diversified, large and specialised, small and specialised.
- Evolution of stage of development: e.g. first (small), second (small to large but more complex projects), and third (larger and policy influence) stages.
- Strategy, including: Funding sources (individuals, corporations, foundations, donors/governments, endowments, sales/events) and business model (independent research, contract work, advocacy); The balance between research, consultancy, and advocacy; The source of their arguments: Ideology, values or interests; applied, empirical or synthesis research; or theoretical or academic research (Stephen Yeo); The manner in which the research agenda is developed—by senior members of the think tank or by individual researchers, or by the think tank of their funders; Their influencing approaches and tactics (many researchers but an interesting one comes from Abelson) and the time horizon for their strategies: long term and short term mobilisation; Their various audiences of the think tanks (audiences as consumers and public -this merits another blog; soon) (again, many authors, but Zufeng provides a good framework for China); and Affiliation, which refers to the issue of independence (or autonomy) but also includes think tanks with formal and informal links to political parties, interest groups and other political players.
Advocacy by think tanks
In some cases, corporate interests and political groups have found it useful to create policy institutes, advocacy organizations, and think tanks. For example, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition was formed in the mid-1990s to dispute research finding an association between second-hand smoke and cancer. According to an internal memorandum from Philip Morris Companies referring to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The credibility of the EPA is defeatable, but not on the basis of ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] alone,… It must be part of a larger mosaic that concentrates all the EPA’s enemies against it at one time.”
According to the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, both left-wing and right-wing policy institutes are often quoted and rarely identified as such. The result is that think tank “experts” are sometimes depicted as neutral sources without any ideological predispositions when, in fact, they represent a particular perspective. In the United States, think tank publications on education are subjected to expert review by the National Education Policy Center‘s “Think Twice” think tank review project.
A policy institute is often a “tank“, in the intellectual sense: discussion only in a sheltered group protected from outside influence isolates the participants, subjects them to several cognitive biases (groupthink, confirmation bias) and fosters members’ existing beliefs. This results in surprisingly radical and even unfeasible ideas being published. Many think tanks, however, purposefully attempt to alleviate this problem by selecting members from diverse backgrounds.
A 2014 New York Times report asserted that foreign governments buy influence at many United States think tanks. According to the article: “More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities.”
Think tanks in the United States
As the classification is most often used today, the oldest American think tank is the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, founded in 1910. The Institute for Government Research, which later merged with two organizations to form the Brookings Institution, was formed in 1916. Other early twentieth century organizations now classified as think tanks include the Hoover Institution (1919), The Twentieth Century Fund (1919, and now known as the Century Foundation), the National Bureau of Economic Research (1920), the Council on Foreign Relations (1921), and the Social Science Research Council (1923). The Great Depression and its aftermath spawned several economic policy organizations, such as the National Planning Association (1934), the Tax Foundation (1937), and the Committee for Economic Development (1943).
In collaboration with the Douglas Aircraft Company, the Air Force set up the RAND Corporation in 1946 to develop weapons technology and strategic defense analysis.
More recently, progressive and liberal think tanks have been established, most notably the Center for American Progress. The organization has close ties to U.S. President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats. In 2002,a French economist, Dr Gerard Pince, founded the Free World Academy well known for its entrepreneurship program.
Think tanks help shape both foreign and domestic policy. They receive funding from private donors, and members of private organizations. By 2013, the largest 21 think tanks in the US spent more than $1 billion per year. Think tanks may feel more free to propose and debate controversial ideas than people within government. The progressive media watchgroup Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has identified the top 25 think tanks by media citations, noting that from 2006 to 2007 the number of citations declined 17%. The FAIR report reveals the ideological breakdown of the citations: 37% conservative, 47% centrist, and 16% liberal. Their data show that the most-cited think tank was the Brookings Institution, followed by the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Government think tanks are also important in the United States, particularly in the security and defense field. These include the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Institute for Homeland Security Studies, and the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, at the National Defense University; the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College and the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.
The government funds, wholly or in part, activities at approximately 30 Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). FFRDCs, are unique independent nonprofit entities sponsored and funded by the U.S. government to meet specific long-term technical needs that cannot be met by any other single organization. FFRDCs typically assist government agencies with scientific research and analysis, systems development, and systems acquisition. They bring together the expertise and outlook of government, industry, and academia to solve complex technical problems. These FFRDCs include the RAND Corporation, the MITRE Corporation, the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Aerospace Corporation, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and other organizations supporting various departments within the U.S. Government.
Similar to the above quasi-governmental organizations are Federal Advisory Committees. These groups, sometimes referred to as commissions, are a form of think tank dedicated to advising the US Presidents or the Executive branch of government. They typically focus on a specific issue and as such, might be considered similar to special interest groups. However, unlike special interest groups these committees have come under some oversight regulation and are required to make formal records available to the public. Approximately 1,000 these advisory committees are described in the FACA searchable database. 
List of think tanks in the United States
A searchable database of think tank articles can be found at Think Bank.
- Acton Institute
- Alexis de Tocqueville Institution
- Allegheny Institute for Public Policy
- American Action Forum
- American Civil Rights Union
- American Enterprise Institute
- American Foreign Policy Council
- American Institute for Economic Research
- American–Iranian Council
- American Israel Public Affairs Committee
- American Security Council Foundation
- Americans for the Arts
- Analysis Group
- Askew Institute on Politics and Society
- Aspen Institute
- Atlantic Council
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation
- Battelle Memorial Institute
- Beacon Hill Institute
- Bipartisan Policy Center
- Bradley Foundation
- Brookings Institution
- The Buckeye Institute
- Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Cascade Policy Institute
- Cato Institute
- Center for a New American Security
- Center for Advanced Defense Studies
- Center for American Progress
- Center for an Urban Future
- Center for Defense Information
- Center for Economic and Policy Research
- Center for Ethical Solutions
- Center for Excellence in Higher Education
- Center for Freedom and Prosperity
- Center for Global Development
- Center for Governmental Research
- Center for Governmental Studies
- Center for Immigration Studies
- Center for International Policy
- Center for Media and Democracy
- Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement
- Center for National Policy
- Center for Public Integrity
- Center for Public Justice
- Center for Security Policy
- Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
- Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Center for the National Interest (The Nixon Center)
- Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Center on Global Interests
- The Century Foundation
- Claremont Institute
- Committee for Economic Development
- Committee on the Present Danger
- Commonwealth Institute
- Competitive Enterprise Institute
- Concord Coalition
- The Conference Board
- Constitution Project
- Corporation for Enterprise Development
- Council on Competitiveness
- Council on Foreign Relations
- Council on Hemispheric Affairs
- Discovery Institute
- Drum Major Institute
- EastWest Institute
- Economic Opportunity Institute
- Economic Policy Institute
- Employment Policies Institute
- Foreign Policy Initiative
- Foreign Policy Research Institute
- Foundation for Defense of Democracies
- Foundation for Economic Education
- Foundation for Excellence in Education
- Foundation for Rational Economics and Education
- Fusion Energy Foundation
- Future of American Democracy Foundation
- Gatestone Institute
- General Electric EdgeLab
- German Marshall Fund of the United States
- GTRI Office of Policy Analysis and Research
- Global Development and Environment Institute
- Global Financial Integrity
- Global Trade Watch
- Goldwater Institute
- Group of Thirty
- The Hampton Institute
- Hastings Center
- The Heartland Institute
- Henry L. Stimson Center
- The Heritage Foundation
- Hoover Institution
- Hudson Institute
- India, China & America Institute
- Independence Institute
- The Independent Institute
- Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
- Institute for Collaborative Engagement
- Institute for Policy Studies
- Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
- Institute for Women’s Policy Research
- Inter-American Dialogue
- International Center for Research on Women
- International Intellectual Property Institute
- J Street*
- James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
- James Madison Institute
- Jamestown Foundation
- John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy
- Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
- Justice Research Association
- Kansas Policy Institute
- Keck Institute for Space Studies
- Levy Economics Institute
- Lexington Institute
- Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
- Ludwig von Mises Institute
- Mackinac Center for Public Policy
- Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
- Mercatus Center at George Mason University
- Middle East Forum
- Migration Policy Institute
- Milken Institute
- National Bureau of Asian Research
- National Bureau of Economic Research
- National Center for Policy Analysis
- National Endowment for Democracy
- National Policy Institute
- National Security Network
- New America Foundation
- New Democrat Network
- New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI)
- New Teacher Center
- Oklahoma Policy Institute
- Oregon Center for Public Policy
- Pacific Institute
- Pacific Research Institute
- Peterson Institute for International Economics
- Pew Research Center
- Philadelphia Society
- Pioneer Institute
- Policy Matters Ohio
- Political and Economic Research Council (PERC)
- Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
- Progressive Policy Institute
- Project 2049 Institute
- Project for the New American Century
- Public Citizen
- RAND Corporation
- Reason Foundation
- The Reform Institute
- Resources for the Future
- Ripon Society
- Rockford Institute
- Rockridge Institute
- Rocky Mountain Institute
- Roosevelt Institute Campus Network
- RTI International (Research Triangle Institute)
- Santa Fe Institute
- Seven Pillars Institute
- Show-Me Institute
- Social Science Research Council
- South Asian Center for Reintegration and Independent Research
- SRI International
- Strategic Studies Institute
- Streit Council for a Union of Democracies
- Taos Institute
- Tax Foundation
- Tellus Institute
- Texas Public Policy Foundation
- Third Way
- Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- The Urban Energy Policy Institute
- Urban Institute
- Urban Land Institute
- United States Institute of Peace
- Washington Institute for Near East Policy
- W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
- Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
- World Affairs Council
- World Resources Institute
Canada has many think tanks (listed in no particular order). Each has their specific areas of interest with some overlaps:
- Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
- Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
- Broadbent Institute
- Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute
- C.D Howe Institute
- Centre for International Governance Innovation
- The Conference of Defence Associations
- Conference Board of Canada
- Caledon Institute of Social Policy
- Council of Canadians
- Canada West Foundation
- Franco-Canadian Research Centre
- Fraser Institute
- Frontier Centre for Public Policy
- Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
- Institute for Public Economics
- Canadian Council on Social Development
- Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques
- Institute for Research on Public Policy
- Institute on Governance
- Canadian Employment Research Forum
- International Institute for Sustainable Development
- International Justice Institute
- International Policy Forum
- Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
- Manning Foundation
- Montreal Economic Institute
- Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation
- North-South Institute
- Canadian International Council
- Parkland Institute
- Canadian Labour and Business Centre
- Pembina Institute
- Public Policy Forum
- Canadian Tax Foundation
- Western Centre for Economic Research
- Centre for Trade Policy and Law
- Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
- Institute for Quantum Computing
Note: The Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) is a Canadian think-tank that has disbanded.
CIDE is one of the most important think tank institutes. The researching lines are the “public policies”, “public choice”, “democracy”, and “economy”.
CIDAC – The Center of Research for Development (Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, Asociación Civil) is a not-for-profit think tank that undertakes research and proposes viable policy options for Mexico’s economic and democratic development. The organization seeks to promote open, pluralistic debate pursuing: the Rule of Law & Democracy, market economics, social development, and strengthening Mexico-U.S. relations.
CIEP – The Economic and Budgeting Research Center (Centro de Investigacion Economica y Presupuestaria) is a non-governmental organization which main goal is to influence the development of public economics through formal analysis and research. It is composed of experts in economic and budgetary issues, that with, technical criteria, plural ideas and no partisan agenda, pursue a well informed society that comprehends government decisions on use and allocation of public resources.
In the People’s Republic of China a number of think tanks are sponsored by governmental agencies, like Development Research Center of the State Council, but still retain sufficient non-official status to be able to propose and debate ideas more freely. In January 2012, the first non-official think-tank in China, South Non-Governmental Think-Tank, was established in Guangdong province. In 2009 the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, described as “China’s top think tank,” was founded.
In Hong Kong, those early think tanks established in the late 1980s and early 1990s focused on the political development including first direct Legislative Council members election in 1991 and the political framework of “One Country, Two Systems” manifested in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. After the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997, more and more think tanks were established by various groups of intellectuals and professionals. They have various missions and objectives including promoting civic education; undertaking research on economic social and political policies; promoting “public understanding of and participation in the political, economic, and social development of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region“.
According to the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Russia has 112 think tanks, while Russian think tanks claimed four of the top ten spots in 2011’s “Top Thirty Think Tanks in Central and Eastern Europe”.
Notable Russian think tanks include:
- Analytical Center for the Government of the Russian Federation
- Carnegie Moscow Center
- Institute of World Economy and International Relations
- Moscow State Institute of International Relations
- Center for Economic and Financial Research
- Institute for US and Canadian Studies
- Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (Russian)
- Independent Institute for Social Policy
Working on public policies, Brazil hosts, for example, Instituto Liberdade, a University-based Center at Tecnopuc inside the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, located in the South Region of the country, in the city of Porto Alegre. Instituto Liberdade is among the Top 40 think tanks in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the 2009 Global Go To Think Tanks Index  a report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP).
Fundação Getulio Vargas (Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV or GV)) is a Brazilian higher education institution founded on December 20, 1944. It offers regular courses of Economics, Business Administration, Law, Social Sciences and Information technology management. Its original goal was to train people for the country’s public- and private-sector management. Other courses began to be offered as the institution grew. It is considered by Foreign Policy magazine to be a top-5 “policymaker think-tank” worldwide. The Igarapé Institute is a respected Brazilian think tank focusing on public security and policing.
India has the fifth largest number of think tanks in the world. Many are based in New Delhi, and a few are government sponsored. A number of these work on foreign policy and security issues. There are few think tanks like Centre for Civil Society who promote liberal social and economic ideas and others like the Rakshak Foundation, who encourage students to do empirical research and gain first hand experience in public policy issues. Think tanks with a development focus are those like the National Centre for Cold-chain Development (‘NCCD’) which serve to bring inclusive policy change by supporting the Planning Commission and related government bodies with industry specific inputs – in this case set up at the behest of the government to direct cold chain development. Other think tanks in India could be privately organisations with voluntary contributions from mutli-disciplinary professionals and academic or industry leaders.
By way of total number, India is ranked 4th with 269 think tanks. However, no Indian think tank appeared in University of Pennsylvania‘s “Global 50 annual list for 2012”. Indian think tanks face several challenges such as — insufficient funding, lack of skilled staff and limited support from the government. Very few think tanks can afford a heavy investment in computing infrastructure. For example, a single user licence for the TIMES suite, a popular energy modelling software, costs over Rs 10 lakh ($18,000). Since Government departments are often reluctant to share data they collect, access to quality data is difficult. Although the Right to Information Act addresses this to some extent, it is still a time-consuming process for obtaining data.
Initiatives such as National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) ( to ensure systemic and semantic consistency of data collection and data sharing), National e-Governance Plan (to automate administrative processes) and National Knowledge Network (NKN) (for data and resource sharing amongst education and research institutions), if implemented properly, should help improve the quality of work done by think tanks.
- N.P. van Wyk Louw-sentrum (Afrikaans)
- Idasa: Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, and Alex Borain.
- FW de Klerk Foundation
- South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)
- South African Institute of Race Relations
- Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
- Centre for Development and Enterprise
- Helen Suzman Foundation
- Free Market Foundation
- sbp Business Environment Specialists
- Good Governance Africa
- Institute for Security Studies
- Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa
- Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection
- Shaharit: The Think Tank for New Israeli Politics
- Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS)
- Neaman Institute
- Reut Institute
- Israel Council on Foreign Relations
- The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
- Adva Center
- Israel Democracy Institute
- The Institute for National Security Studies
- The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies
- The Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute
- The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel
- The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
- AIX Group-Joint Palestinian-Israeli-International Economic Working Group
- Floersheimer Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- International Institute for Counter-Terrorism – IDC Herziliya
- Israel Center for Third Sector Research, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
- IPCRI – Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
- The Milken Institute
- Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University
- The Shalom Hartman Institute
- The Begin-Sadat Center – Bar Ilan University
- The Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- The Institute for Advanced Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- The Jewish Arab Center (JAC), University of Haifa
- The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI)
- The Maurice Falk Institute for Economic Research in Israel, The Hebrew University
- The Shalem Center
- Institute for National Security Studies, affiliated with Tel Aviv University.