Top 10 Security Think Tanks worldwide

by Emilio V., January 16, 2021


The world is chaotic. The 21st century has proved itself as a very complicated one so far. International institutions and national actors struggle to keep up with it globally. The range of threats covers traditional displays of force, such as military power, economic coercion, and ethnic, religious, and ideological conflicts.

However, non-traditional pressures such as food security, state stability, environmental degradation, infectious diseases, climate change, and non-state actors’ activities became long-standing issues in the last years.

Hence, international security has been an enduring concept observing first states’ actions and later by international organizations to guarantee mutual survival and safety. According to Barry Buzan, international security should be framed as a “study of threats, but also a study of which threats can be tolerated and which require immediate action.“

To enrich the debate in the media and public discourse, an increasing number of think tanks worldwide have focused their attention on these threats, studying the phenomena influencing the possibility and probability of conflict within states, political actors, and communities.

We took it upon ourselves to sieve through the organizations engaged in this crowded field. Hence, we had a look at some of the most important actors according to the 2019 Global Go-To Think Tank Index made by the University of Pennsylvania along with The Lauder Institute as a capstone publication of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP)

Its ranking is often influenced by biases, reduced through a practice-proved methodology in constant revision. The 2019 report’s selection followed a three-round process with an open call for nominations, peer & expert rankings, and an ensuing expert panel selection among the finalists’ list.

Nonetheless, even when the TTCSP’s database contains 8,248 think tanks, only a few were selected as the most significant security think tanks due to their research and policy work.  These are the ten leading think tanks in alphabetical order:

Atlantic Council (United States)

An American “Atlanticist” think tank in the field of international affairs.
It “provides a forum for international political, business, and intellectual leaders,” managing ten regional centers and functional programs related to international security and global economic prosperity.

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (United States)

A research center assessing demanding threats to US national interests and international security in the quarter-century ahead.
Since the early 1990s, the International Security Program has led an international effort to recognize the threat of terror, analyze its causes, and recommend what the US should do to prevent and fight it.

Brookings Institution (United States)

An international think tank seeks to conduct high-quality, independent research and provide innovative, practical recommendations that strengthen US democracy, foster economic and social welfare of all Americans, and secure “a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system.”.
It currently brings together more than 300 leading experts in government and academia from all over the world.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (United States)

A network of policy research centers in Russia, China, Europe, the Middle East, India, and the United States seeking to advance peace through analysis and development of policy ideas and direct engagement and collaboration with decision-makers in government, business, and civil society. 

Center for a New American Security (CNAS) (United States)

A bipartisan, nonprofit organization developing national security and defense policies. They engage policymakers, experts, and the public with “fact-based research, ideas, and analysis to shape and elevate the national security debate.” A crucial part of their “mission is to inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.”

European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) (France)

It is the “Union’s agency dealing with the analysis of foreign, security and defense policy issues.” It aims to “support the elaboration and projection of its foreign policy, and enrich the strategic debate inside and outside Europe.” In doing so, it also “acts as an interface between European experts and decision-makers at all levels.”

International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) (United Kingdom)

A non-partisan institute advancing a broader understanding of critical 21st-century security issues and their possible resolution. Among its policy themes are climate change and security, Arctic climate change and security, geo-economics, non-proliferation and disarmament, security and development, and transnational threats.
Provides information and analysis, advances understanding, enlarges networks, and influences the adoption of sound policies on security globally.

National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) (Japan)

It is the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s core policy research arm.
Conducts research and studies with a policy orientation while also serving as a strategic college-level educational institution for training high-level officers of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Thus, it “engages in such activities as the administration of military and naval documents, records and publications, and is considered to be the nation’s foremost military history research center.”

RAND Corporation (United States)

A nonprofit institution improving policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. It works “with decision-makers in both the public and private sectors to find solutions to today’s difficult, sensitive, and important problems.” For instance, some of its research areas are nuclear policy, strategic studies, deterrence, and military capabilities.

Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) (United Kingdom)

A British independent think tank striving” to generate national and free-thinking debate on issues of security and defense.”
In particular, RUSI offers its members “exclusive access to the UK’s premier forum on defense and security” as well as a wealth of publications and events providing “authoritative analysis, insight, and networks.” Its expertise “has been utilized by governments, parliament and other key stakeholders.”

Conclusion

Security threats exist no matter the sector of society you belong to. Thus, after the end of the Cold War, the concern about the world’s unpredictability is no longer statecraft but a public agenda issue. 

Think tanks are public-policy organizations building bridges between the academic and policymaking communities through policy-oriented research, advocacy, and grassroots actions.

They reduce the distance between states and civil society by democratizing specialized knowledge into an understandable, reliable, and accessible language for all audiences.

If security must study the tolerance to threats and the actions to account for it, then it has become no longer an issue to be left to academia and the government but is now an affair to deal with as responsible, informed, and organized citizens thanks to the broader political debate offered by Thinks Tanks.