Thomas G. Weiss

Thomas G. Weiss photo

Research Interests

  • international organizations and global governance


  • Ph.D. Princeton University

Thomas G. Weiss (born 1946) is a distinguished scholar of international relations and global governance with special expertise in the politics of the United Nations. Since 1998 he has been Presidential Professor at The Graduate Center, CUNY (The City University of New York), and is Director Emeritus of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies. He is also Co-Chair, Cultural Heritage at Risk Project, J. Paul Getty Trust; Distinguished Fellow, Global Governance, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; and Global Eminence Scholar, Kyung Hee University, Korea.

He is “one of the leading experts on the theory and practice of humanitarian intervention,” and is recognized as an authority on international organizations and the United Nations system. Weiss adheres to the constructivist school, and advocates a position for intergovernmental organizations that goes beyond the anarchy of inter-state relations. He initiated the UN Intellectual History Project in 1999 to trace the origins and the evolution of key ideas about international economic and social development nurtured under UN auspices. As a norm entrepreneur, Weiss introduced the idea of the “Third United Nations,” and directed the research team that popularized the concept of Responsibility to Protect. A firm believer in R2P, Weiss has shown in numerous works that a well-grounded interpretation of sovereignty does not preclude intervention in the face of mass atrocities. His oral history transcript is available on the UN Intellectual History Project website.


Thomas Weiss, Larry Minear and George Lopez eds., Political Gain and Civilian Pain (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997).

The use of sanctions is increasing in the post-Cold War world. Along with this increase, the international community must ask itself whether sanctions “work,” in the sense that they incite citizens to change or overthrow an offending government, and whether sanctions are really less damaging than the alternative of war. Here for the first time, sanctions and humanitarian aid experts converge on these questions and consider the humanitarian impacts of sanctions along with their potential political benefits. The results show that often the most vulnerable members of targeted societies pay the price of sanctions and that, in addition, the international system is called upon to compensate the victims for the undeniable pain they have suffered.

Thomas Weiss ed., Collective Security in a Changing World (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996).

A study commissioned by the World Peace Foundation and the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, Brown University. Updates a similar work published in 1991, to account for the increased strength of the United Nations as apparent in the war against Iraq, and the official demise of the Soviet Union.

Robert Rothberg and Thomas Weiss ed., From Massacres to Genocide: The Media, Humanitarian Crises, and Policy-Making (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1996).

Human suffering on a large scale is a continuing threat to world peace. Several dozen gruesome civil wars disturb global order and jar our collective conscience each year. The 50 million people displaced by current complex humanitarian emergencies overwhelm the ability of the post-Cold War world to understand and cope with genocide, ethnic cleansing, massacres, and other inhumane acts. Greater public awareness of how much is at stake and how much more costly it is to act later rather than sooner can be a critical element in stemming the proliferation of these tragedies. The media play an increasingly crucial role in publicizing humanitarian crises, and advances in technology have intensified the immediacy of their reports. Because the world is watching as events unfold, policymakers are under great pressure to respond rapidly. Close cooperation between international relief agencies and the media is thus essential to help prevent or contain the humanitarian emergencies that threaten to overwhelm the world’s capacity to care and assist. The authors of this book – all prominent in the fields of disaster relief, journalism, government policymaking, and academia – show how influential well-informed and well-developed media attention has become in forming policies to resolve ethnic and religious conflict and humanitarian crises. The authors argue that the media and humanitarians can collaborate effectively to alter both the attitudes of the public and the actions of policymakers regarding ethnic conflict and humanitarian crises.

Thomas Weiss ed., Humanitarian Emergencies and Military Help in Africa (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990).

Evaluates the potential of utilizing the art of peacekeeping in the support of often-beleaguered and frustrated humanitarian relief efforts during armed conflicts, with case studies of peacekeeping operations in the Congo, Chad, and Zimbabwe and of humanitarian efforts in the Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.

Thomas Weiss, Multilateral Development, Diplomacy in UNCTAD: The Lessons of Group Negotiations, 1964-1984 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986).

There has been very little critical analysis of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of international economic negotiations. This book therefore fills a yawning gap in the literature. Written by a long-term observer of international organizations and a UN staff member for over ten years, it is nevertheless an unbiased study from personal viewpoint. Neither a history of nor an apology for UNCTAD, it analyzes what happens (and does not happen) during intergovernmental bargaining, giving selected examples. It further puts forward proposals that could change the direction of the secretariat’s work.