Deana Arsenian, Carnegie Corporation of New York

TITLE: Vice President, International Program; Program Director, Russia and Eurasia

FUNDING AREAS: International security and higher education (Russia and Eurasia)

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IP TAKE: Arsenian has a strong voice when it comes to international policy reform, and she uses it to facilitate policy scholarship—i.e., the “brains” behind peacekeeping and state-building.

PROFILE: Fostering peaceful civil societies in troubled corners of the world requires leaders and doers, but it has a need for thinkers, too. As a high-ranking decision-maker on grant giving at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Deana Arsenian directs considerable amounts of fiscal support to the academics and scholars who author the reports, strategic visions, and analyses that international development programs across the world count on for guidance as they go about the heavy lifting of peace keeping and state building.

Arsenian holds two major positions at Carnegie: Vice President of the foundation's International Program, where she handles international security issues, and Program Director for the Russia and Eurasia program, where she oversees security and higher education matters. In each role, and as evidenced by her grantmaking, she makes think tanks and universities her first and foremost beneficiaries, along with some international development-focused nonprofits.

Like the rest of Carnegie’s leadership team, Arsenian awards a large number of grants to "core institutions," Carnegie’s term for the institutions that research policy and formulate innovative ideas and strategies for collaboration. The overarching goal is to strengthen Carnegie's relationships with, well, everyone—including the public and foreign governments.

The grants come in all sizes. Some are as small as the $25,000 that Citizens to Stop Nuclear Terrorism received for a campaign to mobilize businesses to anticipate risks of nuclear terrorist attacks. Others run as high as the $800,000 award that the Aspen Institute received for its Congressional Program, which hosts events that bring research specialists into the same room as members of the U.S. House and Senate for joint discussions. That particular grant’s focus was dialogue on radical Islam.

Controlling nuclear weapons and preventing further nuclear proliferation remain areas of prominent concern for Arsenian, as evidenced by the numerous nuclear security-related awards her office gives out each year. The aforementioned grant to Citizens to Stop Nuclear Terrorism is one example. A $500,000 grant to Fund for Peace Inc. to finance academic research on at-risk states and strategies for aiding them is another. Her organization has also awarded $350,000 to Princeton University for research into controlling fissile material and nuclear energy and $600,000 to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for a nuclear nonproliferation initiative. It’s worth noting here that from 1983 to 1990, years before Arsenian took up her present day roles at Carnegie, she was program officer for Carnegie’s Avoiding Nuclear War Program.

In 1990, she left her first stint at Carnegie to become the assistant director of the Center for Foreign Policy Development at Brown University (which later merged with the Watson Institute for International Studies). So she has a first-hand respect and understanding for the work that happens within academic institutions, not just an administratively intellectual one.

The U.S.-Soviet Cold War that occupied Arsenian's working days back in the 1980s is long over, of course, but the region’s new security issues retain her attention. In a December 2012 commentary, she publicly called out Russian president Vladimir Putin for the restrictions and heightened scrutiny that he imposes on international nonprofits operating within Russian territory. Putin, she wrote, has “lost sight of the value of international cooperation,” and may be undercutting his country’s long-term development potential:

A self-reliant, self-confident, transparent, strong, and engaged Russia is in the interest of not only Russia’s leaders, but also of the foreign-funded organizations that have made such valuable contributions to its development. The government’s punitive approach to those who care deeply about Russia’s future undermines this vision.

Obviously, she counts herself among those who care about Russia’s future. That’s why she penned the piece in the first place. That also may be a factor in Carnegie having awarded each one of the following in recent years: 

  • $300,000 to George Washington University for a bipartisan working group on nuclear security and missile defense, U.S.-Iran relations, and U.S.-Russia relations 
  • $751,000—also to George Washington University—for research and policy forums on Eurasia 
  • $1.5 million to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow Center, based in Russia’s capital   

Peace building programs in general have her support. Some of her awards fund scholarship for conflict resolution everywhere, with no specific region in mind at all. Among these are a $2 million grant to George Washington University to fund any and all international relations research endeavors at the university’s Elliott School of International Affairs; and a $418,700 grant to New York University for research and dialogue on the impact of international institutions on at-risk states.

Still other awards hone in on hotspots well beyond Russia and the former Soviet Union. Her office has given George Mason University $500,000 for a project to enhance publicly engaged scholarship in the Arab world, for instance. And it’s awarded Princeton University $295,400 for an assessment of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban future. China initiatives have benefited, too: The Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy gained a $1.8 million grant from Carnegie.