Sarah Sewall

Sarah Sewall

Speyer Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar | Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs
American Foreign Policy

BOB 520A, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW


  • American Foreign Policy
  • Conflict Prevention
  • Counterterrorism and Preventing Violent Extremism
  • Democracy, Governance, Rule of Law
  • Diplomacy
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian Crises
  • International Humanitarian Law
  • International Security
  • Military Power and Strategy
  • Peacekeeping and Stabilization
  • Refugees and Migration

Background and Education

Sarah Sewall is the Speyer Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs. Her career in academia and government combines international security and civilian protection. Her research analyzes normative change processes and her policy work has helped infuse civilian protection into official institutions and practices. 
Sewall most recently served as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights (2014–2017). She was responsible for counterterrorism, refugees and migration, international justice and law enforcement programs, human rights, human trafficking, and conflict prevention. Her priorities for the Under Secretariat’s seven bureaus and offices were: expanding US counterterrorism efforts to address rights, governance, and development; improving the State Department’s analytic and programmatic conflict prevention capabilities; and advancing the rule of law/anticorruption policy and practice.

Previously, Sewall taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for over a decade. She also directed the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and was Minerva Chair at the U.S. Naval War College. Through her research and partnership with the U.S. military she helped make protecting civilians central to revised U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine; created an operational guide—later adopted as U.S. Army doctrine—to halt mass atrocities; led the first comprehensive assessment of how U.S. forces mitigate civilian casualties based on collaborative field research in Afghanistan 2009–2010; and analyzed challenges in civil-military relations in a publication that became required reading for incoming general officers.

During the Clinton Administration, Sewall served in the Defense Department as the inaugural Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping, where she established a U.S. peacekeeping office and advised the Secretary of Defense on peace operations and humanitarian assistance. Prior to DOD, she served for six years as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and designee to the bipartisan Senate Arms Control Observer Group.
She is the author of Chasing Success: Air Force Efforts to Reduce Civilian Harm (2016); Mass Atrocity Response Operations: A Military Planning Handbook (2010); Parameters of Partnership: U.S. Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century with John P.  White (2000); and editor, with Carl Kaysen, of The United States and the International Criminal Court: National Security and International Law (2009). She defined the field of civilian protection in the Handbook of Global Security Policy (2014) and wrote the influential introduction to the University of Chicago Edition of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (2007).
Sewall has served on the Defense Policy Board and the boards of the Center for Naval Analysis, Oxfam America, Mission Essential Personnel, and other institutions.
Sewall received her AB from Harvard College, and her MPhil and DPhil from Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

2017-02-09 00:00:00 
Spring 2015