Susan Thornton


Diplomacy, East Asia, Russia and Central Asia


Susan Thornton recently joined Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center as a Senior Fellow following a distinguished 28-year career at the Department of State. Thornton was Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the first 18 months of the Trump administration and led East Asia policy-making amid crises with North Korea, escalating trade tensions with China, and a generally deteriorating environment in the United States for international economic and diplomatic engagement. She was the architect of the diplomatic pressure campaign on the North Korean regime, structured the administration’s initial approach to China, and developed the administration’s trademark Indo-Pacific Strategy.

In previous leadership roles in Washington, Thornton worked on China and Korea policy, including stabilizing relations with Taiwan, the U.S.-China Cyber Agreement, the Paris Climate Accord and led a successful negotiation in Pyongyang for monitoring of the Agreed Framework on denuclearization.

In her 18 years of overseas postings in Central Asia, Russia, the Caucasus and China, Thornton’s leadership furthered U.S. interests and influence and maintained programs and mission morale in a host of difficult operating environments. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, she was among the first State Department Fascell Fellows and served from 1989–90 at the U.S. Consulate in Leningrad. She was also a researcher at the Foreign Policy Institute from 1987–91.


Thornton received her M.A. in International Relations and Soviet Studies from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1991 and earned an M.S. in National Strategy and Resource Management at the National Defense University’s Eisenhower School in 2010. Thornton graduated with a B.A. from Bowdoin College in Economics and Russian in 1985, and taught in international secondary schools in Brussels, London, and Chile. She speaks Russian, Mandarin Chinese and French, is a member of numerous professional associations and is on the Board of Trustees for the Eurasia Foundation. Thornton is married with three grown children and likes to spend as much time as possible outdoors, especially on her farm in Lisbon, Maine.




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