A think tank is an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research, typically funded by governmental and commercial clients, in the areas of social or political strategy, technology, and armament.
Etymology and usage
Until the 1940s, most think tanks were known only by the name of the institution. During the Second World War, think tanks were referred to as “brain boxes” after the slang term for the skull. The phrase “think tank” in wartime American slang referred to rooms in which strategists discussed war planning. The first recorded use of the phrase to refer to modern think tanks was in 1959, and by the 1960s the term was commonly used to describe groups assisting the armed forces. In recent times, the phrase “think tank” has become applied to a wide range of institutions, and there are no precise definitions of the term. Marketing or public relations organizations, especially of an international character, sometimes refer to themselves as think tanks, for example.
Types of think tanks
Some think tanks are clearly aligned with conservative or libertarian approaches to the economy (The Cato Institute, for example), while others, especially those with an emphasis on progressive social and environmental reforms (Tellus Institute, for example), are viewed as more liberal or left-of-center.
A new trend, resulting from globalisation, is collaboration between think tanks across continents. For instance, the Brookings Institution, Washington DC, collaborates with Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar for an initiative on West-Islam relations. Also, in the area of West-Islam relations, Strategic Foresight Group, a think tank based in India, works closely with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament. The World Economic Forum has created a Council of 100 Leaders on West-Islam relations, which brings together heads of major global think tanks ranging from Oxford Islamic Centre at Oxford University to Strategic Foresight Group, Observer Research Foundation, CSDS, Centre for Policy Research, ETC in Delhi of India and Al-Azhar University in Egypt.
United States think tanks
Think tanks in the United States play an important role in forming both foreign and domestic policy. Typically, an issue such as national missile defense will be debated within and among think tanks and the results of these debates will influence government policy makers. Think tanks may feel more free to propose and debate controversial ideas than people within government.
Government think tanks are also important in the United States, particularly in the security and defense field.
Chinese think tanks
In the People’s Republic of China a number of think tanks are sponsored by governmental agencies but still retain sufficient non-official status to be able to propose and debate ideas more freely. Indeed, most of the actual diplomacy between China and the United States has taken the form of academic exchanges between members of think tanks.
Hong Kong think tanks
After the return of sovereign to the Mainland China in 1997, more and more think tanks were established by various groups of intellectuals and professionals. They have various missions and objectives including promoting civic education; undertaking research on economic social and political policies ; promoting “public understanding of and participation in the political, economic, and social development “.
European think tanks
In Britain, think tanks play a similar role, attempting to shape policy, and indeed there is some cooperation between British and American think tanks.
In Germany all of the major parties are loosely associated with research foundations that play some role in shaping policy, but generally from the more disinterested role of providing research to support policymakers than explicitly proposing policy.
In Italy, in the Venices, the Venezie Institute is the first free-market think tank, founded in 2005. It aims to bring about institutional, social and economic changes in the Venices based on the traditional Venetian principles of free enterprise, institutional integrity, limited government and individual liberty. It is completely independent of any political party, religious or economic interest group. Its motto: “Pro Bono Publico”.
In Spain, think tanks are progressively raising their public profile. The More independent and also influential are the CIDOB founded in 1973; and FRIDE (Fundaciցn para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diոlogo Exterior) established in 1999 by Diego Hidalgo and main driving force behind projects such as the Club de Madrid, a group of democratic former heads of state and government (including Clinton, Gorbachev, Cardoso or Delors) who provide counsel to governments and institutions all over the world or the Foreign Policy Spanish Edition.
In Greece, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement(PASOK), is affiliated with the ‘Institute of Developing Policies, Andreas Papandreou.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Eastern Europe has seen a number of new think tanks arise and some of them are already playing a role in the forming of government policy.
Russian think tanks
Russian think tanks have experienced a precipitous decline over the past five years. Think tanks under the Soviet Union, analogous to their American counterparts, grew to play a significant role in strategic policy formation. During the era of glasnost, begun by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and continuing under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, public think tanks and policy organizations underwent a brief blooming. However, as economic problems intensified under Yeltsin, and political pressure on public organizations grew under President Vladimir Putin, most of the Russian think tanks have withered away while those who stood closer to Kremlin saw a recent revival.
Turkish think tanks
Think tanks in Turkey are relatively new business. Many of them are sister organisations of a political party or a company. University think tanks are not typical think tanks. Turkish think tanks provide research and ideas yet they play less important roles in policy making .Among the most important think tanks:
* SAREM (Ankara) is one of the more influential think-tanks in Turkey. It is close to Turkish Armed Forces. It has a well-connected network of individuals, and has members from both the military and Turkish academics.
* TESEV (Istanbul) is a liberal research center in Istanbul. Despite a great amount of influence and reach among the business elites and public opinion, it has a lesser affect on political circles.
* USAK (Ankara) In English, the organization calls itself International Strategic Research Organization, ISRO. On the website, it is claimed that “ISRO is not intended to be a forum for single-issue advocacy or lobbying.” It was established in 2004 and is an umbrella organization with 9 research centers. It is liberal and close to the Turkish diplomatic circles, military and political circles. Sponsored by the business community and member donations.
* SETA (Ankara) Established in 2006 and suspected of being close to the Turkish Government.
* ASAM (Ankara) Nationalist and militarist. Sponsored by the nationalist military circles and close to certain factions within the Turkish Armed Forces. The acronym stands for ‘Eurasia Strategic Research Center’ in Turkish.
* TASAM (Istanbul) stands for Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies
* TUSAM (Ankara) Leftist nationalist is the Strategic Research Center for National Security. It is close to the leftist, nationalist military circles.
* TEPAV (Ankara) Economic Policy Resarch Institute Established in 2004. Supported by The Union of Chambers of Turkey (TOBB). Working on economy, foreign policy and governance issues. Close to business world and has liberal way of thinking. It has a wide public following and some degree of policy influence.
Iranian think tanks
Econotrend is an Iranian thinktank headed by Seyed Muhammad Adeli. [ASEF] is the oldest think tank in Iran.
ICC’s -International Chamber of Commerce- official agent in Iran (called Iranian National Committee) leads business Think Tanks in Iran to handle Iranian ICC members’ corporation with the ICC center in Paris.
Critics such as Ralph Nader have suggested that because of the private nature of the funding of think tanks their results are biased to a varying degree. Some argue members will be inclined to promote or publish only those results that ensure the continued flow of funds from private donors. This risk of distortion similarly threatens the reputation and integrity of organizations such as universities, once considered to stand wholly within the public sector.
Some critics go further to assert think tanks are little more than propaganda tools for promoting the ideological arguments of whatever group established them. They charge that most think tanks, which are usually headquartered in state or national seats of government, exist merely for large-scale lobbying to form opinion in favor of special private interests. They give examples such as organizations calling themselves think tanks having hosted lunches for politicians to present research that critics claim is merely in the political interest of major global interests such as Microsoft, but that the connections to these interests are never disclosed. Critics assert that the status of most think-tanks as non-profit and tax exempt makes them an even more efficient tool to put special interest money to work.
In recent years, many think tanks have begun to promote causes which are contrary to established scientific opinion.
The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition has also worked to cast doubt on the scientific consensus regarding human-caused global warming, as have a number of conservative think tanks all of whom receive large contributions from petroleum industry companies like ExxonMobil and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
Finally, the Discovery Institute has been instrumental in putting the idea of Intelligent design into public debate, even though most biologists do not accept the theory as scientific.