Heather A. Conley is the sixth president of the German Marshall Fund.

Conley joined GMF after 12 years at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where she most recently served as senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, and as director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program. At CSIS, she developed the acclaimed Kremlin Playbook series, a dedicated research effort that examined the doctrine and methodology of Russian malign economic behavior and its methodology across Europe. She also is a recognized expert on the Arctic region, focusing on the Russian Arctic, climate transformation, and US policy toward the region. 

Conley previously served four years as executive director of the Office of the Chairman of the Board at the American National Red Cross, where she supported the first comprehensive reform of the governance structure of the organization's board since 1947. She worked closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on its policies and programs in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

From 2001 to 2005, Conley was deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs with responsibilities for US bilateral relations with Northern and Central European countries. She co-led the US interagency effort to enlarge NATO and secure Senate ratification of an amended North Atlantic Treaty, and she established the Enhanced Partnership in Europe (e-PINE), a forum for senior-level US dialogue with the eight Nordic and Baltic states.

Earlier in her career, she worked at an international consulting firm led by former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage.

Conley began her career in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the US Department of State. She was selected to serve as special assistant to the coordinator of US assistance to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, and she has received two State Department Meritorious Honor Awards.

Conley frequently appears as a foreign policy analyst and Europe expert on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, NPR, and PBS, among other prominent media outlets. She holds a bachelor's degree in international studies from West Virginia Wesleyan College and a master's degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Media Mentions

Over the last 20 years, national security leaders stopped talking about the benefit and only talked about the cost. And yet NATO has followed the American national security agenda.
What we see from the administration on this issue, the pitch in their voice is getting a little higher and a little louder. Clearly China has made a decision to not give any overt support, but they’re certainly not stopping this assistance to Russia from state-owned firms.
We are in this rinse, lather and repeat cycle, where there is great hesitation, allies pile in, they push, they cajole, they give their own equipment to try to push things along. And we wait, we wait, we wait.
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This is a historically difficult moment for the Germans to be sending tanks back into that theater. Again, they feel stronger and more capable when the US is standing right beside them as they take that step.
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It’s just fragmented and doesn’t necessarily have an overarching policy objective that everyone understands. … And they’re not reflecting these really important geostrategic, whether they’re economic, security shifts, and how are we adjusting policy
No U.S. official spoke publicly, despite a feeling among Ukrainian and European officials that Washington must play a critical role. And European leaders did not seem as organized as their Ukrainian counterparts.
But most dangerous are the arguments made by some Republicans and others that “proactively and willfully” parrot Russian disinformation to discredit Ukraine and undercut any effort to save it from Moscow. The administration and supporters of Ukraine need to do a better job of explaining exactly what is at stake in the conflict. Beyond high prices at the gas pump, the submission of Ukraine to an unfettered Russia will lead to a world order in which Moscow and Beijing control much of the globe at the expense of U.S. interests and international stability.
When a permanent member of the Security Council takes the opportunity to double-down on violating the U.N. Charter during the General Assembly with what feels like impunity, I would not say this strengthens the U.N.’s effectiveness. It reinforces its weakness as an enforcement body.
As the administration is trying to find ways to navigate through increasingly tense situations, her clarity can work against some of their interests.
You saw at the beginning of the war this very strong view that this is Putin’s war, this is not the Russian people. But increasingly, that separation of Russian people and the Russian government is really getting more difficult to discern.
The officials fear that Biden’s attempts to repair a fractured system are temporary, like glue holding together a shattered vase... Other governments, including those that have turned toward their own populist authoritarian leaders like Hungary’s Orban, see a potential Trump return as a boon. They are — unwisely — gaming out our polarization and hope it will work for their side. It’s very, very risky.
It is hard to dislike the jovial and effusive Mr. Johnson but President Biden certainly does not support any efforts to jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement or approve of his brand of populism.
Domestic politics get more difficult the higher the political and economic costs get, and that’s exactly what Putin is counting on.
The €100bn is just an initial down-payment in a longer-term investment in strengthening NATO's eastern flank and Germany’s own territorial defense.
We now are really seeing the true impact of deep, deep political polarization, where it is better to harm the other side than do what’s right for the country. This deep domestic polarization has now crept into foreign and security policy. There has always been strong bipartisan support for NATO, but everything now has become polarized and can be weaponized against the other side, even if it supports U.S. national security interests.
Unfortunately, Macron's nearly sole focus on France and Europe's geopolitical position vis-à-vis Russia over the past few months had the unintended consequence of normalizing his opponent Marine Le Pen's long-standing friendly relations with Putin and the Kremlin.
This is now for the US one Eurasian theater. We’re looking at the challenge of both Russia and China [in the] long term in similar ways. We’re going to have to have a NATO that prioritizes collective defense for Europe while at the same time being able to build greater partnerships and bridging mechanisms to our Indo-Pacific allies.
For people that just literally tuning in to what [Biden] said, it was really sending some shockwaves. That was such a big and loaded closing remark to this trip that I think, in many ways, it overshadows some of the many good things that came out of it.
Putin's advisers probably viewed Biden's statement as the president speaking out loud what they already believed was US policy.
What concerns me is that we’re falling back into our Syria chemical red lines trap. It’s fine to have tough rhetoric but tough rhetoric has got to be followed up with an immediate and full-bodied response.
If Ukraine will not bend the knee to Russia, he will make sure that Ukraine is going to be a wasteland.
On the other hand, it’s that litmus of loyalty that is the key ingredient to an oligarch’s wealth. Mr. Putin can create it and Mr. Putin can take it away... We saw a little of this in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. The oligarchs understood the loyalty test and many of them drew even closer to the regime.
This is where the actor understands the moment, understands the messages that need to be delivered in that moment. You can absolutely credit him and his constant outreach to world leaders, and of course the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people. It is changing policy.
[The Munich Security Conference] is really an important moment for Harris and the administration. I think if she can deliver a clear speech that reflects not just inspiration of US leadership, but real action, real meat of what they are trying to do, it will make a big impression going forward.
I’m not entirely sure the president or the administration knows how the story is going to end, because to confront growing authoritarian behavior... whether it’s in the South China Sea, or the Baltic Sea, you need probably less rhetoric and more showing of strength.
In many ways, Ukraine tells us about the future of the international system. If Russia is allowed to invade, occupy and annex its neighbor, that's an inherently very unstable international system, which will affect America's security and its prosperity.
Although we must remain open to dialogue and we hope to provide de-escalation and reducing and mitigating risk. This is really about the future of international security, European security and the role of Europe and the United States.