Stephen Walt is the Robert and Rene Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was previously on the faculties of Princeton University and the University of Chicago, where he served as Deputy Dean of Social Sciences. He is the author of books including The Origins of Alliances, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy. He is a frequent contributor to journals including Foreign Policy and International Security. He was educated at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
He presently serves on the editorial boards of Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, and Journal of Cold War Studies, and he also serves as Co-Editor of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, published by Cornell University Press. Additionally, he was elected as a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in May 2005.
Question: What is the world’s biggest challenge in the coming decade?
Stephen Walt: I think there is a sense . . . a growing sense that there are going to be limits to how many people you can keep on the planet, and how many people you can have living at a certain standard of living. And I think the major constraint there is environmental. The most obvious symptom of that is growing concern with global warming and climate change of various kinds; and the sense that we may not be able to stop that particular train before it goes off the cliff, you know if you imagine some of the more catastrophic scenarios. Does that end all life on the planet? No. But does it have very severe consequences for different parts of the world? I think that’s . . . that’s there. I think we are going to see over the next 40 or 50 years a fundamental shift in the balance of power between what has been the sort of transatlantic access – Europe and America – for the last several hundred years shifting more towards Asia. The United States will be a critical part of that too; but again India and China much more so. I think third there is a . . . an issue of equality . . . an inequality on a global scale now which is compounded by the fact that increasingly, people who are further down the inequality scales are more and more aware of what their relative positions are. And again, the advent of global communications and things like that is starting to make it much more obvious to people. So we have at least, I think, a potential train wreck of different trends happening where India and China are developing. Their development is gonna put greater environmental strains on the world. They’re not gonna want to remain in an undeveloped condition, right? The advanced countries like the United States are going to be concerned about what this all means. And everyone is going to be more aware of all of this simultaneously. So I think the potential for real trouble down the road is . . . is considerable.
Recorded on: 10/8/07