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 inspires you?
Walt: At the risk of . . . This is like self-analysis I suppose. I do find a lot of these problems just genuinely fascinating. It doesn’t take much to get me out of bed in the morning because I . . . I like what I do. I’m often inspired by what I perceive as either the misuse of power or abuses of power. If I sort of look back through my career and also, I think, sort of my work as an administrator and in other realms of life, I’m often sort of infuriated when I see powerful actors doing things that harm others; doing things that are not smart; doing things that involve sort of taking advantage of those who are weaker. I think I have a strong sort of sympathy for the underdog if you will. And then in a lot of my work, because it’s involved American foreign policy, has been trying to figure out how can the United States use the power at its disposal; the influence it has; the assets we have acquired over time – I mean we’re a very lucky country in that regard – how can we use those intelligently? How can we use those in ways that are good for Americans, but also good for the rest of the world as well? And the things that drive me crazy are when I see our country doing something stupid, or when I see us helping others do something stupid. And you know that’s . . . that’s a pretty powerful motivating factor.
Recorded on: 10/8/07