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: How do you contribute?
Stephen Walt: Well I’m 52 years old now, and so I hope I keep writing for a long time. And therefore who knows what I’ll write about, you know, in my sixties and all that. But I hope that the contribution has been to open up discussion on a variety of issues. When I first wrote the piece about the Iraq war, we wrote it in large part because nobody else was making the argument that going to war in Iraq was a bad idea. People remember there really wasn’t much debate in the run up to the Iraq war. And John Mearsheimer, who I wrote the book with, and I wrote the Iraq article in part because we wanted to make sure that both sides got represented somewhere, and that people could like back and say, “Well at least some Americans understood that this was a bad idea before it actually happened.” So I hope that, you know, part of the legacy has been to be willing to tackle contentious issues; being willing to buck up against the prevailing sentiment, and to do so in a non-polemical, sort of “non-gasoline-on-the-fire” way to try and encourage more open and serious discussion.
Question: What do you have left to achieve?
Stephen Walt: Well I think one of the things about being an academic that’s nice is that, you know, you sort of never run out of possibilities. There’s always new problems that are going to be emerging. I think if you look at sort of the way the world is headed now, it’s hard not to think there’s not going to be lots of political and social issues that, you know, big minds have to think about. So I don’t think I’ll ever run out of things to worry about. I think that, you know, as someone who has spent most of my career thinking about American foreign policy, I think the United States is going to have to do an enormous amount of adjusting over the next 30 to 40 years – adjusting both to sort of environmental limits that we’re now starting to become aware of; adjusting to China’s emergence as a major power, followed by India’s emergence as a much more consequential state. I think the globalization will affect us the same way it affects everybody else, and that’s gonna require some adjustments. Just to put it in one . . . one frame of reference, the United States has had the world’s largest economy since about 1900. We’re sort of accustomed to being the biggest economic actor on the block. Well at some point – maybe in my lifetime, but not too long after that – that’s probably not gonna be the case. And that’s going to involve some adjustments on . . . on America’s part. And it’s not clear to me that these adjustments were ready to make. Most countries, as they start to become relatively less influential, find it a painful process. I would like to accelerate the learning process. I would like us to learn to adjust to living in a world where we are not just the 800 pound gorilla out there. And I’d like us to learn that as quickly as possible. So I suspect I’ll spend a fair bit of the next 20 years trying to help that learning process go as quickly as possible.
Recorded on: 10/8/07