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: Will we be able to make the necessary adjustments?
Walt: Well I think that’s a very American question. I mean I think that many societies wouldn’t even pose it that way. And it reflects the fact that American history, although it’s had its unfortunate periods, has been basically an incredibly happy story. Again not for all Americans, but if you think of sort of where the United States began in 1776 and where it ended up in 2007, it’s a remarkable run of success. And it’s partly because we did some things right. And it’s also partly because we got very lucky in where the country was located; the fact that the native population turned out to be very susceptible to disease that was brought over from Europe; the fact that the European countries kept beating each other up while we sat here and became more productive. So we’ve been very fortunate, so we have this view of the world that everything tends to go well. And therefore your question is how can we solve all these problems so this happy story continues? Well of course it hasn’t been as happy a story for, you know, Russia throughout the 20th century; for much of Europe, which destroyed itself twice in the 20th century. Other parts of the world don’t tell quite the same happy story. So I think the first thing I would say is we shouldn’t be expecting perfection. We’re not gonna be solving all these problems, and it’s not like bad things won’t happen to Americans or to other people. We wanna try to do the best we can within the . . . facing the set of problems that we now face, and with the set of resources at our disposal. So step one is be realistic about what we think we can accomplish, and then start, you know, taking off the various problems and start working on them. I think Americans, again, tend to think of it as, “I want a perfect answer because I’m an American citizen, and I’m entitled to live for 85 years in relatively good health and in a pretty comfortable house with a pretty nice family.” That’s not the way it really works – even in America.
Recorded on: 10/8/07