Stephen Walt

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Stephen Walt
Stephen M Walt.jpg
Stephen Walt (left)
Born Stephen Martin Walt
(1955-07-02) July 2, 1955 (age 59)
School Neorealism
Main interests
International relations theory
Notable ideas
Defensive realism, Balance of threat theory

Stephen Martin Walt (born July 2, 1955) is an American professor of international affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Among his most prominent works are Origins of Alliances and Revolution and War. He coauthored The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy with John Mearsheimer.

Early Life and Education[edit]

Walt was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where his father, a physicist, worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Walt's mother was a teacher. The family moved to the Bay Area when Walt was about eight months old. Walt grew up in Los Altos Hills.[1]

Walt pursued his undergraduate studies at Stanford University. He first majored in chemistry with an eye to becoming a Biochemist. He then shifted to history, and finally to International Relations.[1]

After attaining his B.A., Walt began graduate work at UC Berkeley, graduating with a M.A in Political Science in 1978, and a Ph.D. in Political Science in 1983.


Walt taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago, where he served as Master of the Social Science Collegiate Division and Deputy Dean of Social Sciences.

He is now Academic Dean at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he holds the Robert and Renee Belfer Professorship in International Affairs.[2]

Other professional activities[edit]

Walt has been a Resident Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution, and a consultant for the Institute of Defense Analyses, the Center for Naval Analyses, and the National Defense University.

He serves on the editorial boards of Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, and the Journal of Cold War Studies, and as Co-Editor of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, published by Cornell University Press.

He was elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in May 2005.[2]

He spoke at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University in 2010.[3] In 2012, Walt took part in a panel at the one-state solution conference at the Kennedy School, along with Ali Abunimah and Eve Spangler.[4]

Walt spoke at Clark University in April 2013.[5] He gave a talk at the College of William and Mary in October 2013 about "Why US Foreign Policy Keeps Failing."[6]

Walt delivered the 2013 F.H. Hinsley Lecture at Cambridge University.[7]

Views and opinions[edit]

American power and culture[edit]

In a comprehensive 2005 article, "Taming American Power," Walt argued that the US should "make its dominant position acceptable to others – by using military force sparingly, by fostering greater cooperation with key allies, and, most important of all, by rebuilding its crumbling international image." Noting that America's image "is especially bleak in the Arab world," he proposed that the US "resume its traditional role as an 'offshore balancer,'" intervening "only when absolutely necessary" and keeping "its military presence as small as possible."[8]

In a late 2011 article for the National Interest entitled "The End of the American Era," Walt wrote that America is losing its position of world dominance.[9]

Walt gave a speech in 2013 to Norwegian military leaders entitled "Why does US foreign policy keep failing?" He was described as seeing "an overwhelming bias among US foreign policy institutions toward an activist foreign policy" and "a propensity to exaggerate threats, noting the chances of being struck by lightning have been far greater since 2001 than death by terrorist attack." He also characterized the US as lacking "diplomatic skill and finesse," and advised Europeans "to think of themselves and not rely on the US for guidance or advice on solving their security issues." Ultimately, he argued, "the United States is simply not skilled enough to run the world."[10]

"Why are Americans so willing to pay taxes in order to support a world-girdling national security establishment," asked Walt in 2013, "yet so reluctant to pay taxes to have better schools, health care, roads, bridges, subways, parks, museums, libraries, and all the other trappings of a wealthy and successful society?" He said this question was especially puzzling given that "the United States is the most secure power in history and will remain remarkably secure unless it keeps repeating the errors of the past decade or so."[11]


In a National Interest article in December 1998, "The Ties That Fray: Why Europe and America are Drifting Apart," Walt wrote that "deep structural forces" were "beginning to pull Europe and America apart."[12]

Walt argues that NATO must be sustained because of four major areas where close cooperation is beneficial to European and American interest.[13]

  1. Defeating international terrorism; Walt sees a need for cooperation between Europe and the United States in managing terrorist networks and stopping the flow of money to terror cells.[13]
  2. Limiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction; Walt argues that anti-proliferation efforts are most successful when Europe and the U.S. work in concert to bring loose nuclear material into responsible custody. He cites the case of Libya's willingness to abandon its nascent fission program after being pressured multilaterally as evidence of this.[13]
  3. Managing the world economy; lowering barriers to trade and investment particularly between the U.S. and the E.U. will accelerates economic growth. Notable differences in trade policy stem mainly in areas of agricultural policy.[13]
  4. Dealing with failed states; failed states are breeding grounds for anti-western movements. Managing failed states such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia require a multinational response since the U.S. has insufficient wealth to modernise and rebuild these alone. In this area European allies are especially desirable because they have more experience with peacekeeping and "nation-building".[13]

Middle East[edit]

Walt said in December 2012 that America's "best course in the Middle East would be to act as an 'offshore balancer': ready to intervene if the balance of power is upset, but otherwise keeping our military footprint small. We should also have normal relationship with states like Israel and Saudi Arabia, instead of the counterproductive 'special relationships' we have today."[1]


Walt has been a vigorous critic of Israel and of the close US–Israeli relationship. He wrote that President Obama erred by breaking with the principles in his Cairo speech by allowing continued Israeli settlement activity and by participating in a "well-coordinated assault" against the Goldstone Report.[2]

Walt suggested in 2010 that owing to State Department diplomat Dennis Ross's partiality toward Israel, he might give President Obama advice that was against US interests. In response Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute (which has been described as "part of the core" of the U.S. Israel lobby), called Walt a "guerrilla fighter out to win a policy war using any means at his disposal and a throwback to the era when alleged realists believed that the U.S. government could not advance strategic partnership both with Israel and with friendly Arab and Muslim states." Satloff added that Walt’s "stock in trade are smears and misleading innuendo, without a fact in sight."[14]

After five members of the Fogel family of Itamar, on the West Bank, including children aged 11, 4, and 3 months old, were murdered in their home in March 2011, Walt condemned the murderers, but added that "while we are at it, we should not spare the other parties who have helped create and perpetuate the circumstances," listing "every Israeli government since 1967, for actively promoting the illegal effort to colonize these lands," "Palestinian leaders who have glorified violence," "the settlers themselves, some of whom routinely use violence to intimidate the Palestinians who live in the lands they covet," and so on.[15]

Walt and Mearsheimer criticized the US presidential candidates in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on January 6, 2008, for their unconditional support of Israel, which Walt and Mearsheimer described as "pandering" to win the votes of "special interest groups." By giving Israel such support, they argued, the candidates are not being true friends to Israel but "are facilitating its pursuit of self-destructive policies that no true friend would favor".

Walt criticized the US for voting against a Security Council resolution condemning Israel's West Bank settlements, calling the vote a "foolish step" because "the resolution was in fact consistent with the official policy of every president since Lyndon Johnson." Gilead Ini of CAMERA provided detailed evidence that the US "does not officially view settlements as illegal, and it has not for the past thirty years."[16]

David Frum noted in July 2012 that while Walt and Mearsheimer had insisted "that 'the Israel lobby' was not simply a euphemism for 'Jews,'" Walt, in a recent blog post, had conflated "the Israel lobby with American Jews." Frum argued that "Walt's core argument is that he and his small-band of like-minded allies are entitled to prevail overtop the preferences of the great majority of Americans. But grumbling alone won't accomplish his mission. What he needs to do is follow the practice of previous narrow unpopular special interests: form a shadowy secret lobby to defeat democracy and bend the political process to his will."[17]


Walt has frequently criticized America's Iran policy. In 2011, Walt told an interviewer that the American reaction to an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States "might be part of a larger American diplomatic effort to put Iran on the hot seat."[18]

"Washington continues to insist on a near-total Iranian capitulation," wrote Walt in December 2012. "And because Iran has been effectively demonized here in America, it would be very hard for President Obama to reach a compromise and then sell it back home."[19]

Walt noted in November 2013 that "Americans often forget just how secure the United States is, especially compared with other states," thanks to its power, resources, and geography, and thus "routinely blows minor threats out of all proportion. I mean: Iran has a defense budget of about $10 billion...yet we manage to convince ourselves that Iran is a Very Serious Threat to U.S. vital interests. Ditto the constant fretting about minor-league powers like Syria, North Korea, Muammar al-Qaddafi's Libya, and other so-called 'rogue states.'" Therefore, whatever happens in the Middle East, "the United States can almost certainly adjust and adapt and be just fine."[11]


After visiting Libya, Walt wrote in Foreign Policy in January 2010 that while "Libya is far from a democracy, it also doesn't feel like other police states that I have visited. I caught no whiff of an omnipresent security service—which is not to say that they aren't there.... The Libyans with whom I spoke were open and candid and gave no sign of being worried about being overheard or reported or anything like that. ... I tried visiting various political websites from my hotel room and had no problems, although other human rights groups report that Libya does engage in selective filtering of some political websites critical of the regime. It is also a crime to criticize Qaddafi himself, the government's past human rights record is disturbing at best, and the press in Libya is almost entirely government-controlled. Nonetheless, Libya appears to be more open than contemporary Iran or China and the overall atmosphere seemed far less oppressive than most places I visited in the old Warsaw Pact."[20]

David E. Bernstein, Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law, criticized Walt in 2011 for accepting funding from the Libyan government for a trip to Libya, where he address that country's Economic Development Board and then wrote what Bernstein called "a puff piece" about his visit. Bernstein said it was ironic that "Walt, after fulminating about the American domestic 'Israel Lobby'," had thus become "a part of the 'Libya lobby.'" Bernstein also found it ironic that "Walt, a leading critic of the friendship the U.S. and Israel, concludes his piece with the hope 'that the United States and Libya continue to nurture and build a constructive relationship.' Because, you know, Israel is so much nastier than Qaddafi's Libya."[21]

Under the headline "Is Stephen Walt Blind, a Complete Fool, or a Big Liar?", Martin Peretz of the New Republic mocked Walt for praising Libya, which Peretz called a "murderous place," and for viewing its dictator as "civilized." Peretz contrasted Walt's view of Libya, which, Peretz noted, he had visited for less than a day, with a New York Times report depicting Tripoli as a "war zone."[22]


In August 2013, Walt argued that even if it turned out that Assad had used chemical weapons, the U.S. should not intervene. "Dead is dead, no matter how it is done," wrote Walt. Yes, "Obama may be tempted to strike because he foolishly drew a 'red line' over this issue and feels his credibility is now at stake. But following one foolish step with another will not restore that lost standing."[23] In September 2013, Walt wrote an open letter asking his congressman to vote against a strike on Syria. Dr. Josef Olmert pointed out "at least two glaring inaccuracies," including Walt's failure to recognize that Syria is already a failed state and already riven by sectarian struggle, "something that 'realist' liberals find somehow hard to accept." Olmert noted that despite Walt's professed belief that Israel is at the center of all Middle East conflicts, Israel in fact has nothing to do with the conflicts in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, or other countries in the region, which "are mostly the makings of the Arabs, ones which ought to be solved by them."[24]


Walt posits that offshore balancing is the most desirable strategy when dealing with China.[25] He predicts that China will attempt to bully its weaker neighbours into adopting policies that don't threaten Beijing's interest.[26][27] In 2011 Walt argued that China will seek to gain regional hegemony and a broad sphere of influence in Asia which was comparable in size to the USA's position in the western hemisphere.[25] If this happens, he predicts that China would be secure enough on the mainland to give added attention to shaping events to its favour in far flung areas. Given that China is resource poor, the nation will likely aim to safeguard vital sea lanes in areas such as the Persian Gulf.[28][29]

In a December 2012 interview, Walt said that "the United States does not help its own cause by exaggerating Chinese power. We should not base our policy today on what China might become twenty or thirty years down the road."[30]

"Balance of Threat" theory[edit]

Walt developed the 'balance of threat' theory, which defined threats in terms of aggregate power, geographic proximity, offensive power, and aggressive intentions. It is a modification of the "balance of power" theory developed by neorealist Kenneth Waltz.[31]

Snowden case[edit]

In July 2013, Walt argued that President Obama should give Edward Snowden an immediate pardon. "Mr Snowden's motives," wrote Walt, "were laudable: he believed fellow citizens should know their government was conducting a secret surveillance programme enormous in scope, poorly supervised and possibly unconstitutional. He was right." History, Walt suggested, "will probably be kinder to Mr Snowden than to his pursuers, and his name may one day be linked to the other brave men and women – Daniel Ellsberg, Martin Luther King Jr, Mark Felt, Karen Silkwood and so on – whose acts of principled defiance are now widely admired."[32]


In his 1987 book The Origins of Alliances, Walt examines the way in which alliances are made, and "proposes a fundamental change in the present conceptions of alliance systems."[33]

Revolution and War (1996) exposes "the flaws in existing theories about the relationship between revolution and war" by studying in detail the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions and providing briefer views of the American, Mexican, Turkish, and Chinese revolutions.[34]

Taming American Power (2005) provides a thorough critique of U.S. strategy from the perspective of its adversaries.[35] Anatol Lieven called it "a brilliant contribution to the American foreign policy debate."[36]

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy[edit]

In March 2006, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, then academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government, published a working paper entitled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" and an article entitled "The Israel Lobby" in the London Review of Books on the negative effects of "the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby." They defined the Israel lobby as "the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction."[37] The articles generated considerable media coverage throughout the world. Describing Walt and Mearsheimer as members of "that vapid school that essentially wishes that the war with jihadism had never started," Christopher Hitchens wrote that they consequently hoped "there must be some way, short of a fight, to get around this confrontation. Wishfulness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem and to produce an article that is redeemed from complete dullness and mediocrity only by being slightly but unmistakably smelly."[38] Walt and Mearsheimer developed their articles into a bestselling book.

Personal life[edit]

Walt is married to Rebecca E. Stone[39] and has two children.[40]

Titles and positions[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Stephen M. Walt Interview". Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c " Speaker- Stephen M. Walt". Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Third Annual Kenneth N. Waltz Lecture in International Relations with Dr. Stephen Walt "Realism and American Grand Strategy: The Case for Offshore Balancing"". Institute of War and Peace Studies. 4 Nov 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "Al Jazeera America Debut Featuring Stephen Walt Casts Doubt Over Network's Objectivity". Anti-Defamation League. 21 Aug 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  5. ^ "Harrington lecturer Walt explores curse-worthy U.S. foreign policy". Clark University. 23 April 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  6. ^ Caldwell, Priscilla (7 Oct 2013). "Harvard Professor and Foreign Policy Blogger Stephen Walt to Present at William & Mary Sadler Center". College of William and Mary. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  7. ^ Walt, Stephen M. Walt (12 December 2013). "Better Fewer, but Better". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Walt, Stephen M. "Taming American Power". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  9. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (25 Oct 2011). "The End of the American Era". National Interest. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  10. ^ Mayer, Michael. "Why does US foreign policy keep failing?". Institutt for Forsvarsstudier. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Walt, Stephen M. (26 Dec 2013). "The 2013 Stories that Never Were". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  12. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (1 Dec 1998). "The Ties That Fray: Why Europe and America are Drifting Apart". The National Interest. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Walt, Stephen (March–April 2004). "The Imbalance of Power". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved November 16, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Stephen Walt in the Hot Seat—Again". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  15. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (13 March 2011). "On the murders at Itamar". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  16. ^ Ini, Gilead (25 Feb 2011). "Yet Another Stephen Walt Falsification". Camera: Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  17. ^ Frum, David (31 July 2012). "Stephen Walt Finally Says What He Means". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  18. ^ Werman, Marco (14 Oct 2011). "Skepticism over Iranian Terrorist Plot". PRI. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  19. ^ Keck, Zachary (14 Dec 2012). "The Interview: Stephen M. Walt". The Diplomat. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "Stephen Walt on Libya". The Wall Street Journal. 24 Feb 2011. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  21. ^ Berstein, David (6 March 2011). "Stephen Walt on Libya". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  22. ^ Peretz, Martin (23 Feb 2011). "Is Stephen Walt Blind, a Complete Fool, or a Big Liar?". New Republic. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  23. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (26 Aug 2013). "Weapons Assad Uses Shouldn’t Affect U.S. Policy". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  24. ^ Olmert, Dr. Josef (9 Sep 2013). "Stephen M. Walt, Joseph Kennedy III, Syria and Israel". Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  25. ^ a b "More support for offshore balancing". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  26. ^ "Does the U.S. Face a "Morality Gap" with China?". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  27. ^ "Tom Friedman Sees the Light". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  28. ^ "What's the United States Up To in Asia? | Stephen M. Walt". Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  29. ^ "Is IR like music or like sports? | Stephen M. Walt". Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  30. ^ Keck, Zachary (14 Dec 2012). "The Interview: Stephen M. Walt". The Diplomat. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  31. ^ Harrison, Ewan. The Post-Cold War International System: Strategies, Institutions and Reflexivity. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  32. ^ Walt, Stephen M (July 2013). "Snowden deserves an immediate presidential pardon". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  33. ^ Walt, Stephen M. The Origins of Alliances. Cornell University Press. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  34. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (6 March 1997). "Revolution and War: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs". Cornell University Press. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  35. ^ Walt, Stephen M (17 Sep 2006). "Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy". W. W. Norton & Co. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  36. ^ Lieven, Atol (4 Sep 2005). "'Taming American Power': Not Bad Nation". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  37. ^ John Mearsheimer; Stephen M. Walt (23 March 2006). "The Israel Lobby". London Review of Books. 
  38. ^ Hitchens, Christopher. "Overstating Jewish Power". Slate. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  39. ^ "Rebecca Stone Is Wed to Stephen Walt". The New York Times. 5 May 1991. Retrieved 18 December 2009. 
  40. ^ "Stephen Walt's Curriculum Vitae (pdf)". Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 

External links[edit]