Stephen M. Walt

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Stephen Walt (2007)

Stephen Martin Walt (born July 2, 1955 ) is an American political scientist . He is Professor of International Relations at Harvard Kennedy School (John F. Kennedy School of Government) at Harvard University . He is known as a representative of defensive realism .


Walt first studied International Relations at Stanford University and completed this course in 1977 with a BA, which he passed with distinction. He then continued his studies in Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley. There he graduated in 1978 with an MA, and in 1983 with a Ph.D. from. After completing his master's degree, he worked for the Center for Naval Analyzes and the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Stephen M. Walt has already taught at Princeton University (1984–1989) and at the University of Chicago (1989–1999) in his career as a university professor . Since then he has taught as Professor of International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

For his first book, The Origins of Alliances , he received the Edgar S. Furniss National Security Book Award in 1988. He also received an award for his very good performance as a professor, the Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from the Committee on Undergraduate Education at Harvard University.

Walt's teaching and research focus is on international relations, US foreign policy and international security. He is considered by some colleagues (e.g. Professor John J. Mearsheimer ) to be one of the most renowned scholars in this field today.

Walt represents the views of neorealism (also structural realism) according to Kenneth Waltz , who assumes that the international system in which the states exist is structured anarchically . The primary goal of state trade is to secure one's own survival and power is the central means to achieve this goal.

Stephen Walt analyzes the functioning of international relations in his work and is not afraid to provoke, as his first book shows, in which he modified the balance of power theory developed by Waltz.

What is particularly noticeable about his work is that he does not remain exclusively theoretical, but that his work is also policy-oriented, i. H. as a practical guide for politicians dealing with problems such as B. Revolutions, the formation of alliances or war have to do directly and have to make decisions about them, should act.

He is also heavily involved in important political debates, such as B. on the necessity of the second Iraq war (2003). Walt did not consider this war to be justified because, in his opinion, even if Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction , it would not have posed an extreme threat to the United States and furthermore there was no proven link between Iraq and the events of September 11, 2001.

In terms of foreign policy, Walt is a supporter of the strategy of offshore balancing , which aims to secure the balance of power in a region through primarily diplomatic instruments and as far as possible refrains from direct military interventions.

In 2005 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .


Stephen Walt has so far published three of his own books in addition to numerous articles for newspapers, specialist magazines and specialist books. In his first book, The Origins of Alliances (1987), he takes a critical look at the balance of power theory, of which Kenneth Waltz is one of the representatives, and according to which states form coalitions only to compensate for a power imbalance in the international system. He believes that this theory is incorrect and that it does not properly explain how alliances work. Instead, in his book he develops the balance-of-threat theory, according to which states do not unite to balance power, but to balance threats emanating from a certain state (or several states) and to be able to defend themselves against it. He gains his knowledge on this from the diplomacy of the Middle East. As a final example of the correctness of his theory, he cites the USA's very good international position. These were able to form a global alliance, as the other states primarily had to defend themselves against the threat that the Soviet Union posed to them at the time . The balancing of power no longer played a role here, as the USA and its allies far exceeded the capabilities of the SU and their allies.

In his second book Revolution and War (1996) Walt tries to clarify the relationship between revolution and war and to explain why and how a revolution can lead to war. The basis for his research is the assumption that states live in anarchy and must therefore give their security a high priority. He also refers to his first book, as he bases his statements in Revolution and War on the balance-of-threat theory. Walt concludes that revolutions can very easily lead to wars. He explains this with the fact that other states change their view of a state affected by a revolution by either seeing their security endangered by it (e.g. by an expansion of the revolution), or for the moment assessing it as weakened and as easy to see beat. In addition, tensions can easily arise between the new government of a state (after the revolution) and the old allies, since a change in government with the government also exchanges the prevailing fundamental values. These three factors greatly increase the risk of war and make it an attractive option for other states.

His most recently published book Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy (2005) no longer deals with fundamental theories about international relations, but specifically with international relations in the USA. Walt analyzes the various strategies that states use to either use the power that the USA has over the rest of the world or to counter it as best as possible in order to implement their own interests in the best possible way. In his work, he states that the different reactions to US power could threaten the ability of the US to implement its own foreign policy goals and possibly even undermine its supremacy. According to Walt, the US must counteract this problem by pursuing a foreign policy that is accepted and welcomed by other states in order to prevent other states from acknowledging US power with fear.

His essay The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy , published with John J. Mearsheimer in the London Review of Books in 2006 , which was based on an article planned for Atlantic Monthly in 2002 but rejected by them, and the influence of pro-Israel lobby groups on the US Criticized foreign policy, sparked a heated debate and was expanded into a book with the same title.

Contributions to newspapers, specialist literature and commentaries

In addition to his work for his books and his professorship, Stephen Walt has made a number of contributions to political debates (e.g. about the significance of theories about international relations based on rational choice theories), comments on important events (e.g. B. September 11, 2001 and the Iraq war ), and politically interesting journals / books. Some of them can also be found in his own books. To get an insight into this area of ​​his work, you can find a link to his publications on his personal website at Harvard University. Walt has written articles on US foreign policy, the future of NATO , rational choice theory, the relationship between Europe and America and the Iraq war , among other things .

Walt blogs for the online version of Foreign Policy .


Web links

Commons : Stephen Walt  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Stephen M. Walt: Offshore balancing: An idea whose time has come . In: Foreign Policy . November 2, 2011