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Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt
Stephen Walt (left)
Born Stephen Martin Walt
(1955-07-02) July 2, 1955
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Alma mater UC Berkeley
School Neorealism
Institutions Harvard University
University of Chicago
Princeton University
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. He belongs to the realist school of international relations.[1] Books he has authored (or co-authored) include Origins of Alliances, Revolution and War, and The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.[2]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
    • Other professional activities 2.1
  • Views and opinions 3
    • American power and culture 3.1
    • Europe 3.2
    • Eastern Europe and Russia 3.3
    • Middle East 3.4
    • Israel 3.5
    • Iran 3.6
    • Libya 3.7
    • Syria 3.8
    • Asia 3.9
    • "Balance of Threat" theory 3.10
    • Snowden case 3.11
  • Books 4
    • The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy 4.1
  • Personal life 5
  • Titles and positions 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and education

Walt was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where his father, a physicist, worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His 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.[3]

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.[3]

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. As of 2015, he holds the Robert and Renee Belfer Professorship in International Affairs in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[2][4]

Other professional activities

Walt was elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in May 2005.[4]

He spoke at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University in 2010.[5] 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.[6]

Walt spoke at Clark University in April 2013.[7] He gave a talk at the College of William and Mary in October 2013 about "Why US Foreign Policy Keeps Failing."[8]

He delivered the 2013 F.H. Hinsley Lecture at Cambridge University.[9]

Views and opinions

American power and culture

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." He proposed the US "resume its traditional role as an 'offshore balancer'", intervening "only when absolutely necessary" and keeping "its military presence as small as possible."[10]

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.[11]

Walt gave a speech in 2013 to the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies entitled "Why does US foreign policy keep failing?" The Institute later described him 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."[12]

"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."[13]


In 1998, Walt wrote that "deep structural forces" were "beginning to pull Europe and America apart."[14]

Walt argues that NATO must be sustained because of four major areas where close cooperation is beneficial to European and American interest.[15]

  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.[15]
  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.[15]
  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.[15]
  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".[15]

Eastern Europe and Russia

Walt believes extending invitations for NATO membership to countries in the former Soviet bloc is a "dangerous and unnecessary goal" and nations such as Ukraine be "neutral buffer state(s) in perpetuity".[16] From this perspective, he believed that arming Ukrainian armed forces after the annexation of the Crimea by Russia "is a recipe for a longer and more destructive conflict."[16]

Middle East

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."[17]

An article by Stephen Walt, ″What Should We Do if the Islamic State Wins? Live with it″, appeared on June 10, 2015 in Foreign Policy Magazine.[18] He explained his view that the Islamic State is unlikely to grow into a long-lasting world power on Point of Inquiry, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry in July 2015.[19]


Walt has been a critic of the Israel lobby in the United States and the influence he says it has on foreign policy. 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.[4]

Walt suggested in 2010 that, owing to State Department diplomat [21]

After the Itamar attack, in which a Jewish family was killed on the West Bank 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", and "the settlers themselves, some of whom routinely use violence to intimidate the Palestinians who live in the lands they covet".[22]

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."[23]


Walt has frequently criticized America's policy with respect to Iran. 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."[24]

"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."[25]

Walt said 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."[13]


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."[26]

David E. Bernstein, Foundation Professor at the [27]

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."[28]


In August 2013, Walt argued that even if it turned out that Bashar al-Assad of Syria 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."[29] 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."[30]


Walt posits that offshore balancing is the most desirable strategy when dealing with China.[31][32] 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.[31] 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.[33][34]

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."[35]

"Balance of Threat" theory

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.[36]

Snowden case

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."[37]


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."[38]

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.[39]

Taming American Power (2005) provides a thorough critique of U.S. strategy from the perspective of its adversaries.[40] Anatol Lieven called it "a brilliant contribution to the American foreign policy debate."[41]

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

In March 2006, John Mearsheimer and Walt, then academic dean of the [43] Mearsheimer and Walt took the position that "What the Israel lobby wants, it too often gets."[44]

The articles, as well as the bestselling book Walt and Mearsheimer later developed, generated considerable media coverage throughout the world. Contending that Walt and Mearsheimer are members of a "school that essentially wishes that the war with jihadism had never started", Christopher Hitchens concluded that, "Wishfulness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem...."[45] Former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck wrote the "tsunami" of responses condemning the report proved the existence of the lobby and "Opinions differ on the long-term costs and benefits for both nations, but the lobby's views of Israel's interests have become the basis of U.S. Middle East policies."[46]

Personal life

Walt is married to Rebecca E. Stone.[47] The couple has two children.[48]

Titles and positions


  1. ^ Walt, Stephen. "Is Barack Obama More of a Realist Than I Am?". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2015-10-27. 
  2. ^ a b "Harvard Kennedy School - Stephen Walt". Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Stephen M. Walt Interview (2005)". Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c " Speaker- Stephen M. Walt". Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  5. ^ """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. November 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  6. ^ "Al Jazeera America Debut Featuring Stephen Walt Casts Doubt Over Network's Objectivity". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Harrington lecturer Walt explores curse-worthy U.S. foreign policy". Clark University. April 23, 2013. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  8. ^ Caldwell, Priscilla. "Harvard Professor and Foreign Policy Blogger Stephen Walt to Present at William & Mary Sadler Center". College of William and Mary. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  9. ^ Walt, Stephen M. Walt. "Better Fewer, but Better". Foreign Policy. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  10. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (September–October 2005). "Taming American Power". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  11. ^ Walt, Stephen M. "The End of the American Era". National Interest. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ Mayer, Michael. "Why does US foreign policy keep failing?". Institutt for Forsvarsstudier. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Walt, Stephen M. (26 December 2013). "The 2013 Stories that Never Were". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  14. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (1 December 1998). "The Ties That Fray: Why Europe and America are Drifting Apart". The National Interest. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Walt, Stephen (March–April 2004). "The Imbalance of Power". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved November 16, 2012. 
  16. ^ a b Stephen M. Walt (February 9, 2015). "Why Arming Kiev Is a Really, Really Bad Idea". Foreign Policy. Retrieved October 12, 2015. 
  17. ^ Keck, Zachary. "The Interview: Stephen M. Walt". The Diplomat. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  18. ^ Walt, Stephen. "What Should We Do if the Islamic State Wins? Live with it.". Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  19. ^ Epps, Josh. "Point of Inquiry for July 28, 2015". Center For Inquiry. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  20. ^ Walt, Stephen. "On Dual Loyalty", Foreign Affairs (April 2, 2010).
  21. ^ a b Satloff, Robert (8 April 2010). "Defending Dennis Ross". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 27 April 2015.  A copy of the Satloff piece is available here via the website of WINEP.
  22. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (13 March 2011). "On the murders at Itamar". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  23. ^ Ini, Gilead. "Yet Another Stephen Walt Falsification". Camera: Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 
  24. ^ Werman, Marco. "Skepticism over Iranian Terrorist Plot". PRI. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  25. ^ Keck, Zachary. "The Interview: Stephen M. Walt". The Diplomat. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  26. ^ "Stephen Walt on Libya". The Wall Street Journal. 24 Feb 2011. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  27. ^ Berstein, David (6 March 2011). "Stephen Walt on Libya". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  28. ^ Peretz, Martin. "Is Stephen Walt Blind, a Complete Fool, or a Big Liar?". New Republic. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  29. ^ Walt, Stephen M. "Weapons Assad Uses Shouldn’t Affect U.S. Policy". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  30. ^ Olmert, Dr. Josef (9 Sep 2013). "Stephen M. Walt, Joseph Kennedy III, Syria and Israel". Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  31. ^ a b "More support for offshore balancing". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  32. ^ "Tom Friedman Sees the Light". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  33. ^ "What's the United States Up To in Asia? | Stephen M. Walt". Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  34. ^ "Is IR like music or like sports?". Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  35. ^ Keck, Zachary. "The Interview: Stephen M. Walt". The Diplomat. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  36. ^ Harrison, Ewan. The Post-Cold War International System: Strategies, Institutions and Reflexivity. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  37. ^ Walt, Stephen M. "Snowden deserves an immediate presidential pardon". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  38. ^ Walt, Stephen M. The Origins of Alliances. Cornell University Press. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  39. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (6 March 1997). "Revolution and War: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs". Cornell University Press. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  40. ^ Walt, Stephen M (17 Sep 2006). "Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy". W. W. Norton & Co. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  41. ^ Lieven, Atol. Taming American Power': Not Bad Nation"'". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  42. ^ Mearsheimer, John and Walt, Stephen. "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy", JFK School of Government, Working Paper RWP06-011 (March 13, 2006). The JFK School of Government reportedly removed its logo from this working paper. See Rosner, Shmuel. "Kennedy School removes its logo from lobby 'study'", Rosner's Blog, Haaretz (May 10, 2006).
  43. ^ John Mearsheimer; Stephen M. Walt (23 March 2006). "The Israel Lobby". London Review of Books. 
  44. ^ Mearsheimer, John and Walt, Stephen. "Unrestricted Access", Foreign Policy (May/June 2006).
  45. ^ Hitchens, Christopher. "Overstating Jewish Power". Slate. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  46. ^ Of Course There Is an Israel Lobby, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 6, 2006.
  47. ^ "Rebecca Stone Is Wed to Stephen Walt". The New York Times. 5 May 1991. Retrieved 18 December 2009. 
  48. ^ "Stephen Walt's Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 

External links

  • Walt's profile at Harvard University
  • Walt's current blog at
  • Walt's publications - full text
  • Theory TalksInterview by (August 2009)
  • Interview by KRLX 88.1 FM (October 2014)
  • Video of Walt conversing with Anne-Marie Slaughter, (November 2008)
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