Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Waltz, Mearsheimer, Walt and the trend among realists to oppose Empire
Ken Waltz, a leader in American international relations and someone who thought beyond narrow American interests, died last week. An affectionate portrait of Ken by Steve Walt who studied with him is here.
The New York Times obituary asks the recovering/relapsing belligerent Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, about Waltz's importance in the field. For Gelb, those who influence the field are mostly those who shape imperial foreign policy, including reactionaries and Democratic neo-neo cons or liberal imperialists (like Gelb). He numbers Waltz with Henry Kissinger, Sam Huntington and Zbig Brzezinski. The former two are war criminals. Huntington advised the US government on building the South Vietnam client dictatorship during the genocide by suppressing protesting groups like the Buddhist Cao Dai and Hoa Hao; he translated the urbanization forced by the US napalming the countryside into peasants voluntarily emigrating to a Saigon "hit hard by the Honda revolution." Kissinger was a really massive war criminal even compared to the Bush administration (from Cambodia to personally ordering the hit on General Rene Schneider, the obstacle to assassinating Allende - see Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger). Zbig ("Zbish"), co-author of Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, advisor to Carter and keeper of the empire is not quite a major league war criminal - the others are in a league with Cheney or Bush or Condi...
As Gelb says, however, Waltz argued with Kissinger. Waltz was in no way a war criminal. Moreover, his reflections on US policy in its "unipolar moment" though perhaps not his "inevitable" or "predictive" assertiveness - the difference between a tendency and an "inevitability" is sometimes fundamental - are apt:
"'Each nation-state, he said, will push as far as it can to advance its own self-interests.'
He used as an example the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he said freed the United States to become a bully because it no longer had an opponent in its own weight class. In this new “unipolar” world, the United States 'abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries — that’s what we specialize in — and beating them up,' he said in 2011 in an oral history interview at the University of California, Berkeley.
'It is sad,' he continued, 'but this is a typical behavior of powers that are dominant, or used to be dominant in their regions, and now are globally dominant.'”
Perhaps this reflects, despite his billiard ball empiricism about great powers (what distinguishes so-called neo-realism from older versions of realism), something of his political theory background. (in the Times's article below, Jervis mischaracterizes earlier American realism - Kennan, for example, often, did quite well, about "our military-industrial addiction" during Vietnam despite not being "scientific" or having Waltz's theory). Waltz rightly names American policy during the post-Cold War period "sad."
Waltz is thus allied with Hans Morganthau (Kissinger's teacher, though Kissinger moved to the dark side). Morganthau fiercely fought the Vietnam War, and the Johnson administration launched an ideological crusade against him
They did not, however, kill "that German in the Midwest" in Presidential press flak John Roche's words; LBJ withdrew FBI protection from Martin Luther King and perhaps worse, in response to King's great speech at the Riverside Church "Breaking the Silence," April 4th 1967, a year to the day before King was shot in Memphis. "Breaking the Silence" is an essay about American foreign policy which still is applicable to Iraq or Afghanistan or the military budget as a "destructive demonic suction tube" for programs to help the poor and declining middle class. It is up there with his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" or Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," and is in a different league of insight and eloquence from the best realist writings on these matters - though see Morganthau's Truth and Power for some pretty good ones.
Still, Morganthau stood up and suffered fierce attack - see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 2.
Waltz came about 20 years ago to speak at my school, and I asked him the leading question of Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?: given a world of fierce great power rivalry, what effect does international politics have on democracy at home?
He responded publicly that "a theory can't cover everything." But in conversation afterwards, he thought aptly of (Truman-)McCarthyism...
In the current era of crazed American invasions, John Mearsheimer has played a leading role in articulating and fighting the cry "bomb Iran" or "send weapons [or troops] to Syria" from the ever more reactionary and destructive (and self-destructive) Republican claque as well as Obama's "surge" in Afghanistan. John's view of off-shore balancing rather than invasions which often lead to imperial collapse (cf. Afghanistan, Iraq and the American and world economy) has become a major line of argument in academic and, to an increasing extent, policy circles (see Steve Walt here and here. Christopher Layne here, as well as Barry Posen,here, Christopher Preble, Robert Pape here and here, and Patrick Porter here.).
Though not being as sharp on American empire then as Mearsheimer now is (Chomsky rightly criticized their famous piece on AIPAC, pointing out that the tail does not ordinarily wag the dog), his and Walt's views of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and its dangers to Israel and the world have been exemplary. And they, like Morganthau, have taken enormous heat for it.
Waltz rightly says that Iran having a nuclear weapon would, to some extent, balance Israel (and America) and likely encourage sane policies toward a settlement which recognizes the humanity of Palestinians. It would be better, of course, to head off Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing without Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and the danger that such weapons could be used - for example, currently, by Netanyahu in a losing war - is much greater than Waltz imagined.
Consider the new and vivid story of the Cuban missile crisis from the 1990s - see Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" about Robert McNamara - where it turns out Cuba already had 100 Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads and the fact that Kennedy overruled those who wanted to bomb Cuba like Curtis Lemay means that many of us are still here - the East Coast, where I was, would have been wiped out in the exchange. Further, radiation travels and nuclear winter would have done for the survivors...
Bombing Iran would likely lead to a greater Middle East war, America with no troops to throw in, Israel with many young people feeling some doubts about endless belligerence and confronted with likely defeats, Isreal's leadership might well resort to using nuclear weapons in desperation and fanaticism. That is the greatest danger of nuclear war in the world, launched by the rogue Israeli state (Israel is second only to the American rogue which fortunately has not been worsened by McCain and Romney, but is in severe danger of lurching far to the right - more authoritarian, racist, anti-science, striving to outdo Scrooge for the capitalist elite imperialism - every four years; in addition, the Obama administration, for instance, about executive power and torture has moved already further to the Right, though Obama's turning point on foreign policy - his speech last Thursday here - setting a real direction away from militarism, mitigates this.
Israel is, in fact. the greatest danger of launching nuclear war in the world and the obituary's citation of Netanyahu's projecting "a new standard for human stupidity" onto Waltz is a prize example of the hubris of the Israeli leadership and its sycophants (i.e. though with some reservations, the Times)...
Mearsheimer suggests that imperial pretensions lead to foreign policy advisors like Gelb (neo-neo-cons or liberal imperialists) scurrying self-importantly to support neo-cons. There is no conflict, no place in the world, where the coterie of American foreign policy advisors near power aren't geared to invade and, arrogantly, "fix it" afterwards (see Afghanistan, Iraq)...
On why he fecklessly supported aggression in Iraq, Gelb remarked aptly that one couldn't get facetime on CNN et al unless one spoke for war...; that is why Waltz (and many of the rest of us) didn't get interviewed much on corporate television and radio.
In this respect, we are all lucky as well as hard working to have elected Obama who withstood Netanyahu's and Romney's attempts to force bombing Iran in the campaign (Obama is horrifying about drones, see here as well as here, though, once again fortunately, he has begun to cut back their use and spoken to - beginning to - limit them).
But Mearsheimer and Waltz are right that the whole foreign policy, across administrations, since the Cold War has been corrupt.
John now notes, in a breakthrough for neo-realists prompted by the developing national security state, that sustained empire leads to authoritarianism at home - see his important 2011 National Interest article "Imperial by Design" here and here.
This theme is also Christopher Layne's (talk at my school in 2010). It is a natural consequence of thinking about great power rivalry (what Lenin named inter-imperial rivalry though he, unlike realists, saw resistance from below as a possibility and a promise).
Waltz, following J.D. Singer, called for a pseudoscientific distinction of "levels of analysis" so that thinking about how foreign policy affects domestic policy has been eschewed, in a silly way, in the international relations field. Most obviously, as a counterexample, the US ate Iraq in the 2003 invasion and created the "democracy" there - an aspect of internal politics consigned, in parochial political "science" to "comparative politics" replaced Saddam due to "global politics."
Bush and Cheney, one might say, had no concern for "levels." If this methodological doctrine purports to deal with the real (realism), what is fantasy?
Similarly, the issue of Obama's speech last Thursday, that as Madison said, a country at permanent war cannot remain free is also elided.
Today, the question I asked in articles in the early 1990s (I debated Steve Kranser in Political Theory in 1992 and was on a panel with John and Steve as well Michael Doyle - "Realism: For and Against" - at the American Political Science Association in 1993) as well as Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999) has finally made it into the vision of an American President as well as many neo-realists: conservative and more liberal i.e. Walt. (Krasner, sadly, went to the dark side, being recruited by Condi to serve on the National Security Council until the invasion of Iraq (he then got out...).
The reason for this shift in Obama's thinking or in Mearsheimer's and Layne's analysis, once again, is that the threat to the equal liberties of Americans, the rule of law, and democracy (all approximations, less for black folks and native americans and for poor people generally than for the elite), as a result of bizarre imperial policies, is glaring. In addition, the Iraq aggression was based on fantasies and lies to an even greater degree than the "gulf of Tonkin incident" and Vietnam or the standard "Remember the Maine!" or "Remember the Alamo!"(seizing roughly half the US from Mexico) and "Manifest Destiny" (ethnic cleansing of indigenous people) bellowings of American imperialists.
Further, the Empire which has farmed out manufacturing to China and India inter alia, weakening America crucially, and bolstered the .0001% at the expense of everyone else ("Reaganomics"), depends on and is stimulated by the war complex (as I sometimes spell it out, the military-industrial-congressional-media-think tank/academic/"intelligence"/foreign military and other clients for military aid complex), and is in decline. Imperial wars, as Thucydides said long ago of Athens, threaten corruption and the death of democracy at home.
"Imperial overstretch" is the contemporary neo-realist jargon, mistranslating Thucydides, about Vietnam. But Mearsheimer is much more direct (say, about native americans or about Israel) than most academics, names, in "Imperial by Design," central features of American policy (interestingly, Layne's account in Illusions of Peace, of the American domination of Europe at the end of World War II as imperial, and doing much to provoke the Cold War, has not drawn much outrage among political scientists but would not have been said by a near to power or mainstream academic writing on foreign policy in an American university during the Cold War - Chomsky or Gar Alperowitz or I, inter alia, might have said it).
Here John captures the dramatic domestic part of Thucydides. For Thucydides' theme was to trace the gradual political corruption and changes, moving from the intelligent Pericles through the barbaric Cleon to the mad enterprise invading Syracuse led by the vapid and sententious Nicias, and the triumph of tyranny. The restored democracy beyond Thucydides' account, the one that with McCarthyite vehemence, murdered Socrates was not a realm of freedom as Athens, in its greatness, had been - "we do not cast censorious looks on one another," said Pericles in the Funeral Oration, "so long as each upholds a common good," i.e. fights to defend Athens or more sadly and aptly, to advance its empire.
The Athens up on a hill (the first free regime, though one that held slaves and imprisoned women) was gone (one can still look up at the ruins...).
There are two kinds of realism. John McCamant, my colleague and friend, was in the lunch room at the National University in Santiago when Pinochet's troops, launched by the "realist" Henry Kissinger, came and machine-gunned 5 professors in the Psychology Department on the second floor. McCamant despises what I call official or war criminal realism, the idea of great power rivalry combined with false factual claims. Allende nationalizing ITT was not a threat to most Americans and the idea that "we" had to overthrow and murder Allende and so many others as part of a "national interest" explains the vagueness of Morganthau on this supposedly key concept (anything but a common good) and Huntington's and Krasner's operationalism. For the latter two, the national interest is "the state's interest" - see if you can make that one work for Adolf Hitler and his victims...
Operationalism - the idea that we can avoid intellectual debate by substituting some allegedly quantifiable notion - is ordinarily a false - "intelligence is what IQ tests test" - and in consequence, morally harmful methodological doctrine.
There is no "we," no common good, in such policies.
But there is also a thoughtful and dissident realism. Morganthau, Niebuhr and Kennan stood up about Vietnam (see Must Global Politics Constrian Democracy?, ch 2), and Waltz, Mearsheimer, Layne, Walt and others in the post-Cold War era have stood up against Empire. This comparatively sophisticated realism (my book goes into how one might argue for that realism more coherently by seeing and correcting the methodological errors in so-called scientific neo-realism; the need to predict a la Waltz and Mearsheimer is another one, since many of the predictions turn out to be false; and linking international politics to its anti-democratic domestic consequences - what my book names the anti-democratic feedback of global politics) is a far better and increasingly influential strain here.
A Steve Walt cannot be hired in foreign policy in the Obama administration - Steve's good luck in a way, but the nation's loss; again, it is hard to speak of the sycophants who have recommended the drones, though Ben Rhodes et al's writing in\contributions to Obama's recent speech deserve praise. Nonetheless, the view that less invasion and less murder of civilians by drone is better is slowly, against rampant militarism, gaining a foothold.
Turning the empire around or achieving "graceful decline" (Layne) is perhaps beyond conventional American politics. It will take a vast movement from below, a renewed and more intensely civilly disobedient Occupy...
That is the point, once again, of what I name democratic internationalism - opposing corrupt state policies in league with, for example, civilian protest against drones in Pakistan or hunger strikes at Guantanamo - from below.
Waltz was a fine, often provocative analyst of foreign policy. He also stood up. If there is such a movement, realist critiques of empire will have played an important role in furthering an intellectual and political climate in which truth has a chance...
New York Times
Kenneth Waltz, Foreign-Relations Expert, Dies at 88
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: May 18, 2013
Kenneth N. Waltz, a pre-eminent thinker on international relations who was known for his contrarian, debate-provoking ideas, not least his view that stability [sic - stopping Israeli aggressions and occupations in Palestine, decency] in the Middle East might be better served if Iran had a nuclear weapon, died on May 12 in Manhattan. He was 88.
The cause was complications from pneumonia, said Columbia University, where Mr. Waltz was a senior research scholar.
Leslie H. Gelb, emeritus president of the Council on Foreign Relations, characterized Mr. Waltz as one of five “giants” who shaped the study of international relations as a discrete discipline, the others being Hans Morgenthau, Henry A. Kissinger, Samuel P. Huntington and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The field developed in the 1950s, when the experiences of two world wars and the beginning of the cold war drove scholars to try to explain more precisely how nations interacted. The goal was to build a conceptual framework on which international politics could be analyzed, something earlier courses on military and diplomatic history had not offered.
“Without a theory, we’re just lost,” said Robert Jervis, a political science professor at Columbia. “We just have all these random phenomena we can’t make any sense of.”
One of Mr. Waltz’s propositions was that wars are not caused simply by human aggression or bad governments but by the anarchic, dog-eat-dog nature of international relations. Each nation-state, he said, will push as far as it can to advance its own self-interests.
He used as an example the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he said freed the United States to become a bully because it no longer had an opponent in its own weight class. In this new “unipolar” world, the United States “abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries — that’s what we specialize in — and beating them up,” he said in 2011 in an oral history interview at the University of California, Berkeley.
“It is sad,” he continued, “but this is a typical behavior of powers that are dominant, or used to be dominant in their regions, and now are globally dominant.”
Mr. Waltz shook conventional wisdom by regarding the “bipolar” nuclear stalemate between the United States and the Soviet Union as one of the most stable balances of power ever — not the knife-edge of planetary annihilation. His critics, however, saw the failure of the bipolar model in the experience of World War I, in which two rigid, pre-existing alliances clashed with devastating results.
Mr. Waltz countered that the cold war was fundamentally different, because the 20th-century superpowers were so much stronger than their allies that only the superpowers mattered.
Even more, Mr. Waltz endorsed nuclear proliferation as a force for peace. “The measured spread of nuclear weapons is more to be welcomed than feared,” he wrote in 1981. He argued that nuclear states had always safeguarded their weapons carefully, and that no nuclear state had ever been involved in a major war. (He said the fighting between nuclear India and nuclear Pakistan in 1999 did not constitute a major war.)
Mr. Waltz’s goal was to clarify thinking about international politics by offering a perspective he called “structural realism,” or neorealism, in which interactions between nations matter most in fomenting war.
“Even when you disagree, he moves your thinking ahead,” Mr. Jervis said.
More than his views on particular foreign-policy issues, it was Mr. Waltz’s theoretical work that influenced policy makers most, Mr. Jervis said. And yet his most controversial pronouncement was indeed about a specific issue: Iran’s getting the bomb.
Writing in Foreign Affairs last year under the title “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” Mr. Waltz argued that in a region, the Mideast, that had only one nuclear power, Israel, another would be a stabilizing force. Iran, he said, would be unlikely to use the bomb because Iranian leaders, however hateful, were not self-destructive. He pointed to Maoist China as a precedent; even in the midst of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, he said, China assiduously guarded its nuclear arsenal against political radicals.
Critics responded that Iran’s Islamic leaders might not be so self-restrained, given their belief that martyrdom wins God’s approval; that Iran might share the bomb with terrorists, just as it shares conventional weapons; and that having nuclear protection might encourage Iran to be more provocative in local conflicts involving lesser arms.
“Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said a month after Mr. Waltz’s article was published. “I think people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity.”
Equally controversial was Mr. Waltz’s pronouncement that North Korea, however odious its government, would be ill-served by giving up its nuclear weapons as a means of deterring enemies. Here he pointed to the example of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, who Mr. Waltz argued may have hastened his own destruction by relinquishing his nuclear program in 2003.
Recently, Mr. Gelb arranged a luncheon with Mr. Waltz and Mr. Kissinger, who categorically opposed the idea of Iran having the bomb. “One rousing argument after another,” Mr. Gelb recalled.
Kenneth Neal Waltz was born on June 8, 1924, in Ann Arbor, Mich. He served in the Army during World War II and then earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Oberlin College in Ohio. He studied political science as a graduate student at Columbia, and his dissertation was published in 1959 as a book, “Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis.” His “Theory of International Politics” (1979) advanced understanding of the concept of a “bipolar” world, with two dominant powers. Though he did not invent the concept, he showed how it worked. The book became a standard text. In 1995, Mr. Waltz and the Stanford University scholar Scott D. Sagan published “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate,” which also became popular in international relations courses. They updated and expanded the discussion in subsequent editions.
Mr. Waltz had begun teaching at Columbia in 1950 when, as a member of the Army Reserve, he was called to serve in the Korean War. He returned to Columbia after the war and taught there until 1957. He then taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Swarthmore, Brandeis and the University of California, Berkeley, before returning again to Columbia.
His wife, the former Helen Lindsley, died in 2008. He is survived by two sons, Daniel and Kenneth Jr., and four grandchildren.
Mr. Waltz was the president of the American Political Science Association in 1987 and 1988, and in 1999 received the association’s James Madison Award, given once every three years. In 2008, Aberystwyth University in Wales held a conference in his honor titled “The King of Thought: Theory, the Subject and Waltz.”
Kenneth N. Waltz, 1924-2013
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Monday, May 13, 2013 - 4:52 PM Share
I learned this morning that Kenneth N. Waltz, who was arguably the preeminent theorist of international relations of the postwar period, had passed away at the age of 88. Ken was the author of several enduring classics of the field, including Man, the State, and War (1959), Foreign Policy and Democratic Politics (1967), and Theory of International Politics (1979). His 1980 Adelphi Paper on nuclear proliferation ("The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better"), was also a classic, albeit a controversial one. One of his lesser achievements was chairing my dissertation committee, and he was a source of inspiration throughout my career.
I've written a tribute to Waltz's scholarship before, in the preface to a festschrift for Ken edited by Andrew Hanami. But today I want to celebrate his role as a teacher, based on some remarks I made at the 2010 meeting of the International Studies Association, where Waltz received an award for lifetime achievement. With a few edits, here's what I said back then:
Ken Waltz is widely recognized as one of the preeminent IR scholars of the postwar period, but he was also responsible for training an impressive number of graduate students, including Barry Posen, Stephen Van Evera, Bob Powell, Avery Goldstein, Christopher Layne, Benny Miller, Karen Adams, Shibley Telhami, Jim Fearon, William Rose, Robert Gallucci, Andrew Hanami, and many others. I want to say a few words about what it was like to have him as a teacher and advisor, and why I think he was so effective at it.
First, Ken was trained in political theory and renowned as a theorist of international relations, but he was deeply interested in real-world issues and his example showed us how theory could be used to illuminate crucial policy issues. In addition to his own theoretical work, Ken wrote about Vietnam, nuclear strategy, economic interdependence and globalization, nuclear proliferation, the U.S. defense budget, and even the Rapid Deployment Force. For those of us who were interested in international security affairs, his model was wonderfully liberating. Ken showed that you could be a theorist and a social scientist without joining the "cult of irrelevance" that afflicts so much of academia.
Indeed, Ken's work on these topics underscored why theory is so important. Having lots of facts at one's disposal didn't help if you were thinking about those facts in the wrong way. In a world where most people think theory and practice have little in common, Ken was teaching us that they were inextricably intertwined. That's why he got a lot of things right that others got wrong. He was right about Vietnam, right about which side was winning the Cold War, right about the basic principles of nuclear deterrence, and right about the continued relevance of politics, even in the era of economic "globalization." A little theory can go a long way, and his case, it led in the right direction.
Second, Ken encouraged his students to ask big questions, largely by the force of his own example. Man, the State, and War organizes and critiques several centuries of writing on the causes of war. Theory of International Politics presents a powerful general theory explaining the behavior of self-regarding actors in anarchy. His essay on proliferation attacks the conventional wisdom with ruthless logic, just as his earlier essays on interdependence showed where liberal theories had gone off-course and why power was still central. Ken encouraged us to tackle puzzles whose answers were not immediately available and to be fearless about challenging entrenched orthodoxies.
Third, and perhaps most important, Ken held the bar high and encouraged his students to have equally high standards. The first time I laid eyes on Ken was the orientation meeting for new grad students at Berkeley in 1977. Ken was director of graduate studies that year and had to give the welcoming speech. I don't remember most of what he said, except that he emphasized that grad school took too damn long and that we should all plan on finishing in four years ... or at most five. His message was simple: "Get your coursework done, write your MA paper, pass your qualifying exams ... then write the thesis ... four years! Why wait?" The average at Berkeley in those days was more like seven or eight years, so he was raising the bar from the very start.
I also remember my first day in Poli Sci 223, his graduate seminar in IR theory. I was already convinced that everyone else in the room knew more than I did, and Ken began by setting out his basic ideas about the field and about theory. At one point he made some critical remarks about two professors I had studied with as an undergraduate -- nothing overly disparaging, just some critical comments on their conception of theory -- which immediately made me think that not only did I know less than every one else in the room, everything I had learned up till then was wrong. The real lesson, however, was that grad school was not about learning what other people thought, it was about learning to think for yourself. And Ken gave us the freedom to do that. He never tried to force his students to agree with his views or to write books and articles designed to reinforce his own work or burnish his own reputation.
Fourth, Ken placed great value on writing well. His students are a diverse group -- and certainly none of them are clones of Waltz himself -- but all of them are very clear writers, regardless of which methods or approaches they use. Ken used to tell us to read Fowler's Modern English Usage and Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and he'd give little mini-lectures on his linguisic pet peeves in the middle of a seminar. In Waltz's view, a scholar's first duty is to make it easy for the reader to figure out what you were saying. If the reader is confused, that's probably your fault.
This leads me to my most important encounter with him, which occurred as I was nearing the end of my dissertation. Writing a dissertation for Ken Waltz was intimidating from the start -- remember, his dissertation was Man, the State, and War -- and if you'd read that book and then read Theory of International Politics you knew you were dealing with someone with a razor-sharp ability to cut through a bloated argument and find the jugular. After two years of work I sent Ken the main analytical chapters of my thesis, and all I had left -- or so I thought -- was a short conclusion. Thinking I was nearly done, I accepted a post-doc for the following year.
And then I got a letter back from Ken, giving his comments on the chapters I had sent him earlier that month. His letter began by declaring that he had read the first twenty-five pages with "increasing dismay." "They are terrible," he wrote, and then went on: "Ask yourself why this is so. Were you trying to write too fast, or did you just not know what you were trying to say?" He continued in this vein for a few more paragraphs, making it clear that what I had sent was -- to quote the letter again -- "nowhere near ready to be an acceptable dissertation." His bracing conclusion: "You have to face this squarely, and you are the only one who can fix these problems. So enjoy a busy summer." By the way, there was little P.S. at the end, telling me that he thought it would be an excellent thesis once I had worked out the kinks.
I was basically curled up in a ball under my desk by the time I was finished reading this missive, and it was too early in the day to go for a stiff drink. I didn't enjoy the experience very much at the time, and you might think he was being harsh or even cruel. In fact, Ken had done me an enormous service. He was telling me that there were no short-cuts if I wanted to make a serious scholarly contribution and reminding me that hasty or poorly thought-out work deserved to be treated harshly.
Looking back, I'm grateful that he didn't spare my feelings, and there's a lesson there for all of us. Professors aren't really helping our students when we go easy on them, and students should in fact be grateful when their advisors occasionally take them to the woodshed.
So apart from his extraordinary scholarly achievements, Ken Waltz was also an inspiring and accomplished teacher. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from him, and the study of international politics is much the richer for his remarkable contributions.
Addendum: All I would add to this today is the reminder of Waltz's deep aversion to foolish military excesses. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was a realist rather than a pacifist. But like Hans Morgenthau, he was an early opponent of the Vietnam War and deeply skeptical of the paranoid threat-inflation that has informed so much of U.S. foreign and defense policy. Like many other realists, he also opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The field of international relations would be better off with more people like Ken, and the world would be better off if more great powers -- especially the United States -- paid more attention to his insights.
*In an interview with Peer Schulen in Zurich, see here, Waltz elaborated on the connection between American imperial bullying and his view of the need for threatened powers to acquire some nuclear weapons:
"(Schulen) States should accommodate to their position in the international system, which is determined in big part by the shifts in relative capabilities between states. Has the United States, in your view, adapted well to the position it is currently in? And if not, what system does it seem to respond to?
(Waltz)It responds to the situation all giant countries have responded to. And it responds in the very same way: it abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries—that’s what we specialize in—and beating them up! That is what we do! Six wars in the twenty years since the 1980s; they were all cases in which we singled out small and weak countries like Grenada or Panama, and we proceeded to beat them up. It is sad, but this is a typical behavior of powers that are dominant, or used to be dominant in their regions and now are globally dominant. The United States is the globally dominant power, and that is why there is only one way that other states can deter the United States: by acquiring nuclear weapons. Nobody can deter the United States conventionally anymore because we dispose of a military budget that is nearly the equal of all the other countries in the world combined. So, how can anybody deter the United States without resorting to nuclear weapons? They cannot.
(Schulen) Does it mean that, by bullying smaller countries, the US has in fact adapted well to its position in the system?
(Waltz) That is what you would expect dominant powers to do. One does not like it; I do not like it; and I am sure the countries that experience the bullying do not like it; but it is expected behavior. That is the way countries behave when they have dominant power—globally or within their region."