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Kenneth Waltz


At the Diplomat I post my thoughts on the legacy of Kenneth Waltz:

On Sunday evening, Dr. Kenneth Waltz passed away at the age of 88. Waltz is best known for his books Man, the State, and War and Theory of International Politics. The first book set the terms on which researchers would approach the study of international relations, dividing theories between first image (individuals and human nature), second image (regime type, such as communist or democratic), and third image (systemic effects). Waltz himself preferred the third; Theory of International Politics formed the basis of Waltz’ answer to what he believed was the most important question of international relations: “Why do balances recur?” His answer: states in anarchy, whether communist, capitalist, or monarchist, sought security, and most readily found that security through balancing behavior.

Waltz hardly believed that states and individuals didn’t matter, as he regularly engaged in policy recommendation. Rather, he believed that systemic factors, largely beyond the reach of states and statesmen, explained the most important international phenomena. In part because of his belief in the robustness of balancing tendencies, Waltz had little patience with what he regarded as unnecessary military interventions. The United States would not lose the Cold War because it lost Vietnam; rather, we would expect that other states in the neighborhood would balance against Soviet, Chinese and Vietnamese power, and even that the three communist states would balance against one another. The developing relationship between Washington and Hanoi, based on concerns about China, vindicates this belief. Similarly, Waltz warned against America’s pointless war in Iraq.

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