On the subject of the ISA’s 2010 Convention in New Orleans, there’s one more panel I want to describe.
For students and practitioners of international relations, Kenneth Waltz is a name that doesn’t need much introduction. He’s that brilliant (and rare) academic whose work has transformed the way we think about the nature and prevalence of international conflict. A living legend, his Man, the State, and War (1959) and Theory of International Politics (1979) are the cornerstones of all university courses on conflict theory. He pretty much singlehandedly invented what is popularly known as neorealism (or structural realism) and he wears kitschy bow ties in public and gets away with it.
In New Orleans, Waltz was awarded the 2010 International Security Studies Section Distinguished Scholar award. It was presented to him following a lengthy roundtable discussion featuring some of his former doctoral students and colleagues, all heavyweight academics on their own right – Stephen Walt, Christopher Layne, Robert Art, Stephen Van Evera, Barry Posen, and Karen Ruth Adams. This was a who’s who of realist thought and offered a priceless window on Waltz.
So in honour of the Godfather of Realism, here are a few of his lessons worth repeating:
- The best academic work asks and tries to answer relevant policy puzzles;
- Academics need to be involved both in the construction of theory and the development and refinement of policy;
- Good public policy is based on solid theory. We need to understand conflict if we want to manage it;
- Security, defence, and foreign policy should be based on a clear assessment of a state’s national interests;
- While the use of military force in foreign engagements may at times be necessary and in the best interest of states, its application should be used sparingly and diligently;
- The best academic advisors praise good work but remain unreserved in their criticism of bad work. Only honest critique assists scholarship.
For a discussion on all things Waltzian, have a look at “The King of Thought” conference, held at Aberystwyth University in 2008.