The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Walt, Walt, don’t tell me….


May 5, 2009

At one time, I kinda almost liked some of Stephen Walt’s work. At another point, I found works such as Origins of Alliances useful pivots in making an argument to move from explanations based on realism to explanations based on constructivism. But to still call Walt a “good” or “eminent” IR theorist worthy of a job at Harvard…

Walt thought it would be fun to list the top ten IR films. Outsourced to Fred Kaplan:

The most jaw-dropping pick of all, though, is Independence Day, which “makes my list,” Walt writes, “because it is balance-of-power theory in action: an external threat (giant alien spaceships) gets the world to join forces against the common foe.” Here’s the thing. Walt is a classic International Realist, the author of such gravitas-beaming books as The Origins of Alliances, Taming American Power, and Revolution and War. Yet this is his view of “balance-of-power theory in action”—the one-worlder’s wet-dream cliché about how all the nations join forces to beat back monsters from outer space? A much more cogent portrait of balance-of-power theory is the scene in The Godfather where the five families agree to get into the heroin business and divvy up the territory. (That’s nearly a metaphor for the Congress of Vienna.) Better still is the scene in The Godfather Part II in which Hyman Roth, Michael Corleone, and the chiefs of various U.S. corporations, standing on a hotel balcony in Havana, slice up a birthday cake that’s decorated with the map of Cuba.

I’ll leave the film commentary to Rodger. I’ll just say that Kaplan is dead on–if Independence Day is what counts as “Realism” these days, then Realism and Realists are in Real trouble. To call Walt’s Independence Day realism a degenerative research program might be too kind!

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.