Kenneth Waltz

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Kenneth Neal Waltz
File:Kenneth Waltz.jpg
Born (1924-06-08)June 8, 1924
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Died May 12, 2013(2013-05-12) (aged 88)
New York City, New York
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Neorealism
Main interests
International security, nuclear security, anarchy
Notable ideas
Structural realism, defensive realism

Kenneth Neal Waltz (/wɔːlts/; June 8, 1924 – May 12, 2013[1]) was an American political scientist who was a member of the faculty at both the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University and one of the most prominent scholars in the field of international relations.[2] He was a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War.[3]

Waltz was a founder of neorealism, or structural realism, in international relations theory. Waltz's theories have been extensively debated within the field of international relations.[4] In 1981, Waltz published a monograph arguing that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would increase the probability of international peace.[4][note 1]

Leslie H. Gelb has considered Waltz one of the "giants" who helped define the field of international relations as an academic discipline.[1] Columbia University colleague Robert Jervis has said of Waltz, "Almost everything he has written challenges the consensus that prevailed at the time"[4] and "Even when you disagree, he moves your thinking ahead."[1]

Early life, education, and military service

Waltz was born on June 8, 1924, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.[1] He grew up and attended high school there. He then attended Oberlin College, where he started out majoring in mathematics.[5] That was interrupted to serve in the Army of the United States from 1944–46 during World War II,[6] during which time he rose in rank from private to first lieutenant.

He graduated from Oberlin with an A.B. degree in 1948,[6] having switched his major to economics.[5] He was a Phi Beta Kappa[6] and also named an Amos Miller Scholar.

In 1949 he married Helen Elizabeth Lindsley,[6] known as "Huddie". They had three children together.[6]

After attending Columbia University to obtain an upper graduate degree in economics, he switched to political science because political philosophy was more interesting to him.[5] He received his M.A. degree from there in 1950.[6] He was an instructor at Oberlin for a while in 1950.

A member of the Army Reserve, he was called upon to serve again during the Korean War,[1] which he did during 1951–52[6] as a first lieutenant.

Returning to Columbia, he obtained his Ph.D. in 1954.[6]

Academic career

Waltz became a lecturer, then assistant professor, at Columbia during 1953–57.[6] He became one of the early group of scholars at Columbia's Institute of War and Peace Studies, acting as a research assistant from 1952–54 and a research associate beginning in 1954. Later saying that he and his wife had been unsettled by the prospect of raising small children in New York City,[4] Waltz left Columbia for Swarthmore College, where he was an assistant professor, then professor, from 1957–66.[6] He then moved on to Brandeis University for a stint from 1966–71, the last four years of which he held the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics chair.[6] In 1971, Waltz switched coasts and joined University of California, Berkeley, where he was appointed the Ford Professor of Political Science[6] and stayed for over two decades.

During this time, Waltz held a number of additional research positions. He was affiliated with the Institute of War and Peace Studies through 1964. He was a fellow of Columbia University in Political Theory and International Relations during 1959–60 in London. He was a research associate at Center for International Affairs at Harvard University during 1963–64, 1968–69, and 1972. He held a National Science Foundation grant during 1968–71[6] to develop a theory of international politics. He was a Guggenheim Fellow for 1976–77[6] and a fellow at the Institute for the Study of World Politics in 1977. He was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars during 1979–80.[6] He subsequently was a research associate with the Department of War Studies, King's College London.[3]

Waltz taught at Peking University for two months in 1982[6] and later taught at Fudan University as well.[3] He lectured at a number of institutions in the U.S., including the United States Air Force Academy,[3] the National War College, the Army War College, and the Naval War College. Similarly, he lectured at many other institutions around the world, including the London School of Economics, the Australian National University, and the University of Bologna.[3]

Waltz retired from his position at Berkeley and returned to Columbia University in 1997.[3][4] There he became an adjunct professor as well as a senior research scholar at the Institute of War and Peace Studies.[3]

Waltz served as Secretary of the American Political Science Association during 1966–67[6] and then as its President in 1987–1988.[1] He was President of the New England Section of the International Studies Association during 1966–67.[6] He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[6] He served stints on the boards of editors of several scholarly journals ...

Levels of analysis

Waltz's initial contribution to the field of international relations was his 1959 book, Man, the State, and War, which was based upon his dissertation,[1] which classified theories of the causes of war into three categories, or levels of analysis.[4] Waltz refers to these levels of analysis as "images," and uses the writings of one or more classic political philosophers to outline the major points of each image. Each image is given two chapters: the first mainly uses the classical philosopher's writings to describe what that image says about the cause of war; the second usually consists of Waltz analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of that image.

The first image argues that wars are often caused by the nature of particular statesmen and political leaders such as state leaders – example like Napoleon – or by human nature more generally. This is basically consistent with Classical Realism, which dominated the International Relations discipline at the time of Man, the State, and War but which Waltz would contest more fully in his next book, Theory of International Politics.

Theories of war that fall under the rubric of Waltz's second image contend that wars are caused by the domestic makeup of states. A prime example that Waltz refers to is Lenin's theory of imperialism, which posits that the main cause of war is rooted in the need for capitalist states to continue opening up new markets in order to perpetuate their economic system at home. A more familiar example in the Western world today is the notion that non-democratic states, because of their internal composition, start wars.

Waltz next assesses the first two images as being less influential in general than the third image, yet ultimately necessary in understanding the causes of War. The third image posits that the cause of war is found at the systemic level; namely, that the anarchic structure of the international system is the root cause of war. In this context, "anarchy" is not defined as a condition of chaos or disorder but rather one in which there is no sovereign body that governs the interactions between autonomous nation-states. Put differently, unlike in domestic society where citizens can theoretically rely on law enforcement agencies to protect their persons and property, if a state is invaded and calls "911" it can't be sure anyone will answer. Similarly, whereas when two citizens have a dispute they can appeal to the courts to render a verdict and, more importantly, the law enforcement agencies to enforce the court's ruling, there is no body above nation-states that is capable of: establishing rules or laws for all the states, deciding how these apply in specific cases, and compelling the states to honor the court's ruling. As a result, if an issue at stake is important enough to a state, it can achieve a satisfactory outcome only by using its power to impose its will on another state(s). The realization that, at any point in time any state can resort to armed force, forces each state always be prepared for that contingency. These themes are fleshed out more fully in Theory of International Politics which, as the title suggests, lays out a theory for international politics as a whole rather than the narrower focus on what causes war.


Waltz's key contribution to the realm of political science is in the creation of neorealism (or structural realism, as he calls it), a theory of International Relations which posits that the interaction of sovereign states can be explained by the pressures exerted on them by the anarchic structure of the international system, which limits and constrains their choices. Neorealism thus aims to explain recurring patterns in international relations, such as why relations between Sparta and Athens resembled those between the U.S. and the USSR in some important ways.

Waltz emphasizes repeatedly in this book and elsewhere that he is not creating a theory of foreign policy, which aims to explain the behavior or actions of a particular state at a specific time or throughout a period. A sizable amount of criticism of Waltz's balance-of-power theory has been made by scholars who find it unsatisfactory in explaining the foreign policy choices of particular states or in particular areas like nuclear proliferation.

Waltz argues that the world exists in a state of perpetual international anarchy. Waltz distinguishes the anarchy of the international environment from the order of the domestic one. In the domestic realm, all actors may appeal to, and be compelled by, a central authority – 'the state' or 'the government' – but in the international realm, no such source of order exists. The anarchy of international politics (its lack of a central enforcer) means that states must act in a way that ensures their security above all, or else risk falling behind. This is a fundamental fact of political life faced by democracies and dictatorships alike: except in rare cases, they cannot count on the good will of others to help them, so they must always be ready to fend for themselves. Waltz's usage of the term anarchy led to a fundamental discursive transformation in international relations, as IR scholars wrestled with Waltz's ideas. One study finds that the term "anarchy" occurred on average 6.9 times in IR books prior to 1979 but 35.5 times in IR books after 1979.[7]

Like most neorealists, Waltz accepts that globalization is posing new challenges to states, but he does not believe states are being replaced, because no other non-state actor can equal the capabilities of the state. Waltz has suggested that globalization is a fad of the 1990s and if anything the role of the state has expanded its functions in response to global transformations.

Neorealism was Waltz's response to what he saw as the deficiencies of classical realism. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, neorealism and realism have a number of fundamental differences. The main distinction between the two theories is that classical realism puts human nature, or the urge to dominate, at the center of its explanation for war, while neorealism stakes a reduced claim on human nature and argues instead that the pressures of anarchy tend to shape outcomes more directly than the human nature of statesmen and diplomats or domestic governmental preferences.

Waltz's theory, as he explicitly makes clear in Theory of International Politics, is not a theory of foreign policy and does not attempt to predict specific state actions, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union. The theory explains only general principles of behavior that govern relations between states in an anarchic international system, rather than specific actions. These recurring principles of behavior include balancing of power (the theory was refined by Stephen Walt, modifying the "balance of power" concept to "balance of threat"), entering into individually competitive arms races, and exercising restraint in proportion to relative power. In Theory of International Politics (1979:6) Waltz suggests that explanation rather than prediction is expected from a good social science theory, since social scientists cannot run controlled experiments that give the natural sciences so much predictive power.


  • Man, the State, and War. Columbia University Press. New York: 1959.
  • Foreign Policy and Democratic Politics: The American and British Experience. Little, Brown and Company. New York: 1967.
  • Theory of International Politics. McGraw Hill. New York: 1979.
  • The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics. University Press of America. New York: 1983. (coauthored with Robert Art).
  • "Reflections on Theory of International Politics. A Response to My Critics" in: Keohane, Robert: Neorealism and Its Critics. 1986.
  • The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed. W. W. Norton & Company. New York: 1995.
  • Realism and International Politics. Routledge. 2008.


  • In Man, the State, and War, Waltz proposes a three-images view of looking at international relations behavior. The first image was the individual and human nature; the second image the nation-state, and the third image the international system.
  • In Theory of International Politics, Waltz elaborates many of the core principles of neorealist international relations theory, adopting a structural perspective that sets him apart from earlier (classical) realists like E.H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau, and later giving rise to the Neoclassical realist movement (Randall Schweller, Fareed Zakaria, William C. Wohlforth, Thomas J. Christensen, etc.) which tries to incorporate a structural component while emphasizing the state-society relationship that mitigates structural forces. (This book also popularized the term bandwagoning.)
  • In The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed, Waltz argues for the virtues of a world with more nuclear weapon states because of their power in nuclear deterrence. Sagan argued against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. See nuclear peace.

Awards and honors

Waltz received the Heinz Eulau Award in 1991 for Best Article in the American Political Science Review during 1990 for "Nuclear Myths and Political Realities".[8] He received the James Madison Award for "distinguished scholarly contributions to political science" from the American Political Science Association in 1999.[4] The International Studies Association in 2010 named him their International Security Studies Section Distinguished Scholar.[3]

In 2008, a conference in Waltz's honor was conducted by Aberystwyth University, titled "The King of Thought: Theory, the Subject and Waltz".[1] It celebrated the 50th anniversary of the publication of Man, the State, and War and the 30th anniversary of Theory of International Politics.[3]

Waltz received honorary doctorates from Copenhagen University, Oberlin College, Nankai University, and Aberystwyth University,[3] as well as from the University of Macedonia (Greece).

Dissertation Award

The Kenneth N. Waltz Dissertation Award is a yearly award given by the American Political Science Association to the best defended dissertation on the study of international security and arms control. Students from around the country are allowed to submit their paper to the committee, which has four members. The committee accepts any style, whether its historical, quantitative, theoretical, policy analysis, etc.[9]


  • "Contemporary mainstream approaches: neo-realism and neo-liberalism" by Steven L. Lamy, 2001.
  • "Leviathan" by Thomas Hobbes, 1651. See chapter 13.

See also

Notes and references

  1. n.b. The monograph was The Spread of Nuclear Weapons. Waltz developed this theory in later publications, including one that argued peace in the Middle East would be secured if Iran were to acquire nuclear capability.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Martin, Douglas (May 19, 2013). "Kenneth Waltz, Foreign-Relations Expert, Dies at 88". The New York Times. p. A22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Susan Peterson and Michael J. Tierney with Daniel Maliniak (August 2005). Teaching and Research Practices, Views on the Discipline, and Policy Attitudes of International Relations Faculty at U.S. Colleges and Universities
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 "Kenneth N. Waltz (1924 – 2013)". Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. Retrieved 19 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Hollander, Jason (March 28, 2000). "Prof. Kenneth N. Waltz's Political Realism Wins James Madison Lifetime Achievement Award In Political Science". Office of Communications and Public Affairs, Columbia University.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Kreisler, Harry (February 10, 2003). "Theory and International Politics: Conversation with Kenneth N. Waltz: Background". Conversations with History. Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 25 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 Who's Who in America 1984–1985 Volume 2 (43rd ed.). Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1984. p. 3394.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  8. "Heinz Eulau Award Recipients" (PDF). American Political Science Association. Retrieved November 21, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "International Security and Arms Control". The American Political Science Association. Retrieved 25 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links