Kenneth Waltz Dead At 88: One Of World's Greatest Political Theorists Dies


Dr. Kenneth Waltz, best known as the founder of political science's school of neorealism, passed away yesterday at the age of 88 as a result of complications from pneumonia and congestive heart failure. He is considered by many to be the most preeminent postwar scholar in international relations. After earning his Ph.D from Columbia University, Dr. Waltz’s dissertation would go on to become Man, the State, and War. His initial work established the concept of "levels of analysis" which could be used to explain conflicts in the international system. This established the concept of "anarchy" in the international system, and laid the foundation for Waltz’s political theory, neorealism. 

Neorealism has become one of the most dominant theories in international relations, as a result of Waltz's seminal work, Theory of International Politics. His concept of "international anarchy" is applied to the constraints and choices that face nations.  Neorealism attempts to use this framework to explain how the political structures of a country are often inadequate to address frictions between states. By addressing these structural inadequacies, theorists are able to recognize recurring patterns facing states.  He explained that states sought to ensure their survival above other priorities, and that often a "balance of power" between two rival states could stabilize tensions. 

Waltz's work would go on to influence scholars such as Fareed Zakaria and William C. Wohlforth. He was a serious academic and mentored dozens of graduate students as a faculty member of the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University. Waltz constantly applied his theory to current political activities and recognized the trend of democracies fighting only "winnable" wars. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he was an early vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He warned against military intervention motivated by ideological crusades. During the 1980s, he controversially argued that if more countries possessed nuclear weapons, their usage would be deterred. He spoke out against the dangers of excessive military spending.

Waltz chose only to involve himself in the larger public policy debate when he felt compelled to do so. He earned criticism last year when he came out in support of Iran becoming a nuclear state, and argued that the destabilizing presence of Israel as the Middle East's lone nuclear state prevented a balance of power in the region. As the American public continues to debate America's role towards Iran's nuclear program, Waltz has pointed out the similarities the Iranian situation has towards India and Pakistan's past developments and believes states become less aggressive once they possess a nuclear deterrent.  

International relations is a field where there are no laboratories to test the efficacy of theories. Scholarly works are combed through and thoroughly scrutinized. Waltz's theories have withstood heavy scrutiny since their publication, and neorealism will be his lasting legacy on political theory. Throughout his career he warned against excessive military spending, encouraged the acceptance of more nuclear states in the international community, and maintained his belief in a balance of power between rival nations. As America continues to face these crises, we must remember Waltz's influence, and view the world in real terms.