Συνέντευξη του Kenneth Waltz στους F. Halliday/J. Rosenberg
Κατόπι παράκλησης πολλών παραθέτω σημαίνουσα συνέντευξη του Kenneth Waltz το 1998 στην οποία γίνονται πολλές επιστημονικές και επιστημολογικές επισημάνσεις, καθώς και βαρύνουσες διατυπώσεις θέσεων για την οντολογία της πολιτικής επιστήμης των διεθνών σχέσεων. Η έμφαση, είναι δική μου.
Review of International Studies (1998), 24, 371–386 Copyright © British International Studies Association
Interview with Ken Waltz*, CONDUCTED BY FRED HALLIDAY AND JUSTIN ROSENBERG
1. Personal and academic background
F.H. It would be very interesting if you could say something about your own
personal and academic background. What were the experiences that led you to write
Man, the State and War?
K.W. I came from a relatively poor family. My father was a painter—of walls, not of pictures. Lower middle-class; we didn’t suffer. I am the only person of my
generation in the family who went to college. I am quite sure my father did not
graduate from high school, though he’d never really admit that he didn’t. My mother
did get into high school. She didn’t graduate. It was that kind of family: a German speaking family in south-eastern Michigan.
F.H. Were they first generation?
K.W. No, but it was then so German in rural south-eastern Michigan that my
cousin, who’s almost exactly my age, could not speak English until she went to
kindergarten. Sometimes when I went to Sunday school, my father would go to the
German service: the same preacher, but from 9.30 till 11 was the German sermon
and then 11 to 12.30 it was in English.
I, along with all of my male friends, expected to go to the University of Michigan
and study engineering. And then in my junior year I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to
be an engineer!’ It was an early life crisis. I went to a psychological counselling
service at the University of Michigan, which went on for hours, over a period of
three days. And this lovely woman, who I realize now was either a graduate student
or the wife of a graduate student, asked me: ‘Your best field is music: what
instrument do you play?’ And I said, ‘The banjo.’ She said, ‘Oh well, in that case, the
next best would be law.’ So I called the Dean of the Law School—this was 1941. The
Dean, rather than a secretary, answered the phone. And I said ‘What should I major
in? I want to come back to the University of Michigan Law School.’ And he said,
‘We recently did a survey of our most successful graduates and the most successful
ones majored in mathematics.’ Well, I liked math. It was very easy. I didn’t have to
spend a lot of time doing homework. You either get it or you don’t. So I majored in
math, and then drifted into economics, while still doing some mathematics.
Even then, I didn’t really expect to go on to graduate school. But I didn’t want to
teach and I didn’t want to write. So I went to graduate school in economics
intending to be an econometrician. But then I was bored stiff at Columbia where the
teaching tradition was not rich. And after a semester or so I had to make a decision.
I’d started following some great courses in English literature, but I realized that if I
got a PhD in English, I would be a critic: I was not going to write a poem; I was not
going to write a novel. I think it’s fine to be a critic but I didn’t think of that as being
satisfying. The other thing for which I had tremendous enthusiasm was political
philosophy—which is called political theory in the US. There is very little theory in
political philosophy, but it’s great literature. You only had to have two fields for a
PhD degree, and I decided that my second one would be IR since I’d already done
international economics; that would be the easiest second field for me. It was a very
minimal field. I did as little as possible. I had an agreement with a professor who was
often on the oral exams for students who were minors that I would do certain things
in IR and not others: no international law and no international organization, for
F.H. You were clear about that even then?
K.W. Oh, even then. And then Professor Peffer got sick and Bill Fox took over.
Fox said, ‘If you’re going to do IR, you have to do IR, not just part of the field.’ So I
started reading, reading, reading like mad; and I couldn’t make head or tail of it. So
many people writing in IR were talking past each other, talking different languages
really. I think I still have the faded piece of yellow paper on which I wrote down the
three images: ‘This is why the people I am reading are not able to communicate with
each other: because some of them think the major causes lie at the level of individuals
or states or the international system.’ This was my final month as a graduate student
before beginning to write the dissertation about a year and a half later.
F.H. So Man, the State and War arose out of your doctoral dissertation?
K.W. Yes. In fact the second chapter is practically intact, for which all the
research was done by my wife. The first chapter is entirely new. The original first
chapter wasn’t much good. There was a lot of Spinoza in the original, which doesn’t
appeal much to students of international relations. But essentially the book and the
dissertation were saying very much the same things.
F.H. Could you say something about your personal background. You were in
World War II; you were in the Korean War.
K.W. I was in the Second World War beginning in 1944 and ending in 1946, and
that was while I was at college. The Korean War intervened when I was at graduate
F.H. And so you served in the Second World War or just in the Korean War?
F.H. So where were you in the Second World War? Were you in the Pacific or in
K.W. I was in the Pacific. The war ended while we were on the boat. We heard
about the atomic bomb on the boat on the way to Manila, but I took the first
opportunity to transfer to Japan and spent a year in the occupying army.
F.H. Would you say that these experiences in the Second World War, and for
that matter your German-American background, affected your view of international
relations? Do you feel there is some connection between your overall theoretical
interests and your early experiences. Or would you locate it more at the intellectual
K.W. I would locate it more at the intellectual level. I was in the quartermaster
corps. I didn’t do any fighting. The war was over. In the Korean War there was
fighting but I was in Pusan.
372 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
F.H. What about intellectual influences on you? Up to Man the State and War,
there was the growth of what we now see as Second World War and post-Second
World War American realism, although many of the people had in fact migrated
from Europe: Niebuhr, Kissinger and others. Were there people who had a formative
influence on you?
K.W. In international politics? No. I was really emphasizing political philosophy,
and doing International Relations because one had to have a second field. For years
I expected to be a teacher of political theory in the traditional sense and was very
sad when there weren’t any jobs. Now, in retrospect, I’m very glad that there weren’t,
because political philosophy has very little theory. And I became very interested in
F.H. How would you distinguish the two?
K.W. Political philosophy is more interpretative. There are some exceptions.
There’s some theory in Rousseau. There’s some theory in Kant. There’s some theory
in Hobbes. But by and large it’s interpreting the political world and beyond.
2. Realism and foreign policy
J.R. Readers often form very stereotyped impressions of the political judgments of
well-known writers. I was surprised when I first learned that Morgenthau had
opposed the Vietnam War. Many people think that there is an easy correspondence
between a realist theoretical position and the political legitimation of existing foreign
policy. But that actually doesn’t hold, does it?
K.W. It doesn’t hold at all. He opposed the Vietnam War for the same reasons I
did. From a realist point of view there was no reason under the sun for us to expend
large amounts of treasure and blood fighting in that hopeless cause where there was
no interest, no important interest, at stake. There are really two reasons why people
think that I am a hardline conservative. The first is that they think realists are. And
that is so ingrained that when Morgenthau very actively opposed the war in
Vietnam, there were a lot of people who were saying, ‘Oh, he’s tired of being
unpopular. He wants to be popular, especially among the youth. So he’s renounced
all his beliefs, and now he’s opposing the war in Vietnam.’ That was absolutely false.
He was opposing the war in Vietnam because he was a realist. The other reason that
I think that people think of me as a hardline conservative is that the people who
read the theory tend not to read what I write that isn’t theory. I’ve written quite a bit
of stuff on the military. And I’ve been a fierce critic of American military policy and
spending and strategy, at least since the 1970s. The fact is that there’s no way to read
directly from a theory to policy conclusions. People who say realists are hardline
conservatives are doing that. They’re saying, ‘That’s his theoretical stance; therefore
that must be his policy preference.’
J.R. Morgenthau also opposed the Truman Doctrine.
K.W. Because it was universalistic. And I think that’s a legitimate criticism. He
did not oppose the Kennan version of containment. But the Truman Doctrine was
phrased in universalistic terms: anywhere, any place where Communism is, etc. And
that was unsound. Many realist and other people would agree. But it’s not surprising
President Truman should use rather grandiose, general terms. I have great
respect for President Truman.
J.R. Kissinger is often spoken of as a great realist figure, modelling himself on
Metternich. Do you hold that Kissinger was a realist?
K.W. In the general sense of that term, I think, yes, he was a realist. He did not
easily admit any indebtedness to anybody who was alive, such as Morgenthau. But
Metternich was safely dead for a good long while. There were two things that
surprised and dismayed me about Henry. One is that he didn’t understand American
domestic politics. Just a matter of weeks before he was appointed to be National
Security Advisor, I had a private conversation with him, and we talked about the
war in Vietnam. We agreed completely: hopeless, pointless, no American interest at
stake. But he believed—this was 1968—as he said: If we get out of Vietnam, just
withdraw, the McCarthy period in American politics will pale into insignificance.
American society will just blow up. There will be such recriminations, because we will be seen as having sold out. I said that was completely wrong then, and in retrospect I’m sure it was completely wrong.
F.H. He would see it as another ‘Who lost China?’ but on a bigger scale?
K.W. Yes. Because it would have been more immediate. We ‘lost’ China, but we
were never really in there very much. But we were in Vietnam for a good long time.
J.R. Returning to the question of realism and conservatism: during the early
1980s, you published, among other things, two articles called ‘Nuclear Weapons:
More May Be Better’, and ‘The Myth of National Interdependence’. In the first of
those you argued that a general proliferation of nuclear weapons would create a
unit-veto system which would be logically more stable than an uneven
distribution . . .
K.W. More peaceful.
J.R. . . . And in the second, you argued that it was illusory to hope that the
international system would become more peaceful as a result of greater interdependence, because greater interdependence only gives states more to fight over.
K.W. Yes, more conflict.
J.R. I remember reading these pieces and thinking, ‘This writer believes that the
world would be a safer place if everybody had nuclear weapons and nobody traded
with each other.’
K.W. Well, I think I make it clear in the Adelphi paper (‘Nuclear Weapons’) that
a rapid proliferation would be destabilizing. That’s why I said ‘the spread’, not the
proliferation, of nuclear weapons, gradually from one country to another does not
make for more war but for greater chances for peace to prevail. I would venture to
say that we probably would have had a better time in Iraq if Iraq had had nuclear
weapons. We couldn’t have done what we did. We could have embargoed, which I
was in favour of. And we could have kept the embargo up for a long time, as we have
done. We would not be in a much different situation if we still had the embargo in
place and hadn’t bothered to smash up a good part of Iraq.
F.H. He’d still be in Kuwait.
K.W. I’m not sure, because if you have nuclear weapons you make yourself a
target. You have to be careful what you do. We also know that if other countries—
like Iraq—get nuclear weapons, we cannot then simply bomb the hell out of them.
We don’t like other countries to get nuclear weapons, because we have them and they
don’t. Nuclear weapons deter. We like to deter other countries but we don’t want
374 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
other countries to deter us. There’s an awful lot of double standard going on. When
China got nuclear weapons, and then there was the 1962 India–China war, it was
obvious that India was going to become a nuclear military power if it could. It’s not
that difficult. I once said to an Indian who is an expert in the subject, ‘You Indians
must have known when you exploded your peaceful bomb in 1974 that the
Pakistanis would do everything they could . . . in order to build a nuclear weapon.’
He said, ‘We should have known that, but we didn’t. We thought we were doing it so
carefully, and making it so clear that we were only doing it for peaceful purposes,
not for military purposes.’ But it was inevitable Pakistan was going to do it if it
could—and it has done. One has to open one’s eyes and say, ‘If this happens, what’s
likely to happen next?’ To say to Pakistan, ‘Don’t get nuclear weapons, but we’re not
going to guarantee your security against India or anybody else’ is entirely
F.H. What is your evaluation of the foreign policies of the postwar US
K.W. I thought Carter was an especially good president on foreign policy, for
which he got no credit. I understand why: he didn’t come across well. But think of
what he did. The Panama Treaty—he expended an awful lot of political blood to get
that through the Senate. And if he hadn’t done it, we would have had even more
trouble in Central America than we did. Carter on Camp David: the wrong guys got
the Nobel Peace Prize; Carter should have got it. Angola: Henry Kissinger made a
spectacle of himself on the Angola question. ‘If we don’t stand up and go into
Angola and defeat Communism, we will prove that we are not a great power,’ etc. He
made it a real test case, and Carter did nothing. And nothing was the right thing to
do. You don’t get credit for the things you don’t do: for example, if Lyndon Johnson
didn’t go into Vietnam, he would deserve a lot of credit for that, but he wouldn’t get
it, because nothing would have happened.
I think Carter was one of our really good foreign policy presidents, but not on
military policy. The arms build-up of the late seventies and early eighties was first a
Carter military build-up. Carter lost control of military policy. This is, I think, one
of the amazing episodes in recent American politics. Paul Nitze, a private citizen,
and the Committee on the Present Danger, with Rostow and others, made the
running. They persuaded influential people in the US that the Russians were
coming, that we were in danger of becoming vulnerable to a first strike with nuclear
weapons, all of which was crazy. But Carter and Brown lost control of military
policy: politically defensively gearing up for the campaign, they greatly increased
military spending, which Reagan continued. And there wasn’t any reason. I was
among the minority who began saying at that time, partly because of this ridiculous
military build-up, ‘Look, the Soviet Union is weak economically—we all know that.
But don’t overlook the fact that it’s weak militarily.’ Most Americans and many
Europeans tremendously exaggerated the vulnerability of Western Europe. Speaking
at the invitation of the IISS, Helmut Schmidt made the foolish proposal that missiles
capable, with easily added boost, of reaching Russia be placed on German soil.
When I read the text of the talk, I thought that he must have become prematurely
senile. Why would Germans want those missiles on their soil? What were they for?
Nobody needed more missiles, and the mumbo-jumbo about linkage was wholly
unconvincing. But many people worldwide thought the Russians were becoming as
strong as, or stronger than, the US militarily. I well know because I gave many talks
in Europe, South-east Asia, North-east Asia, and at home. I was very unpopular
because I just said: Look, the Soviet Union is not so strong. It has four strategic
nuclear weapons systems pointed at it. How would the US feel in that situation? The
Soviets have a hostile China to the East and a hostile East Europe to the West.
They’re outgunned, outmanned, outproduced; and we treat them as though they
were a military threat to the US? Preposterous.
As for Reagan, there’s no question but that he was a tremendously popular
president. There are still a lot of people in the US, even including some of my
students, who say ‘At least he won the Cold War. He forced the Soviet Union to
almost bankrupt itself, by increasing American military spending.’ But my simple
response to that is, ‘You people have a higher opinion of Communism than I do.’
That system collapsed of its own weight. Furthermore, the causes of military
spending are rooted as much in one’s domestic politics as they are in international
In any case, I think the real culprits in the arms race were Kennedy and
MacNamara. I recall Khrushchev’s speech in 1960, when he announced a major cut
in Soviet manpower, from 3.6 million down to 2.4 million, and effectively proclaimed
a policy of minimum deterrence. What did we do? We undertook the greatest
peacetime military build-up that had ever occurred in world history, both strategic
nuclear and conventional. We knew the missile gap was indeed a big gap, but it was
in our favour! But we kept right on going. And MacNamara at one point even said,
‘They’re so far behind, they won’t even try to catch up.’ No great power in the
history of the world has ever behaved that way: ‘OK: they’ve got us. They’ve got
more missiles than we have. We’ll give up.’ Pah!
Now, America and the world today. We’re in this frightfully dangerous position of
being the one world superpower, albeit with qualifications. Nobody can hold the
United States in check, and that’s dangerous for us and for the world. It gives us a
disposition to intervene militarily. And that’s a reflection of international political
theory. America’s situation in the world changed almost overnight in historical terms
during World War II. We used to say, ‘Whatever happens in the world is not our
business, unless it happens in Central America.’ Now we say, ‘Hey, whatever happens
in the world anywhere, we’re the world superpower. We’ve got to do something.’ But
military power meets its limits. England ought to be able to pacify Northern Ireland
if it were just a question of military power. But it’s not. Furthermore, our interventions are going to be disturbing to more and more countries. And then the
mechanism of balancing. Other countries will feel more and more uncomfortable,
because those who are powerful do not determine what happens but they have more
influence over other countries and they have more to say about what goes on in the
world than others do.
J.R. You recently suggested that what America must attempt to do now is to
emulate Britain’s achievement in not generating an overwhelming coalition against it.
K.W. Yes, and I went on to say that in both instances you can explain it.
England, for demographic and imperial reasons, could not impose itself on other
great powers. It was busy in far-flung parts of the world. And we, of course, were
held in check by the Soviet Union. Now, we’re not held in check by anybody, and
that’s what worries me.
F.H. I think you’re pretty well held in check by the American people and the
Congress actually . . .
376 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
K.W. Oh boy! In the period between the invasion of Kuwait and our invasion of
Iraq in January the next year, Senator Patrick Moynihan and his staff enquired
about what had been done by the relevant government offices to learn about how
embargoes work, how long they take, what effects they have. They didn’t do anything. They didn’t care. In fact there was what was called the nightmare scenario:
that the thing would be settled before we got our troops in there. We wanted to go to
war. It was a narrow vote, but the Senate approved.
3. The nature of international theory
F.H. It could be argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union poses an anomaly for
balance-of-power theory. We have moved into a unipolar world. And although there
are economic challenges, it’s very hard to see major military or strategic challenges
emerging to American dominance.
K.W. States try to maintain their position in the system. For me that’s an axiom.
It’s derived from balance-of-power theory. Now, there’s nothing in anybody’s theory,
of anything, that says you’ll succeed. It indicates what you are likely to try to do, and
what will happen to you if you don’t manage to do it. Take Mussolini as an example.
You could quote Machiavelli: a weak country must never ally itself with a stronger
neighbour if it can avoid doing so. Mussolini did it. You could look at history. He
didn’t think that the British and French would ever stand up to Hitler and would
ever manage to make an arrangement with the Soviet Union. So he did what
international political theory says you shouldn’t do, and he paid the price. The
theory doesn’t predict success.
F.H. Where is the evidence of a coalition forming against the US?
K.W. Well, my goodness. Following the Dual Alliance between Austria-Hungary
and Germany in late 1879, it took the French and Russians till 1894 (although they
began to do it in 1889) to make a formal alliance. It’s interesting to read the communications between the Chiefs of Staff in the two different countries. How many
divisions, how many artillery pieces, how long will it take to mobilize and so on.
And the French Chief of Staff said, ‘If we ally, we will be in approximate balance. If
we don’t, Germany and Austria-Hungary will be the dominant powers.’ It still took
fifteen years. Do you think Japan is a nuclear power yet? It certainly is importing enough plutonium. I would say there is a fifty-fifty chance that it has a nuclear military capability reachable at least within months. They may be doing the Indian thing, saying we’re not a nuclear power, meaning we’ve got all the parts but we’d have to assemble them. Or they could adopt the Israeli policy and lie about it. But I can’t believe that the Japanese are not working on a nuclear capability. Look at where
they live: There’s North Korea, South Korea. There’s the Kurile Islands dispute,
there’s China, there’s six different countries that lay claim to all or part of the
Spratly Islands. And there’s always the Taiwan/China problem. It’s a terribly
insecure part of the world. There’s a fascinating parallel between Japan now and the
United States in the nineteenth century. Presidents and Secretaries of State wanted
to get going. It was assumed that Canada would become part of the United States.
Some presidents wanted to annex all of the Caribbean and assumed that Cuba
would be part of the US. The resistance was in the Senate, which is very easy to
explain politically. Japan is now in a comparable situation. If you try to explain
international politics by domestic politics, you would say that Japan and Germany
are not going to become great powers. Because the people don’t want it. I accept that
as being true. But I would also predict unequivocally that Japan and Germany,
failing European unity, will become great powers within ten to twenty years.
F.H. And in a rival strategic position to the United States?
K.W. That’s right. Fénelon said he had never known a country to wield overwhelming power with moderation for more than a very short time. That’s historically and theoretically understandable. In Iraq, for example, we did not behave with moderation. We decided everything. We decided when the war would begin. Most of the allies except England wanted us to wait longer, for the embargo to work. We decided when it would begin, how it would be fought, how much bombing would be done, and when it would end. Following that conflict, a French general said, ‘We did not have our independent means of satellite observation. In Iraq we didn’t have any alternative to American intelligence resources. (This was in the New York Times.) For the same reasons that we had to have our own nuclear deterrent, we have to have our own observation
capability.’ Japan, exactly the same thing. Rumours began about the nuclear
capability of North Korea. Japan did not have observation satellites. Do you think
they are not going to get observation satellites? They sure as hell will! If you don’t
have what the other country has, then you’re vulnerable and/or dependent. If you
don’t want to be vulnerable or dependent, you’ve got to help yourself.
F.H. Surely balance-of-power theory also predicts that a balance will emerge, a
balance based upon countervailing rival strategic blocs?
K.W. Well, the twenty-first century will not be the nineteenth century, but there
will be a lot of similarities. It’s a self-help system. The system has not been transformed.
What kind of predictions can you make in international politics? As I
wrote—and I’m practically quoting myself—‘The Cold War, like hot wars, is rooted
in the structure of international politics and will endure so long as that structure
lasts.’ That’s exactly right. That’s the kind of prediction theory can make. Theory
can’t say when that will happen. But if it happens, here’s the result: no more Cold
War. Hedley Bull once said that if Britain had been the other pole emerging from
World War II, rather than the Soviet Union, the Cold War would have been entirely
different. That it would have been different is undoubted. That it would have been
England and the US that would have formed the major relationship of tension in the
world is also by me undoubted. Remember, it would have been England with its
empire, drawing strength from it. Hard to imagine; but toward the end of the war
there was more and more tension between Roosevelt and Churchill, because
Roosevelt was an anti-imperialist. After all, who were among the most hostile countries in the world in the nineteenth century? Britain and the United States. The
‘democracies don’t fight’ theme is suggestive but unsound.
F.H. You have a theoretical problem with Michael Doyle’s thesis because it
would be reductionist in your theory.
K.W. Absolutely. Also, you cannot make much of a generalization, because
there aren’t many cases in point and you do have exceptions. Take the war of 1812.
Now, I know what people are going to say: England wasn’t really a democracy until
1832, etc. But the two most democratic countries in the world—there were only
378 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
two—fought a war. Or take the American Civil War; people say that doesn’t count
because it was a civil war. But Britain almost recognized the South. This was one
reason for the perpetuation of bitterness between America and Britain. The South
was organized as a separate, democratic country. The North was a separate,
democratic country, and both were recognized as belligerents by various foreign
countries. We had the biggest army in the later nineteenth century. Grant’s army was
the biggest army in the world. That was a tough war! Equally, Germany was a
democracy before World War I, and the German democracy could not control its
interest groups: the navy and the steel interests, the Junkers and the grain tariff. It
was a democracy. That was a major part of the problem.
F.H. But there wasn’t one person, one vote in Germany in 1914, let alone in
Britain or the US in the early nineteenth century. One can really talk about the
generalization of democracies among the developed countries only since the Second
World War. Would you simply deny the relevance of such a response?
K.W. Well, ever since Kant—and I consider myself to be a Kantian, not a
positivist—the serious people who write about this make it very clear that it’s got to
be the right kind of democracy. Kant is very strict about this and even specifies how
the question has to be put, and answered, about going to war and not going to war.
Just as in the Socialist world, the right kind of socialist government would never
fight another socialist government if it were also the right kind. You get this in the
Chinese and Soviet discussions. In fact, however, there is a very good historical and
theoretical basis for saying that international politics is a system in which there is not
a direct correspondence between the attributes of the actors—I take the main actors
to be states, but whatever the actors are—and the outcomes that their interactions
produce. I think that’s unchallengeable.
J.R. Well, if you look only at one historical period, that discontinuity between
domestic and international can certainly appear very sharp. But as soon as you
compare whole geopolitical systems from different historical epochs and look at the
different kinds of society that were involved, you find that the differences between
these ‘international systems’ correspond to the differences between the kinds of
societies on which they are based. For example, in order to explain the prevalence of
dynastic diplomacy in medieval Europe, you would have to have some understanding
of the domestic character of European feudalism.
K.W. I don’t know how you could explain anything in international politics
without understanding something about the domestic character. I am tired of people
who say, ‘You’ve got a theory of international politics; you need to include domestic
politics.’ Well, don’t these people understand anything about what a theory is? A
theory has to be about something. It can’t be about everything. So you have to figure
out what it is you’re trying to explain, what is this domain you’re trying to deal with.
I don’t think that anybody under the sun would deny the statement that if you could
have a single theory that would comprehend both international and domestic, both
political and economic matters, all in one theory, hey, that would be a lot better than
a simple theory of international politics. However, nobody’s thought of how to do it.
I’ve thought about that a lot. I can’t figure out how. Neither can anybody else so far. 379
So you take the theory you have—again, I make the comparison with economics—
which is comparable to an oligopolistic market theory (not a purely competitive
market theory) and then of course you have to hook it up with reality: you have to
know a lot of history and a lot about domestic politics. I said in Man, the State and
War, it would be much nicer if there had been fewer countries like Hitler’s Germany
and more countries like England. Sure, that would have made a difference. Of
course. I went to such lengths to emphasize in Theory of International Politics that
you have to bring national politics and international politics together to understand
or explain anything. But theories are very sparse. What theories do mainly is omit
things. They make bold simplifications. If they don’t, they’re not theories. It’s the
same thing in the natural sciences.
F.H. But they have to be able to make some broad explanation of the
K.W. The explanation always involves both the theory and knowledge that lies
outside of the theory. The theory itself leads to certain expectations. But to explain
anything that goes on in the real world, you’ve got to know something about the real
F.H. Can you justify the polarization which you establish between what you call
reductionist and systemic theories? ‘Reductionist theory’ is used in two senses in
Theory of International Politics: first, to describe a theory that explains everything by
reference to the domestic, but, secondly, to include any theory which brings in the
domestic at all. Surely, between systemic and reductionist there must be a space for a
third type of theory which, difficult as it is, combines statements about the domestic
and the international, and in particular about the interaction between the two. Why
can’t it be possible to produce a theory that is not reductionist in the narrow sense of
explaining everything by the domestic, but which focuses on the interaction? Why
does one have to make this choice?
K.W. Do you know of any theory that does that? I’d be delighted to avoid that
F.H. Immanuel Kant, Niccolò Machiavelli, Karl Marx; even your friend
Rousseau combines them in that sense.
380 K.W. But not in a theory. You take the theory and then you have to hook it up
to the real world. There are theories of oligopolistic competition. There are theories
of the firm, which are really organizational theories. Now, if somebody could come
up with a theory that would comprehend both national and international—and I
don’t see any logical reason why this can’t be done—but nobody’s done it. So what
good is it to say of a structural theory of international politics: it’s a theory of
international politics, and unfortunately it’s not also a theory about domestic
politics, economics, society, culture, ideology, whatever. What good is that? We know
that theories are about something, not about everything.
F.H. But even in your reading of these people, you do put them sometimes too
easily into boxes. Take the ‘second image’. Now, you have on the one hand your
liberal second-image people, Woodrow Wilson, and you have on the other Hobson
and Lenin (about whom you are extremely flattering in both books). But it could be
argued that Lenin’s theory isn’t in fact a second-image theory at all. Lenin’s
Imperialism is not about what goes on inside a country. It’s about the way in which
what goes on inside a country is shaped by international economic and strategic
competition which then has its own further consequences for the country’s foreign
policy. In other words, it isn’t a second image. Lenin’s theory of imperialism, right or
wrong, is a combination of what you’d call a second and a third image. And the
same probably goes for Woodrow Wilson.
380 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
K.W. No. Lenin’s theory is only in very minor ways different from Hobson’s. It’s
Hobson’s theory, not Lenin’s.
F.H. Lenin’s is a theory of war, which is very pertinent to our subject. Hobson
doesn’t have a theory of war.
K.W. Well, that’s using theory to mean interpretation. And I’m using theory—I
must say much influenced by the LSE philosophy department in which I spent the
academic year 1976–7. Hobson’s theory is very impressive as a theory of the
domestic economy. And in fact it is so impressive that Keynes gives Hobson almost
complete credit for Keynes’s General Theory. He has a theory of why equilibrium
can endure at a level of less than full employment of the factors of production. But
then he makes the jump: if you’ve got underemployment of factors, then the outlet is
imperialism. And that doesn’t follow logically. Schumpeter might say: an outlet was
also available through the rapid development of railways. It doesn’t follow that it has
to be external. And in fact, Hobson himself said this is a matter of policy. If you
could get a government that would redistribute the wealth—the problem is that the
wealth falls into the hands of people who have so much that they can’t spend it. And
then you get a downward spiral. So if you had a New Deal policy, you wouldn’t
need imperialism. It is Lenin who said that governments of capitalist states could
never redistribute wealth, and so imperialism was inevitable. But that’s a matter of
policy, not a conclusion of theory.
F.H. The Doyle thesis is also neither second nor third image; because if you ask
why are the major countries democratic, it has a lot to do with international factors,
whether imitation or competition or straight conquest.
K.W. People have sometimes asked me whether Doyle’s propositions constitute a
theory, and I think that’s an interesting question. In fact, he has not come up with a
theory. It is a correlation. He says: it holds historically that democracies do not fight
democracies. Now, a theory has to have something more in it than that. Theory is an
instrument for understanding and explaining, and, if you get your fondest wish,
predicting. But Doyle has discovered a suggestive correlation. It is indeed true that
you can’t find many cases where democracy fights democracy. It’s very suggestive. It
poses a puzzle. But then there are a lot of authoritarian countries—Franco’s Spain?
Mussolini and Hitler could not budge him: he wasn’t going to do anything that
might drag Spain into any war.
F.H. Doyle doesn’t claim that non-democratic countries always go to war.
K.W. But, as Doyle says, democracies fight more than enough wars. They just
don’t fight one another. And as for the American democracy, my God, we are
F.H. You’re the least fierce developed capitalist country on the record of the
K.W. But in the twentieth century—ask anybody that lives in Central America.
F.H. Compare what the Japanese or the French or the British did or the Dutch.
K.W. Oh, I don’t think you can call Japan a democratic capitalist country. It was
not. England was fiercer, all right, in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth,
but certainly not beyond World War I. Nor was France. When we invaded Panama,
we not only broke international law, we even broke the international laws that we
wrote, the Charter of the Organization of American States. It was a flagrant
violation of international law. Grenada, too, was ridiculous. As Reagan said, ‘We
got there just in the nick of time.’ And my answer to that was ‘Yes, because I think
uldn’t have stood tall in the saddle.’
J.R. A few moments ago, you made a distinction between theory and interpretation.
The implication seemed to be that the task of theory is to make causal
predictions about the behaviour of actors which are taken as given, rather than to
explain (or ‘interpret’) what these actors are as particular historical forms of human
social relations. But can this distinction be justified? If such key actors as sovereign
states and capitalist markets are historically peculiar to the modern period, then
surely a major part of any social theory of international relations must be to explain
why that is so in terms of their sociological foundation. What significance or value
do you attribute to that other aspect of theory, particularly since what it is trying to
explain is precisely the agents which your own theory takes as given?
K.W. There are all kinds of attempts to understand and explain. And they are
very interesting. But I think of theory as having to meet certain standards, and fulfil
certain requirements. Otherwise it would fall into some other category, a perfectly
fine category such as philosophy or historical interpretation.
J.R. In your own theory, you derive the behaviour of the units deductively from
the anarchical character of the geopolitical system. The image of the system is
abstracted from in order to make its causal operation logically clear. At the same
time, you also make occasional historical references, for example to Thucydides, and
say that the Greek city-state system illustrates the same principle. But it was a point
of some frustration for the English School of International Relations, Martin Wight
and Herbert Butterfield, that when they consulted the classical literature, they
actually couldn’t find explicit discussions of the balance of power in that earlier
epoch. Similarly, David Hume’s essay ‘On the Balance of Power’ is actually a quite
spurious attempt to give an ancient pedigree to an institution that just seemed to be
emerging and consolidating itself in the eighteenth century.
K.W. Well, balance of power is an ‘institution’ in a special sense of that word.
Herbert Butterfield says that Fénelon, who died in 1715, was the first person to have
any sense of the balance of power as a continuing practice, rather than just as an
ad hoc response to a situation. Some people say that Polybius had this sense, but
that’s minor. But Machiavelli does not have a sense of the balance of power as a
continuing recurring phenomenon. Herbert Butterfield is one of the most interesting
historians from an international political point of view because what he illustrates in
that essay, though I’m not sure he intends to, is that statesmen don’t need to have any
sense of the balance of power. They react situationally. They’re in a situation, and
they either react appropriately or they suffer the consequences. That’s what theory is
about. The theory says ‘Wherever the conditions are such—that is, where you have
units in a self-help system—or, to put it even more carefully, insofar as a system is
one of self-help, this will apply also in the Middle Ages.’ Read Markus Fischer’s
piece in the International Studies Quarterly. He considers a French medieval case,
and finds . . . balance-of-power politics. What was Innocent III, when he was Pope,
doing? Balance-of-power politics. Theory applies, given certain conditions. If those
conditions are not there, well, then of course the theory doesn’t apply.
There’s another point here. People generally assume that for realists, it’s always
and only military power that counts. But it follows from structural realist theory that
in a self-help system, how you help yourself depends on the resources you can
dispose of and the situation you’re in. The distinction between high politics and low
382 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
politics—with high politics being military and diplomacy, and low politics being
economic—is entirely misplaced. In the near term, and probably for quite some time,
economic competition will often be more prominent than military competition.
F.H. Does the economic system operate in roughly similar ways to the military
system? Does balance-of-power theory in particular operate in the economic sphere
K.W. Some economists have pointed out that there is a high correlation between
size and survivability among oligopolistic firms. If you don’t go for market share,
then you risk becoming small and thus the chances of survival become less. There
are many parallels.
F.H. Is there much evidence in history that the international economic system
does operate according to balance of power?
K.W. What do you mean by the international economic system? Japan is a
marvellous example. All these writers on interdependence are saying that nations are
going to lose control of their economies, because of all the transnational stuff that’s
going on. But Japan is not losing control of its national economy. I think what’s
happening is the opposite, that Japan is so much of a success story in the latter part
of the twentieth century that other countries are going to try to imitate Japan’s
successful processes. States don’t want to lose control. Maybe they can’t help it. But
they’ll try not to. I think we’re becoming a world of blocs: Japan and South-east
Asia especially, the NAFTA which will be the biggest trading area in the world if it
comes off, the European Community which is not much of a common market but
which is still trying to become a common market. When the Mondeo, the Ford
world car, was introduced, the price differential across the EC was 22%. Some
J.R. My problem with your theory is not that it is internally inconsistent, but
that there are such large aspects of international relations which simply can’t be
grasped with the theory that you offer.
J.R. Take for example the question of the historical emergence of the modern
international system, and the way that this is bound up with the enormous set of
social transformations which we call the modern world: capitalism, rationalization,
and so on. If you accept that we cannot explain these things using your theory,
doesn’t that mean that there are other kinds of explanatory theories in International
Relations which are legitimate branches of knowledge?
K.W. I wish there were. I just don’t know of any other theories. History is not
part of any theory. Take Newton’s law of gravity. He’s not saying, ‘Hey, I’m
explaining how apples fall from 1666 onwards. Don’t ask me how they fell in the
year 1500. That’s not part of the theory.’ The theory applies wherever the conditions
the theory contemplates are in effect. So the theory does explain how apples fell in
the year 1500. But that’s not part of the theory. Wherever the conditions of the
theory . . .
J.R. But that’s just the point: how to explain the historical emergence of the
conditions of the theory. When we look at the history of the modern international
system, what we see is an enormous social and political upheaval which brought it
into being, which drives its development, and we need to understand that.
K.W. Sure. But even Stephen Hawking, if his fondest wish comes true and
physicists come up with a theory of everything, that theory won’t have explained
everything. It will explain most of what goes on in daily life. It will provide what the
physicists say is a full explanation, but only of certain phenomena.
F.H. But all theory must contain some specification of what is significant or
important. You wouldn’t defend a theory that was parsimonious and elegant but
which explained only marginal phenomena. So within your theory, there has to be
some implicit specification—which I don’t think we’d disagree on—concerning what
are the important things to explain. And J.R. is simply saying that there are a lot of
other important things, and that it doesn’t explain enough.
K.W. That’s fair enough, and I’ve said that myself. It explains certain big and
important things. There’s an awful lot that it does not explain. Now, what’s wrong
with that? That’s true of economic theory. It’s true of the type I’m most indebted to
in anthropology and economics, especially to Durkheim in anthropology. I think
that his distinction between solidary and mechanical societies is a real insight and it
explains a lot of important things, and it’s generalizable. But it doesn’t explain
everything. Most of what you want to know it doesn’t explain. And that’s true of
international political theory, of economic theory and its true of physical theory.
Physicists have a different attitude. They say, ‘OK, we’ve explained that, by God’.
Take relativity. As a matter of fact, the space programme doesn’t use Einstein’s
theory. They use Newton’s. It’s not as accurate, but it’s accurate enough.
J.R. Another book that came out in the same year as Man, the State and War,
also a classic but in a different discipline, was C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological
Imagination. That elaborated a very different conception of theory. Mills says that
the purpose of theory is to illuminate people’s understanding of ‘the present as
history’. Now, that’s very different.
K.W. Very different. There are all kinds of theory. There’s the theory of literary
criticism. And that obviously has to be a very different thing; I would not use the
term theory for it. There’s international political theory, there’s feminist theory.
Indeed there was a recent conference at USC held under the rubric ‘Woman, the
State, and War’. One can’t legislate. People use ‘theory’ in all sorts of different ways.
All I claim is that I do make clear how I use that term. And my usage has a good
pedigree in the natural sciences, economics and much of the philosophy-of-science
F.H. The sympathy of the English School for what we call the Grotian
approach, the concept of international society, does not seem to be replicated on the
other side of the Atlantic. I doubt if the concept of international society figures in
much North American writing at all.
K.W. I don’t even know that it figures much in English writing. There’s a certain
identity made by English writers between ‘society’ and ‘peacefulness’. If you think of
Hedley Bull’s Anarchical Society—well, my goodness, there was almost a 100 per
cent chance that war would not occur between the Soviet Union and the United
States. Hedley Bull’s concept, I gather, would call that a society. Very, very peaceful!
It had nothing to do with society. Think of Israel and the Arabs. These people are so
similar. They form a society, and the hostility is deep and constant. Phil Habib, who
engaged in the great shuttle diplomacy with Henry Kissinger—you couldn’t tell
whether he was a Jew or an Arab if you didn’t know. They look the same, they
sound the same, they think in very similar ways. It’s a real society. Northern Ireland:
it’s a real society. They’re so much like one another. Now, we know this. Most
murders occur within the family or among friends. Society? I’ve always thought:
384 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
open one’s eyes and look around, and say, well, is there anything in this concept of
international society. I really don’t think there is.
F.H. Does that pertain to a broader view of the significance of Grotius in the
history of international theory? Grotius is the figure from whom the British
realists—not Carr but the others—derive much of their pedigree. I notice again there
is a silence on this on the other side of the Atlantic, including in your own work.
K.W. I read Grotius. I was prepared to take him seriously, and I didn’t find him
F.H. The English realist school itself is quite a diverse one. There is the core of
Bull, Wight and other people—Donelan and Mayall. Then there is quite separately
E. H. Carr.
K.W. I think E. H. Carr is rather distinct. When my wife and I were here in
1959, I remember coming across an essay by Hedley Bull in the LSE library. I called
her up and I read her a few sentences and I said to her ‘Who do you think wrote
this?’ And she said ‘You did!’ I said, ‘No: Hedley Bull.’ We really were thinking in
very much the same way in those days. Hedley’s latter development was in a different
direction; not wholly incompatible. I respect Hedley Bull very much, and Martin
Wight very much. But they did theory in a sense that is not recognized as theory by
philosophers of science.
F.H. If you were drawing up a programme, or just a set of injunctions to
younger scholars or funding agencies, saying ‘this is the work you should be doing,
the work that can be done and that now needs to be done’, what would you say?
K.W. In theoretical terms, I think the big problem is that people don’t
distinguish between a theory and its application. I’d invoke Keohane as an example.
In his liberal institutionalism he says that the core of the theory is structural realism.
That’s the only theory that there is in liberal institutionalism: the rest is application.
I think application is extremely important and very tricky; it’s very difficult to move
from theory to practice. But in political science generally, and certainly in international politics, people who in effect are trying to apply a theory think they are
elaborating a new theory, or enlarging a theory.
When I was a graduate student around 1950, it became very boring because people
kept saying, ‘The reason we’re so far behind in sociology, political science or
whatever, is that our disciplines are very young.’ So, I asked myself, ‘How young are
we?’ And that’s why I went back to the Physiocrats. If you read pre-Physiocratic
economics, which I don’t recommend, you’ll find that it’s entirely atheoretical. There’s
a lot of enumeration and descriptions, and it amounts to nothing. The Physiocrats,
who very much influenced Adam Smith, asked the right question: ‘What is it that we
can have a theory about?’ They drew a picture of an economy. It all begins in the
ground, with agriculture, minerals and metals. And then it goes through the process
of refining and manufacturing, distributing the agricultural products, and so on. And
it’s a complete, self-contained circle. They invented the idea of an economy as a thing
in itself. It consists of repetitive actions and occurrences. It has a beginning, an
ending and a repetition. It’s very simple; but that’s the marvel of it. Nobody else, I’m
reasonably sure, had thought of that—of thinking of an economy in and of itself.
Auguste Comte reacted to Adam Smith by asking: how could he make the colossal
error of thinking that you could think of economy in itself? Well, of course we all
know that it’s embedded in society and politics and all that, but if you can’t think of
it in itself, then you can’t have a theory of it.
R. So ‘theory’ for you has a very definite, distinctively positivist sense?
K.W. A theory’s a theory. It has to meet certain standards whether it’s a natural
science theory or a social science theory. Beyond that, I would call it interpretation,
philosophy, history: all good things, I don’t put those things down, can’t live without
J.R. How far then do you think that International Relations has progressed as a
discipline over the postwar period?
K.W. I think that structural theory has at least helped focus people’s minds on
the theoretical problem, but I don’t think there’s much increase in understanding. I
have often said that what Morgenthau did was translate Meinecke from German to
English, and if you look at the index, you won’t see Meinecke mentioned. I would
translate some of Meinecke into the same words that Morgenthau used in Politics
among Nations. And then Morton Kaplan translated Morgenthau from English into
whatever language it was that Kaplan was writing in. I guess I think there’s been
very little progress. An awful lot of people became interested in IPE, a lot of work
was churned out, but I haven’t seen much progress.
The Editors pose two questions additional to those directly discussed in the
First: What is the feminist contribution to IR theory?
K.W. Feminists offer not a new or revised theory of international-political
theory but a sometimes interesting interpretation of what goes on internationally.
Second: What is the post-positivist contribution to IR theory?
K.W. I have trouble understanding the meaning of the term ‘positivist theory’.
In this usage, positive, I suppose, means trying to understand the world as it is. We
all try to do that, though in different ways. At the extreme, positivists believe that
reality can be apprehended directly, without benefit of theory. Reality is whatever we
directly observe. In a more moderate version of positivism, theory is but one step
removed from reality, is arrived at largely by induction, is rather easy to construct,
and is fairly easy to test. Keohane and Nye in their book on interdependence
provide a clear example when they ‘argue that complex interdependence sometimes
comes closer to reality than does realism’.1 Yet if we knew what reality was, theory
would serve no purpose.
Having misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘theory’ in the term ‘structural
theory of international politics’, post-positivists concentrate on the world as it might
be, the world they wish we could have. Many students of international politics seem
to believe that all interpretations and explanations of historical developments should
be called theories. Theories do explain, but not all explanations are theories; and
interpretations surely are not. Interpretations and explanations are plentiful; theories
are scarce. I, and apparently post-positivists as well, have trouble stating a postpositivist
explanation of international relations in a way that would look at all like a
386 Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg
1 Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr, Power and Interdependence (Boston, MA, 1989), p. 23.