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Walt Theory

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15 Apr 2005 :935

AR

AR244-PL08-02.tex

XMLPublishSM (2004/02/24)
P1: JRX
10.1146/annurev.polisci.7.012003.104904

Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2005. 8:23–48
doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.7.012003.104904
Copyright c 2005 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved
First published online as a Review in Advance on Oct. 20, 2004

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEORY AND
POLICY IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2005.8:23-48. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org
by University of California - Santa Cruz on 11/30/07. For personal use only.

Stephen M. Walt
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138;
email: Stephen_Walt@ksg.harvard.edu

Key Words
science

policy relevance, academia, policy evaluation, prediction, social

■ Abstract Policy makers pay relatively little attention to the vast theoretical literature in IR, and many scholars seem uninterested in doing policy-relevant work. These
tendencies are unfortunate because theory is an essential tool of statecraft. Many policy debates ultimately rest on competing theoretical visions, and relying on a false
or flawed theory can lead to major foreign policy disasters. Theory remains essential
for diagnosing events, explaining their causes, prescribing responses, and evaluating
the impact of different policies. Unfortunately, the norms and incentives that currently
dominate academia discourage many scholars from doing useful theoretical work in IR.
The gap between theory and policy can be narrowed only if the academic community
begins to place greater value on policy-relevant theoretical work.

INTRODUCTION
If the scholarly study of international relations—and especially work on IR
theory—were of great value to policy makers, then those charged with the conduct of foreign policy would be in a better position today than ever before. More
scholars are studying the subject, more theories are being proposed and tested, and
outlets for scholarly work continue to multiply.1
The need for powerful theories that could help policy makers design effective
solutions would seem to be apparent as well. The unexpected emergence of a
unipolar world, the rapid expansion of global trade and finance, the challenges
posed by failed states and global terrorism, the evolving human rights agenda,
the spread of democracy, concerns about the global environment, the growing
prominence of nongovernmental organizations, etc., present policy makers with
1
One recent study reports that “there are at...
15 Apr 2005 :935 AR AR244-PL08-02.tex XMLPublish
SM
(2004/02/24) P1: JRX
10.1146/annurev.polisci.7.012003.104904
Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2005. 8:23–48
doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.7.012003.104904
Copyright
c
2005 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved
First published online as a Review in Advance on Oct. 20, 2004
THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN THEORY AND
POLICY IN
INTERNATIONAL
RELATIONS
Stephen M. Walt
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138;
email: Stephen_Walt@ksg.harvard.edu
KeyWords policy relevance, academia, policy evaluation, prediction, social
science
Abstract Policy makers pay relatively little attention to the vast theoretical liter-
ature in IR, and many scholars seem uninterested in doing policy-relevant work. These
tendencies are unfortunate because theory is an essential tool of statecraft. Many pol-
icy debates ultimately rest on competing theoretical visions, and relying on a false
or flawed theory can lead to major foreign policy disasters. Theory remains essential
for diagnosing events, explaining their causes, prescribing responses, and evaluating
the impact of different policies. Unfortunately, the norms and incentives that currently
dominate academia discourage many scholars from doing useful theoretical work in IR.
The gap between theory and policy can be narrowed only if the academic community
begins to place greater value on policy-relevant theoretical work.
INTRODUCTION
If the scholarly study of international relations—and especially work on IR
theory—were of great value to policy makers, then those charged with the con-
duct of foreign policy would be in a better position today than ever before. More
scholars are studying the subject, more theories are being proposed and tested, and
outlets for scholarly work continue to multiply.
1
The need for powerful theories that could help policy makers design effective
solutions would seem to be apparent as well. The unexpected emergence of a
unipolar world, the rapid expansion of global trade and finance, the challenges
posed by failed states and global terrorism, the evolving human rights agenda,
the spread of democracy, concerns about the global environment, the growing
prominence of nongovernmental organizations, etc., present policy makers with
1
One recent study reports that “there are at least twenty-two English-language journals
devoted exclusively or largely to international relations, aside from the general politics and
policy journals that also publish IR articles” (Lepgold & Nincic 2001, p. 15). IR scholars
can also disseminate their work through weblogs, working papers, and outlets such as the
Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO) service.
1094-2939/05/0615-0023$20.00
23
Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2005.8:23-48. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org
by University of California - Santa Cruz on 11/30/07. For personal use only.
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