One world many theories

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International Relations: One World, Many Theories Stephen M. Walt Foreign Policy, No. 110, Special Edition: Frontiers of Knowledge. (Spring, 1998), pp. 29-32+34-46.
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International Relations: One World, Many Theories
by Stephen M. Walt


y should policymakers and practitioners care about the scholarly study of international affairs? Those who conduct foreign policy often dismiss academic theorists (frequendy,

onemust admit, with good reason), but there is an inescapable link between the abstract world of theory and the real world of policy. We need theories to make sense of the blizzard of information that bombards us daily. Even policymakers who are contemptuous of "theory" must rely on their own (often unstated) ideas about how the world works in order to decide what to do. It is hard to make good policyif one's basic organizing principles are flawed, just as it is hard to construct good theories without knowing a lot about the real world. Everyone uses theories-whether he or she knows it or not-and disagreements about policy usually rest on more fundamental disagreements about the basic forces that shape international outcomes. Take, for example, the current debate on how to respond to China.From one perspective, China's ascent is the latest example of the tenS T E P HEN M. W A L T is professar of political science and master of the social science roUegiate division at the University ofChicago. He is a member of FOREIGN POLICY'S editorial board.
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International Relations

dency for rising powers to alter the global balance of power in potentially dangerousways, especially as their growing influence makes them more ambitious. From another perspective, the key to China's future conduct is whether its behavior will be modified by its integration into world markets and by the {inevitable?} spread of democratic principles. From yet another viewpoint, relations between China and the rest of the world will be shaped by issues of culture and identity: WillChina see itself {and be seen by others} as a normal member of the world community or a singular society that deserves special treatment? In the same way, the debate over NATO expansion looks different depending on which theory one employs. From a "realist" perspective, NATO expansion is an effort to extend Western influence-well beyond the traditional sphere of u.s. vital interests-during a periodof Russian weakness and is likely to provoke a harsh response from Moscow. From a liberal perspective, however, expansion will reinforce the nascent democracies of Central Europe and extend NATO'S conflictmanagement mechanisms to a potentially turbulent region. A third view might stress the value of incorporating the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland within the Western security community,...
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