Born in July 1955, Stephen M. Walt was raised in Los Alamos, New Mexico. After receiving his B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University, he went on to attend the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in 1978 and 1983, respectively. From 1981 to 1984, Walt worked as a research fellow at Harvard University's Center for Science and International Affairs. From 1984 to 1989, he was a professor at Princeton University. During this period, he also worked at the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1989 Walt took a teaching position at the University of Chicago, where he remained for a decade. In 1999 he became the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. From 2002 to 2006, he also served as Academic Dean at the Kennedy School.
Walt is the author of numerous articles, as well as such books as The Origins of Alliances (1987), which won the 1988 Edgar S. Furniss National Security Book Award; Revolution and War (1996); and Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (2005). He is the co-editor of Cornell Studies in Security Affairs and serves on the editorial boards of such publications as Foreign Policy, International Relations, the Journal of Cold War Studies, and Security Studies. In 2009, the Belfer Center ranked Walt as one of the twenty most influential academics in the field of international relations.
Throughout his professional career, Walt has been a proponent of the “Realist School” of political theory. On his Foreign Policy blog, the caption underneath his name describes Walt as “a realist in an ideological age.” In an interview with the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, Walt said: “Realism’s never a popular theory, particularly in the United States, partly because it’s pessimistic, partly because it doesn’t laud American democracy as uniquely wonderful.”
Much of Walt’s recent scholarship examines the challenges that have faced the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union. “America’s position in the world beg[an] to deteriorate” at the moment it became “the only remaining superpower, the strongest country in the world,” he argued. Walt particularly criticized the George W. Bush administration and its “belief in the spread of democracy, that democracy was hardwired into all individuals in the world.” "At the very simplest level," Walt said, "it’s neo-conservatives who engineered the war in Iraq at a very atheoretical – not very well supported – but also almost ahistorical view of America’s position in the world." In Walt's estimation, the policy decisions of neo-conservatives were based purely upon an ideological view "that American dominance was a very positive force in the world and that once it was demonstrated to a few countries, everyone else in the world would go along."
In 2006 Walt collaborated with John Mearsheimer, a longtime professor at the University of Chicago, to pen an article titled “The Israel Lobby” for the London Review of Books. The two scholars derided America's longtime alliance with Israel, arguing that the United States' "unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world."
According to Walt and Mearsheimer, the “Israel lobby” had been able to “manipulate the American political system” into numerous actions that had undermined U.S. interests. “Israel is a strategic liability for the United States, not the strategic asset that the Israel lobby has long claimed it was,” they declared. Attempting to deconstruct the reasons for America’s “extraordinary generosity” to the Jewish state, the authors stated that Israel “does not behave like a loyal ally.” They further asserted that Israel was not truly a “fellow democracy,” since “some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values.”
In 2007, Walt and Mearsheimer transformed their article and an accompanying working paper into The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which became a New York Times bestseller and was translated into 19 languages. Despite the sales and publicity, the authors claimed to have been silenced by the lobby that was the object of their criticism. Their book received many negative reviews – with liberal media institutions questioning their expertise in Mideast affairs and criticizing their work as extremely “one-sided.” Other critics demonstrated that the authors' work contained faulty scholarship which falsely attributed various statements to Israeli leaders.