Journal Article - Brown Journal of World Affairs

Offshore Balancing or International Institutions? The Way Forward for U.S. Foreign Policy

| Fall/Winter 2007


G. John Ikenberry, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, and Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, participated in a debate at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University on May 8, 2007. Christopher Lydon hosted the debate.

"Christopher Lydon: Those who see in Iraq a massive and reckless strategic failure in the now discredited name of neoconservatism may well wonder about the pathway back to world order. For the wounded, embarrassed, reviled, but still arguably indispensable goliath in international politics, the course is not yet charted. John Ikenberry of Princeton University and Stephen Walt of Harvard University are the kind of policy designers who saw and said in advance that the Iraq war would be a ruinous mistake. So they can both claim to have been right about the past, yet they differ interestingly about the future. Steve Walt argues that neoconservatives were essentially liberals on steroids, and the neoliberal internationalists like John Ikenberry are just kinder, gentler “neocons.” John would warn you that neorealists like Steve Walt are veering dangerously toward isolationism. Steve Walt, what might constitute a future U.S. role driven neither by fear nor the hope of domination?

Stephen Walt: The overriding goal of U.S. foreign policy is, of course, to protect U.S. citizens and promote U.S. prosperity. Our primary strategic objective has long been to prevent challenges to our dominant position. No presidential candidates ever run for office saying they want to make the United States number two. Realism in foreign policy begins by dealing with the world as it really is, without unrealistic or idealisticfollies. The neoconservatives in the Bush administration have been a foreign policy disaster because their basic views on foreign policy, though appealing to U.S. values and U.S. pride, were deeply unrealistic. They thought wrongly that liberty was easy to export and U.S. power could dominate the world. Liberal internationalists like John Ikenberry are not in complete agreement with this vision but are, in a sense, fellowtravelers: kinder, gentler neocons who want to remake the world in the United States’ image. Unfortunately, using U.S. power to spread democracy—to forge a world of liberty under law—puts us on the slippery slope of intervening all over the world...."

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For Academic Citation: Ikenberry, G. John and Stephen Walt. Offshore Balancing or International Institutions? The Way Forward for U.S. Foreign Policy.” Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol. XIV. no. 1. (Fall/Winter 2007):

The Authors

Stephen Walt