An examination of a world increasingly defined by disorder and a United States unable to shape the world in its image, from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. The rules, policies, and institutions that have guided the world since World War II have largely run their course. Respect for sovereignty alone cannot uphold order in an age defined by global challenges from terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons to climate change and cyberspace. Meanwhile, great power rivalry is returning. Weak states pose problems just as confounding as strong ones. The United States remains the world’s strongest country, but American foreign policy has at times made matters worse, both by what the U.S. has done and by what it has failed to do. The Middle East is in chaos, Asia is threatened by China’s rise and a reckless North Korea, and Europe, for decades the world’s most stable region, is now anything but. As Richard Haass explains, the election of Donald Trump and the unexpected vote for “Brexit” signals that many in modern democracies reject important aspects of globalization, including borders open to trade and immigrants.
In A World in Disarray, Haass argues for an updated global operating system—call it world order 2.0—that reflects the reality that power is widely distributed and that borders count for less. One critical element of this adjustment will be adopting a new approach to sovereignty, one that embraces its obligations and responsibilities as well as its rights and protections. Haass also details how the U.S. should act towards China and Russia, as well as in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. He suggests, too, what the country should do to address its dysfunctional politics, mounting debt, and the lack of agreement on the nature of its relationship with the world.
A World in Disarray is a wise examination, one rich in history, of the current world, along with how we got here and what needs doing. Haass shows that the world cannot have stability or prosperity without the United States, but that the United States cannot be a force for global stability and prosperity without its politicians and citizens reaching a new understanding.
This foreign policy overview from Haass (Foreign Policy Begins at Home), president of the Council on Foreign Relations, will draw notice, but little surprise, from policymakers and the international community. Haass maintains that the world that followed WWII has run its course; great-power rivalries are returning, and Europe is newly unstable. With Brexit, which starts Haass's study, the globalism and limited national sovereignty he has long endorsed seem to be in decline. The first half of the book surveys the world of the early 21st century, which Haass regards as one where borders count for less. The second lays out a nebulous, glibly labeled "World Order 2.0," followed by rapid-fire policy prescriptions. Haass lists many topics of topical interest, though a few paragraphs apiece on climate change, cyberspace, and other widely publicized concerns are not enough. Informed but derivative, Haass's self-declared centrism tends toward platitudes; he even invokes Goldilocks as "the ultimate centrist." He sidesteps rising nationalism and religious conflicts but is thoughtful about U.S. economic policies, warning convincingly of entitlement and debt burdens corroding the dollar. Haass's sensible policy prescriptions will not disturb prevailing consensus in the international community, nor are they meant to. His volume adds up to well-crafted conventional wisdom from the foreign-policy establishment.