Book Review: 'A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order' by Richard Haass
In the current world, power is broadly dispersed and impacts of a state’s actions are no longer contained within its own boundaries. A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order by Richard Haass, is a prudent analysis of the scenario and what can be done to address it.
The author presides over the independent Council on Foreign Relations. He served as the senior adviser on Middle East to President George H. W. Bush. Besides, he has received the Presidential Citizens Medal among other honours. He has also written or edited a dozen books on world affairs and foreign policy.
The book is comprised of three parts. The first chronicles the evolution of the international system since the Peace of Westphalia, through the world wars, till the culmination of the Cold war. The idea is that despite the dramatic variations during that period, the overall mechanics of the world operations remained the same. It is taken as World order 1.0. The second part analyses the quarter century since the end of Cold War. The proposition is that the era presents a departure from the previous order. The examination focuses, primarily on the chief regions of the world and, generally on the world in its entirety. The portion describes the existing state of affairs, the reasons that led to the current situation and the future implications of the scenario. The last part of the book emphasizes the need, for United States containing any vicious competition among the major powers in the future, along with recommendations for a restructured world order.
Haas highlights the fact that although the concept of state sovereignty reigns supreme in the international system, yet the new global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, and migration, call for a new way to look at things. The existing world order is quickly turning defunct given the new dynamics of the global system. Also, states are no longer the sole stake holders in the world system. Non-state actors are also significant actors; ranging from multinational corporations to terrorist organizations. Power is increasingly diffused thus leading to the decentralization of decision making. The author underlines the need for a new world order that he calls World order 2.0. The order needs to be adjusted to an increasingly interconnected world.
The author points out that the notion of an “international community”, is as an ambition rather than a reality. No state would overlook a prospect for pursuing its interest, especially the major powers, only because United Nations disapproves of the act. This is particularly true when the acceptability of UN Security Council remains questionable given the uneven significance it ascribes to nations. There is a considerable breach amid the desired goals of a globalized world and what is in the offing. This difference is a major cause behind the disarray in the present world. No wide agreement is existent regarding, the things to do, the actors to carry them out and about the method of taking such decisions.
In the world of today, there is too much power scattered among too many entities. Haas reiterates that granting United States is the strongest power, it still cannot act unilaterally. A sole state can no longer enforce an order. In addition, the drift toward disorder is, time and again, aggravated by the action or in action of United States along with other powers. Also, the actions of United States across the world are not acts of philanthropy rather they are essential to maintain its national security. Thus, its foreign policy needs to start off with a joint struggle for discouraging violent encounter between the major powers. This is because, firstly, a confrontation will be costly. Secondly, such rivalries will make collective action against international challenges very difficult. Contention amid major powers is the natural state of global affairs. Thus, the other major powers need to know that the United States has the capacity and resolve to counter their actions. Apart from deterrence, economic and diplomatic interdependence is essential.
A vital part of World order 2.0 envisioned by the author is encapsulated in the concept of sovereign obligation. It is a departure from the theory of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) that entails “sovereignty as responsibility”. The later includes a regime’s responsibility to its people and the manner the regime loses some of its conventional defences and benefits of sovereignty if it falls short. It provides room for the military intervention by other states thereby undermining sovereignty. Sovereign obligation, on the other hand, defines “legitimacy that embraces not just the rights but also the obligations of sovereign states vis-à-vis other governments and countries.” In an extensively interconnected world, boundaries cannot protect a state against the adverse effects of actions carried out in any other state. Matters falling under the header of sovereign obligation are diverse, ranging from climate change through cyber security to economic realm. However, the idea is different from the former since sovereign obligation does not tend to subjugate state sovereignty.
Furthermore, sovereignty as responsibility is grounded in realism while sovereign obligation emerges from idealism. While discussing the way forward for the American foreign policy, the author emphasizes that it is crucial to prevent the recurrence of an international system where entities constantly interfere in the matters of each other. Still more important, is to stay away from attempts at coup or take-over.
Disarray might lead to crisis. Although some segments believe that crises provide the incentive for action. Yet, the cost of any predicament in the present world; let it be an armed conflict or an epidemic, will be immense. Hence, a better scheme will be to begin heading in the direction of an adapted order rather than to wait for a crisis. The circumstance and potentiality of piecing together a new international operating system are convincing.
The book underscores that United States is still the driving actor in the international order. However, the major power needs to make informed adjustments in its policies as well as contribute in shaping an international system conducive to meet the present world challenges. A World in Disarray is a significant read for everyone attempting to decipher the existing state of international system.
Richard Haass, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order
(New York: Penguin Press, 2017): 352 pages
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