Richard Nathan Haass has wide-ranging experience in diplomacy, government, and academia. He has worked in the Defence and State Departments of the United States (US) and remained a Senior Director at the National Security Council. Apart from earning the Presidential Citizens Medal, Haass has written extensively on the US foreign policy, wars and conflict, intervention, and congressional power. His landmark book A World in Disarray is a recommended read for people who want to comprehend the international system,
The book is divided into three parts. The first traces the history of the rise of the modern state system in the mid-seventeenth century and touches upon the two world wars of the twentieth century and the end of the Cold War. The premise is that there was considerable continuity in how the world worked during that stretch (think of it as World Order 1.0) even though the history itself varied dramatically, both for good and very much for ill. The second part looks back at the last quarter-century. Haass further opines that the period since the Cold War is a split from the past and that something very different is afoot in the world. The book’s third and final segment is rather prescriptive. It makes the case that it is essential to do everything possible to constrain great power competition, so it does not come to resemble history’s norm. Simultaneously, the author recommends that the world needs an updated operating system — call it World Order 2.0 — that considers new powers, threats, and performers. Therefore, the foreign policy of US and several other countries need to change. The author asserts that the fourth and final aspect of what the US needs to do to succeed in the world is to define national security in broader terms, taking into account to a much greater degree (and doing something about) what are normally considered as domestic challenges and problems.
The author recommends that the world needs an updated operating system—call it World Order 2.0—that considers new powers, threats, and performers.
“Disarray” captures where we are more than almost any other term. As George H.W. Bush stated in 1990, a hundred generations looked for this elusive path to stability, while a thousand conflicts erupted through human institutions. Thus, a new world struggles to be born, a world much different from the one we know. The questions that flow from this assessment are many and vital.
When did the world get from hope to where it is today? Is this journey unavoidable? Furthermore, where are we? What aspect of today’s world can be regarded as merely a new chapter of history’s long march, and what is profoundly different? Sure, certain items look terrible; how bad are they? Could they get worse? Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya all share many of failing or failed states’ characteristics. A World in Disarray seeks to resolve these and similar problems.
The book highlights that power is concentrated in more hands than ever in history. Decision-making has become decentralised. The disparity between globalisation’s threats and the world’s capacity to deal with them continues to grow. The difference between the problems created by globalisation and the world’s ability to cope with them seems to be widening in various essential domains. On its part, the US remains the most influential force in the world. However, its share of global influence is diminishing, as is its capacity to translate its power into effect. Hass points out that it is instructive that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff started his foreword to the country’s military strategy in 2015 as follows: “Today’s global security environment is the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service. . . International chaos increased significantly when some of our comparable military advantages have begun to erode.” The author records that in early 2016, the US Director of National Intelligence stated, “Emerging patterns indicate that strategic rivalry among major powers is progressively challenging international standards and institutions.”
Besides, it is tempting to open this book with responses to what is wrong with the world, why, and what to do about it if there is no lack of content to ponder. Nevertheless, it is better first to take a step back to consider how we got where we are and, second, to distinguish what is genuinely fresh and unusual in the current world. The starting point to consider is the definition of the global order. From its modern inception nearly four centuries ago to the present, the concept is central to this book for various factors. “Order” is one of the words used a lot; it is used differently by different individuals and may confuse as well as illuminate. In 1977, Bull published the most important contemporary book in the area of foreign affairs, The Anarchical World. “Society,” as described by Bull, has a specific meaning. However, the reviewer believes that the author has rather ignored societies other than the US society. Each society acts according to its wishes and well-being; some societies are more prone to conflict and wars, while other societies have not engaged in wars and conflict.
The book highlights that power is concentrated in more hands than ever in history. Decision-making has become decentralised. The disparity between globalisation’s threats and the world’s capacity to deal with them continues to grow.
Nevertheless, Haass opines that firstly the world society’s primary “citizens” are nations, a term used by the author for nation-states and countries. Secondly, the states, governments, and officials who oversee these “citizens” are free to behave as they will inside their boundaries. It does not matter if these persons come to hold places of power through birth, revolt, voting, or any other means. Third, the participants of this foreign community support this freedom of expression on the part of others, in return for others agreeing that they should behave as they like within their borders. Haas highlights that Bull and Kissinger were mainly concerned with state order, particularly a specific era’s major forces. The author believes that “order” represents the degree to which current arrangements or guidelines for conducting foreign affairs are recognised.
The book also delves into the matter of Brexit and why a majority of British people voted in support of a referendum asking for an end to their country’s European Union (EU) membership. Brexit may be a reflection of the British frustration with low levels of economic growth, anger over immigration, fears of unemployment, or unhappiness with a portion of their taxes.
In addition, Hass elucidates that the United Nations (UN) never fulfilled the hopes of its most ardent proponents, but these hopes were never realistic, to begin with. The Security Council became as much an arena of the Cold War as anything else. The NPT could not prevent the emergence of four additional nuclear-armed states, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The author also refers to Peter Bergen’s explanation of “rollback” In the early Cold War years; there was talk in the US of “rolling back” Communism in the Soviet Union. “Rollback” was in many ways the 1950s parlance for what is today often called “regime change”. The Soviets learned a lesson in Berlin when they blockaded the Western sectors and again in Cuba a decade and a half later. The Soviet economic system was profoundly and structurally flawed. The burden of its overseas role and activities undoubtedly contributed to its failure.
The reviewer, however, holds that the author ignored the power of the military-industrial complex in the world order. Furthermore, the reviewer acknowledges that the US intervention in the Middle East has caused the world order crisis. Muslim societies have always had a contrasting approach to US policies in the Middle East. The US power is declining due to its less formidable policies in the Muslim world. Washington has abandoned many of its allies during Trump’s presidency. A global power pays more attention to its allies and fulfils their needs to keep the balance of power; however, the US lost that prestige during the Trump administration. Keeping the alliance balance and shaping the world in the right direction will take time for the US policymakers.
Meanwhile, the reviewer believes that the book holds a liberal viewpoint. It is important to note that liberal views have been in decline for over a decade. The world sure is going towards multi-polarity, and great powers have their discretion to either implement liberal or realist views. The policymakers of the world powers have mixed views on the crisis in the world, particularly in the Middle East. The crisis in Syria has compelled major powers to decide their policy, either to use military or non-military means. At the same time, the approach to terrorism varies for governments around the world. Neither the US nor the other countries have allowed their policymakers to have a set definition of terrorism. The issues seem to be greater than the author’s argument. The book is inclined to a more liberal approach to world problems and is missing the realist approach. Still, A World in Disarray is a compelling and meaningful read for anyone interested in understanding the global order.