In “A World in Disarray”. Richard Haas, former senior adviser to George Herbert Bush, Director of Policy Planning for Colin Powell, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of nine books, explains how the world order that the U.S. successfully established in the post-war bi-polar world, is under challenge. While not yet in chaos, the world is in disarray and trending towards greater disorder. Haas provides guidance on restoring order through what he calls “sovereign responsibility” as well as prescriptions for specific relationships (US/China, for example) and regions such as the Middle East. He is wise to both the dangers of over-reaching and inaction.
Haas gives an excellent summary of the stability of the bi-polar post- World War II world and the foundations this stability was based upon. The concept of sovereignty, that foreign policy ought to be based upon the pursuit of influence over foreign policies of other governments rather than influencing how they govern, kept Europe in relative peace all the way up to World War I. World War I’s start was accidental, but in part occurred through the breakdown of a balance of power due to the emergence of Germany as a new, ambitious power. World War II in part was caused by the resentments caused by the harsh treatment of Germany at the end of World War I, the economic depression that fed those resentments, and the inaction and withdrawal of the U.S. from world affairs.
With the end of World War II, the United States was determined to avoid the errors of World War I. The “neoliberal order” that the U.S. established through such institutions as the United Nations, the Bretton Woods agreement, the IMF, the World Bank and later GAAT agreements to lower tariffs and foster trade, ushered in decades of prosperity both in the U.S. and Europe.
The bi-polar conflict that emerged between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was the second “pillar” of stability in the post-World War II world. This rivalry stayed “cold” due to the restraint of both parties, due in part to the deterrent of “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction”) which prevented either entity from directly violating the core interests of the other. When core interests were challenged, such as the Russian threats during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the parties (in these cases the Russians) backed down to avoid direct conflict. Other wars were through proxies to avoid direct conflict. Agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, SALT and other arms deals, and constant communication between superpowers, avoided direct conflict and preserved world order.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, Haas describes the gaps in world order that have emerged and grown. What looked like the “end of history”, with a world moving towards benevolent management through institutions developed by the United States, has moved toward disarray.
Haas catalogs growing areas of disarray:
- The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement, while signed by all but a few countries, has never had official status or enforcement to enable the U.S. or other countries to prevent proliferation. Over the years, India, Pakistan and Israel, among others, have gone nuclear. Syria and Iran (until recently) were prevented from going nuclear by direct attack (by Israel in Syria) and covert action and sanctions (Iran). But now we have a rogue state, North Korea, which not only has gone nuclear, but now threatens the U.S. mainland.
- China and the U.S. are moving towards conflict, as often occurs in history when a dominant power and the world order it has created, is threatened by or overtaken by an emerging power. China is using low level challenges in the China Sea, where it is building new islands it claims in international waters. This is stoking conflict with its neighbors and the U.S., as China seeks to establish hegemony in East Asian waters. China also steals intellectual property and stacks the deck against foreign companies, and suppresses its own citizens politically.
- Similarly Russia is challenging the West in areas of Eastern Europe it once controlled, where it is has disproportionate influence over and above its overall power. Russia also is using cyber warfare to destabilize the West where it can.
- United States missteps have hastened the move to disarray in some regions such as the Middle East. Both overreaching (Bush and the Iraq War) where ideals trumped realism, and then a lack of action, where the U.S. did not use the leverage it had (Obama), are both to blame for the U.S. losing influence in this Region, and in part for the chaos that has ensued.
- In the Iraq War, Bush tried to remake Iraq in the U.S. image, and instead weakened Iraq. Iran, which has spread its influence in the Region, is the main beneficiary.
- Obama then “over learned” the lessons of Bush over-reach.
- He prematurely withdrew from Iraq on a public timetable (a terrible tactic), leading to the rise of ISIS and its caliphate in Iraq.
- In Syria, Obama called for the overthrow of Syrian leader Assad, but did little to use U.S. leverage to make this happen. Obama stood by as Assad crossed his publicly proclaimed red line in using chemical weapons on his own people. When the Russians saw Obama’s impotence on this issue, they then intervened, and at little material cost, successfully turned the tide of the Syrian Civil War by propping Assad up and bombing moderate opponents of Assad.
- The millions of additional refugees streaming into Europe due to prolonging the Syrian Civil War is the first part of a chain which fanned the rise of populist movements globally, ultimately leading to Brexit and then the election of Donald Trump.
- “Failed states” have been a source of disarray. With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fraying of post-colonial boundaries have come governments that do not control all of their sovereign territory or people. In the Middle East, Shiite/Sunni conflict or the Arab Spring has weakened States such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Tunisia. Pakistan, with its substantial nuclear arsenal, is a quasi-failed State. There are failed States in Africa such as Sudan.
- Other challenges described include a weak Europe (which Support the Center will describe in more detail in an upcoming review of “The Shifts and the Shocks” by Martin Wolf) and the rise of populism around the world including in the United States, which makes us less likely to pursue a renewed world order.
“World Order 2.0”
What is a renewed world order? Haas says first, that the U.S. must avoid the “trap of Thucydides”, that is the conflict that often arises when a new superpower (China) arises, challenging the world leader (the U.S.). He extends the analysis to Russia as well. The U.S. must not avoid conflict at all costs; in this case the danger will grow that China and Russia will challenge our vital interests if they believe we do not have the capability to respond effectively to local challenges they may create. In the case of Russia, the U.S. must be able to respond in Eastern Europe to non-conventional incursions by the Russians. In the case of China, the U.S. needs to be able to respond to China’s encroachment upon freedom of the seas. “Real politic” must govern, where we allow these countries to run their internal affairs, while working to shape their foreign policies. Both countries need to be given opportunities to be responsible stakeholders in an interdependent trade system, so disruption of trade becomes an impediment to war.
Reading Haas and considering the dangers, it is hard to see how the U.S. can succeed with China and Russia in the long run. Clearly the risks of dis-order are extremely high with these countries, and especially China, given its increasingly militaristic stance. A great deal of strategic and tactical work has to be done to avoid conflict with both of these two countries.
Haas promotes a new world order, what he calls “World Order 2.0”, involving “sovereign obligation” that goes beyond respecting other countries borders. Examples Haas uses include the obligation of States to prevent international terrorists from operating within their borders, to lower carbon emissions to help reduce the rate of global warming, and to prevent the launch of cyber warfare from within their country. Haas admits that the work of establishing “World Order 2.0” will take decades and fits and starts, including establishment in some regions and among allies (whom we must continuously cultivate), when global agreement cannot be reached. The institutions and rules for World Order 2.0 will be challenging to agree to, but Haas considers these discussions and negotiations necessary to reduce tensions in a disorderly world.
Haas concludes with a look at the dis-functional politics of the U.S. and how lack of governance without our country will dissipate the power we have to influence external events. In particular, he is concerned especially with our growing government debt, and how divided government has kicked it down the road for decades, with our lagging educational attainment and our lagging infrastructure. With our demographics, our budgetary issues will only get more severe. Haas is also concerned with the potential for Donald Trump to upend American international alliances and institutions at a time when we need these to push for a revival of world order. Growing American protectionism could take the world down a dangerous path, and weaken the U.S.
Haas’ book is a great read for any of us who want to understand recent world politics, it dangers as well as promise. If you want to understand the politics of world order, this book is a great start.