Short on Real Solutions

AWorld in Disarray is the title of the book about…a world in trouble. Richard Haass, the author, has an impressive career. He is a former U.S. diplomat, a State Department official, and is now president of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. Based upon his credentials and experience, he analyzed the current world and its lack of order. His study is full of cases and examples, but short of solutions? In fact, he advances many possible solutions, but they are mostly suggestions and opinions. And a thought came to mind while reading the book:  If his suggestions as a high-ranking State Department official were ignored, as he mentions, who is ultimately in charge of America’s foreign policy?

Analytically, the book is organized into three main parts and twelve chapters. The first part deals with the theoretical frame of the Cold War. The second focuses on the post-Cold War years and explains what went wrong ever since. The third part addresses the question of what is to be done? He asks many questions and offers plenty of answers. And some chapter titles are illustrative for the topics discussed:  A Global Gap, Regional Realities, World Order Two, Regional Responses, and A Country in Disarray that is the United States. The book tackles many delicate issues: the challenge of globalization, the crisis of international migration, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the complexity of the Middle East, the new Russian aggressive behavior, the divisions that exist within the American society and others. In fact, the book addresses too many issues and this is a drawback.

Dr. Haass wrote the book out of concern for the evolution of the current world; a world that refuses to obey any order. He presents mostly an American point of view, but the world is still ethno-centric and America is at the center of the world.  And what can America do at the beginning of this new century in a world that is more complex and more complicated than ever? He stresses that now, the world is neither unipolar nor multipolar; it is a place in which there are several ascending and descending powers, medium states with local ambitions, inactive little countries, and many dangerous non-state actors. In this new world, the United States cannot afford the luxury to stay aloof. Consequently, the author writes, America’s involvement in world affairs is strictly necessary, but insufficient.

The study underscores that our world continues to combine Wilsonian idealism with hard-core realism. That means balancing ambiguous morality, questionable legitimacy, and cynical politics. Such issues as sovereignty and legitimacy are not universally accepted and are difficult to address. Therefore, force is still needed to impost some order and to avoid international chaos. In fact, he admits that some twenty-five years since the end of the Cold War, ‘no benign new world order materialized.’ And he adds that currently ‘international relations resemble more a new world disorder.’ (p. 5)

Dr. Haass also admits that the global arrangements set up at the end of World War II no longer correspond to today’s humanity. The United Nations, for example, as well as the World Bank, IMF, GATT and WTO and other international institutions, have not kept up with global changes and must be reformed. Yet, there is no consensus on how to change them. On the other hand, nations-states are still the building blocks of international arrangements, but they continue to be self-serving. Will nation-states survive the current process of globalization?

In this regard, he alleges that any new order must respect the sovereignty of the existing states. That means, at least in theory, to allow ‘national governments to do much as they please within their border.’ (p. 23).  But he adds that the new order must monitor not only the external behavior of the states, but their internal actions as well. Then, what remains of state sovereignty?

Presently, the relations between politics and economics and between national governments and private corporations are very intricate. In today’s world some corporations and non-state players are stronger than governments, thus making sovereignty even less relevant. This trend is behind increased nationalism in many parts of the world. Consequently, how can we cope with such contradictory trends? Dr. Haass is not too optimistic. In his opinion, ‘the twenty-first century will prove extremely difficult to manage.’ (p.13) … ‘It will not be business as usual in a world in disarray; as a result, it cannot be foreign policy as usual.’ (p. 14) Then, what is it going to be?

He also introduces some new terms or at least tries to give new meaning to several older terms and concepts such as: Legitimacy and Legitimate anticipation, Sovereignty, Sovereign obligation and Sovereign self-interest, Diplomatic offensive, Nuances of Prevention and Preemption, Naming and Shaming, Managing the Cyberspace, and even others.

Take, for example, ‘legitimacy’ and the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia. He writes: ‘One can argue that what the government of Serbia was doing was illegitimate in terms of international law or values and that what the United States and Europe sought to do was inherently legitimate.’ Yet, Russia did not agree.  He attempts to clarify the concept: ‘What this shows is that it is impossible to define legitimacy in terms of process alone if there is no consensus on norms and rules.’  Then, he introduces a new challenge to legitimacy and concludes:  ‘the U.N. Security Council itself does not deserve the mantle of dispenser of legitimacy given that its own legitimacy is in question. The problem with the Security Council as currently configured is that it is not representative of today’s world…’ (p.197) If the highest global forum is not legitimate, what is legitimacy?

As an author and analyst myself, I would like to add that the current global configuration was largely decided at the American-Soviet summits held in Malta in 1989. The problem is that we do not know what the two sides discussed at Malta. And to add insult to injury, we still do not know the decisions taken by the victors at Yalta in 1945. Then, how can we judge consequences of events that have been kept secret? By contrast, the Helsinki negotiations and agreements of 1975 were open and public. The signatories agreed openly upon a set of values and decisions that are still in force today. One such point is the inviolability of borders. If the Helsinki accords were legitimate, should we conclude that the Malta and Yalta accords were illegitimate? Haass does not discuss this issue!

Another well debated topic is the problem of nuclear proliferation. Who has the right to nuclear weapons, if there is no consensus on legitimacy? Who has the right to decide on how to react to North Korea or to the Iranian nuclear programs? In this venue, the author is tough on these countries. There is no question this is a big dilemma, but Washington should avoid at any price to be perceived as using a double-standard when judging others?

Other analyses undertaken in the book are the problem of spheres of influence (especially those claimed by Russia and China) and of various regional conflicts. From among regional conflicts, the Middle East remains the hottest and apparently there is no solution in sight. Yet, who is responsible for the dire destruction and sufferance in the Middle East, a conflict that threatens to divide and destabilize Europe? As for the spheres of influence, if every major power claims a share of the world, we go back to square one and start bickering again as we did a century ago. Have we learned anything from history? Haass wrote that learning from history is easier said than done. Some 200 years before him Immanuel Kant said that what we learn from history is that… we do not learn from history.

At the beginning of the 21st Century we do have global knowledge, but we have neither a global government, nor sufficient leaders with clout and global consciousness. Consequently, the world has a lot of gray areas where major regional powers make the rules or interpret them at will. There is a big gap these days between what is desirable and what is possible. In Haass’ opinion ‘this gap is one of the principal reasons for the disarray that exists in the world.’ (p.150) An old adage says that sometime we do too little too late. In this case the author tries to do too much too early. The world is not ready. We have not acquired, yet, global consciousness and perhaps we never will.

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D, is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.