Why you should care
Because this diplomat believes we’re going about it all wrong.
Here is where we are, geopolitically speaking: Russia stands accused of waging cyberwarfare to influence America’s presidential election. The American president has accused his predecessor of wiretapping him. The Middle East remains in a constant state of implosion. North Korea is on the cusp of harnessing the ability to lob a nuclear-armed missile toward the United States. Terrorists, meanwhile, manage to shape foreign policy as much — if not more than — traditional state actors.
With diplomacy changing shape at such a fast clip, it’s time to adopt a new world order, according to Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. In his new book, A World in Disarray, Haass argues that the world has entered an entirely new phase of international relations, compared to the previous 400 years. We sat down with Haass to discuss. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
You argue we’re in a brand-new, starkly different era of international relations. Why?
What is different about this era is one, the scale and pace of globalization — it’s something qualitatively different. Secondly, the emergence of all sorts of players or actors in the world who have real capacity and a real ability to do things for better and for worse. And thirdly, I call it a world in disarray — things are increasingly messy or disorderly, but not for the traditional reasons. The traditional reason in history is great powers slugging it out, and even though there’s more than a little friction with Russia, great-power conflict is not the principal dynamic, so far, in the 21st-century world.
What three aspects of U.S. leadership in the world would you change?
One would be to re-embrace traditional American openness — to trade and immigrants. Trade and immigration have been great forces of American economic growth and also for stability around the world. So my first recommendation would be to jettison protectionism and those opposed to immigrants and refugees. Secondly, I would re-establish American predictability and reliability. That means standing by our allies and having a bias toward continuity rather than change in our positions around the world. The default option would be continuity rather than change. And thirdly — and this is closer to Donald Trump — I think we do need to rebuild the foundations of American power at home. So I would favor corporate tax reform and infrastructure modernization — but what I would also favor, which [Trump] hasn’t focused on, is education reform, and we have to rein in entitlements: We have to do something about American debt.
We need a world where governments not only have rights but also obligations not to do or allow things that would have adverse consequences on others.
Which global challenges keep you up at night?
One is North Korea and the likelihood that in the next few years, it will figure out how to put nuclear weapons on missiles that can reach the United States. I’m also concerned about Russia doing elsewhere in Europe what it did in Ukraine. Thirdly, I worry about even greater turmoil in the Middle East. I worry about terrorism and the possibility that terrorists will get ahold of weapons of mass destruction. A fifth thing is continued conflict in cyberspace, and we are a society and an economy particularly vulnerable to that. And one country that we haven’t talk about much recently and is always on my shortlist of things that keep me up at night is Pakistan. This is a country with well over 100 nuclear weapons; it has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal. It’s also home to some of the world’s most extreme terrorists, and it has some of the worst governance in the world.
What should the U.S. do to stand up to Russian aggression in Europe?
Toward the end of the Obama administration, the U.S. and the Europeans started introducing military forces into the Baltic members of NATO. I would continue or even expand that, essentially to deter any Russian military action against its NATO neighbors. Secondly, I would give Ukraine greater capacity to defend itself. … We should give them weapons that would not pose any threat to Russia but would give Ukraine greater capacity to deal with the kind of problems they’ve faced, particularly in their eastern area.
You’ve promoted the idea of sovereignty as part of a World Order 2.0. Can you explain?
The big idea in international relations over the last few centuries has been sovereignty. The idea was that countries don’t use force to change borders, and countries respect and keep their hands off what goes on inside of other countries. This was essentially the basis for what order there was in the world. Obviously it was violated at various times, never more dramatically than during World War II, but this was still the basic organizing principle, and it’s still necessary. … My argument is that while [the principle of sovereignty] is still necessary, it’s not sufficient — that in a global age, nothing stays local for long, so whether it’s computer hackers, terrorists, a disease outbreak or something that causes climate change, everything gets on the conveyor belt of globalization and can affect everybody else. We need a world where governments not only have rights but also obligations not to do or allow things that would have adverse consequences on others. I think the United States ought to encourage this idea and be setting an example. We should be incentivizing others to do this and start considering how we penalize those who don’t.
Is there any specific foreign policy advice you would offer President Trump?
China is the most important bilateral relationship. It’s welcome that he has re-embraced the One China policy, because this offers the possibility of having an open relationship with China. I do not think he ought to trigger a trade war. I would argue that we should have sensitive, serious conversations with China first and foremost about North Korea. That ought to be the priority for U.S.–China relations: to roll back North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. With Russia, he needs to push back in terms of strengthening several of the neighbors in NATO and Ukraine. But you also want to be open to sitting down and talking to the Russians and making clear what we’re prepared to do, for example, when it comes to reducing sanctions or what it would require. … We ought to have both a more positive and a tougher relationship with Russia.