A World in Disarray

American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

CFR President Richard N. Haass argues for an updated global operating system to address challenges from terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons to climate change and cyberspace.

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

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Read an excerpt of A World in Disarray.

"These are no ordinary times. It will not be business as usual in a world of disarray; as a result, it cannot be foreign policy as usual," writes Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in his latest book, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order—a timely examination of a world increasingly defined by disorder. In three parts, the book contemplates the history of world order from the rise of the modern state system to the end of the Cold War; accounts for the momentous shifts in the last quarter century to shed light on the current state of affairs, and outlines specific steps to tackle the many challenges ahead.

Haass argues that the fundamental elements of world order that have served the world well since World War II have largely run their course. The Middle East is unraveling. Asia is threatened by China's rise and a reckless North Korea. Europe, for decades the world's most stable region, is staggering under the weight of prolonged low economic growth, anger over immigration, and a rise in populism and nationalism. He writes that the election of Donald J. Trump and the unexpected vote for "Brexit" signal that many in modern democracies reject globalization and international involvement, including borders open to trade and immigrants as well as a willingness to maintain alliances and overseas commitments. Add to these concerns the threats of terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, climate change, and cybersecurity, and "it is painfully evident that the twenty-first century will prove extremely difficult to manage," says Haass.

He makes the case that the world needs a new operating system—which he calls World Order 2.0—that reflects the reality that power is widely distributed and that borders count for less. One critical element of this adjustment will be adopting a new approach to sovereignty, one that embraces its obligations and responsibilities, as well as its rights and protections. Haass also details how the United States should act toward China and Russia, as well as in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Finally, he asserts that the United States needs to define national security more broadly, addressing what are normally thought of as domestic issues—from dysfunctional politics to mounting debt—as well as coming to an agreement on the nature of the United States' relationship with the rest of the world.

Educators: Access Teaching Notes for A World in Disarray.

Reviews and Endorsements

A calm, reasoned look at the world today and America's foreign policy. . . . Haass writes with brisk authority here, moving fluently between discussions of larger dynamics (like the role that astute statesmen with an understanding of the nuances of diplomacy can play in forging peace, or preventing disaster) and the specifics of tangled relationships in hot spots like Syria and Afghanistan.

New York Times

A must-read for the new American president and all who are concerned by the state of the world and the prospect of things getting worse. Richard Haass takes the reader galloping through the last four centuries of history to explain how we got to where we are, and then offers an insightful and strategically coherent approach to coping with and managing the challenges before us. Practical and provocative: a book that sets the policy table.

Robert M. Gates

In a world where power has become decentralized and respects no borders, we need an updated operating system, one that provides a new method for conducting diplomacy. In this wise and historically grounded book, Richard Haass shows what we need to do at home and in our foreign policy to make this work. It's a brilliant approach for a troubled world.

Walter Isaacson

With bracing intellectual rigor and a sure feel for the realities of politics and of culture, Richard Haass offers us an invaluable window on a world, as he puts it, in disarray. A wise and engaging voice, Haass is always worth listening tonow more than ever.

Jon Meacham

We live in an age when trends once thought irreversible—globalization, unipolarity, even democracy—have proven no longer to be. I know of no better guide through these upheavals and toward the new strategies they require than Richard Haass's A World in Disarray. It's essential for anyone trying to understand the new pivotal moment we all inhabit.

John Lewis Gaddis

Excerpt Up

From A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order by Richard Haass. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Richard Haass, 2017.

The 2016 presidential campaign highlighted multiple divisions within American society that are both long-standing and deep. One result of the election is greater uncertainty over the future trajectory of U.S. foreign policy. Support for traditional foreign policy has crumbled, the result of heightened economic anxiety at home (often associated with globalization, free trade, and immigration) and growing doubts about the costs and benefits associated with what the United States has been doing abroad, including fighting several open-ended wars in the Middle East and supporting allies in Europe and Asia. It is significant that Donald Trump, the winning candidate, called for putting America First and highlighted it in his inaugural address.

The rest of the world has taken note. Assumptions about the willingness of the United States to continue doing what it has been doing in the world are being questioned as never before by friends, foes, and everyone in between.

All this, along with an inbox best described as daunting in the quantity and quality of the challenges filling it, is what awaits the forty-fifth president, who, like his predecessors, will enjoy great latitude in matters of national security. It is of course impossible to know what sort of foreign policy will emerge from the United States and how other countries and entities will react. Still, it is difficult not to take seriously the possibility that one historical era is ending and another beginning.

This view is reinforced by events elsewhere. On June 23, 2016, a narrow majority of those British citizens who went to the polls voted in favor of a referendum that called for an end to their country's membership in the European Union. Brexit, which is likely to happen in one form or another, could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom and a partial unraveling of the EU. If this was to occur, the historic project of European integration born in the wake of the Second World War, an accomplishment that has brought unprecedented prosperity and stability to a continent that had all too often known war, would be placed at risk. Also at risk would be the so-called special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, often America's closest and most important partner and ally in the world.

But even if Brexit or the worst of it is somehow avoided, that it garnered the support it did tells us that there are fewer givens in the world than many of us—indeed, most of us—assumed. Populism and nationalism are on the rise. What we are witnessing is a widespread rejection of globalization and international involvement and, as a result, a questioning of long-standing postures and policies, from openness to trade and immigrants to a willingness to maintain alliances and overseas commitments.

All this is a far cry from the optimism and confidence that were just as widespread a quarter of a century before. One source of this mood was the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. This was followed less than a year later by a remarkable coming together of the world to turn back Saddam Hussein's effort to conquer Kuwait, something that led President George H.W. Bush to speak of his vision of a new world order.

Now, some twenty-five years later, it is clear that no benign new world order materialized. What exists resembles more a new world disorder. If there were a publicly traded stock called "World Order Incorporated," it would not have crashed, but it would have suffered a correction, losing at least 10 percent of its value. The world might even be entering bear market territory, something normally associated with a fall of 20 percent. What is worse, no rally is in sight; to the contrary, the trend is one of declining order.

This is not to deny the existence of important examples of stability and progress in the world, including an absence of great-power conflict, a degree of international cooperation managing some of the challenges associated with globalization, and considerable coordination among governments and institutions in regard to many aspects of international economic policy. There is as well the fact that more people than ever are leading longer and healthier lives, that hundreds of millions of men, women, and children have been lifted out of extreme poverty, and that more people enjoy what can be termed a middle-class life than at any other time in history. Indeed, there is a body of writing that argues just this: we are better off than the apostles of doom and gloom would have you believe. Or to paraphrase that old saw about Wagner's music being better than it sounds, the world is better than it looks.

As attractive as this optimistic worldview might be, it doesn't hold up. It would be naïve and even dangerous to ignore worrisome developments and trends in the world, including increased rivalry among several of this era's major powers, the growing gap between global challenges and responses, the reality of and the potential for conflict in several regions, and political dysfunction and changes going on within many countries, including the United States, that are likely to make it more difficult to design and implement a foreign policy that can help the world contend with all the threats to order. The result is a world in which centrifugal forces are gaining the upper hand. "Disarray" captures both where we are and where we are heading.

Why and how did this happen? How did the world get from that moment of optimism to where it is today? Was this journey inevitable or might things have turned out differently? And where are we precisely? What about today's world should be thought of as simply the latest chapter in the long march of history and what constitutes something fundamentally different? To be sure, many things look bad, but how bad in fact are they? Might they get worse? And of course there is the question of what, if anything, can and should be done about them. The purpose of A World in Disarray is to address these and related questions.