ACC 11292017

State of the World

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CFR President Richard N. Haass discusses the state of the world and the role of the United States within the current global order.

Learn more about CFR’s resources for the classroom at CFR Campus.


Richard Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President for National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the national program and outreach here at CFR. Thank you all for joining us.


Today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website,


We are delighted to have CFR President Richard Haass with us today to talk about “The State of the World.” Dr. Haass is in his 15th year as president of CFR. In 2013 he served as the chair of the multiparty negotiations in Northern Ireland that provided the foundation for the 2014 Stormont House agreement. Previously Dr. Haass was director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State, where he was a principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate to hold the rank of ambassador, he served as U.S. Coordinator for Policy Toward the Future of Afghanistan and was the U.S. envoy to the Northern Ireland peace process. He has also served as special assistant to President George H.W. Bush and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council.


He is the author or editor of 13 books, the most recent of which is “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.” It will be available in paperback in January. And a VICE special report documentary draws on the book, and it originally aired on HBO and is now available for complementary viewing on So I commend that to you all, as well as following Dr. Haass on Twitter at @RichardHaass.


So, Dr. Haass, thank you very much for doing this. You titled your book, published in January 2017, “A World in Disarray.” Nearly one year later, how would you describe the state of the world? And if you were publishing it today, what would you title it?


HAASS: Well, it’s good to be here, and I appreciate so many people joining this call.


If I were to publish the book today—in a sense, I am; I’ll be publishing the paperback in about a month—we’ll stick with the title. The—it remains very much a world in disarray, I’m sorry to report. I don’t think that’ll come as a great surprise to anybody.


There’s—the evidence is plentiful, whether it’s a Middle East with more conflicts than one can count—Yemen, Syria, still unresolved; Israeli-Palestinian issue; the challenge of Iranian reach throughout the region. Libya is effectively a failed state. You just had the terrible violence in Egypt. And I could go on and on.


The conflict in Afghanistan continues well into its second decade; now the news yesterday about North Korea, just the latest reminder about its push for long-range missiles that can carry nuclear weapons anywhere around the earth, including to the United States; any number of unresolved territorial issues in Asia. You’ve got Russia still holding on to Crimea, still interfering in eastern Ukraine. Closer to home, you have the failed state, in many ways, that is Venezuela.


At the global level—and I know, by the way, I’m leaving lots of things out regionally and so forth, but I just want to touch on things. At the global level, there’s really no widely accepted or respected rules of the road for what should and should not take place in the cyber—in the cyber domain, just to say one.


So, again, I think the fact that there’s a world in disarray is pretty apparent. The reasons that led to it haven’t gone away. You’ve got a lot of power in a lot of hands, state and nonstate actors alike. The arrangements, many of which were hatched or launched after World War II, are increasingly not up to the task.


Globalization is one of the dominant, if not the dominant, force in today’s world. And there’s a large gap, in many cases, between global challenges and global arrangements meant or designed to contend—to contend with them. We’re seeing some signs of revived great-power rivalry. It’s something I write about a lot in the afterward to the paperback edition.


We’re seeing the United States adopt, I think, a qualitatively different approach to the world. And we, in many ways—for the first time since the post-World War II era, we have an administration in place that is questioning many of the fundamentals of America’s relationships and role in the world, whether it’s with our allies or whether it’s with trade agreements or whether it’s with multilateral agreements, like the Paris climate agreement, and so forth. And you just—what we thought we could take for granted, for better or for worse, about American foreign policy, that’s no longer the case.


So with the United States not willing to play or perform its traditional role, in many instances, either others are beginning to step in or, in some cases, no one is stepping in. So what you see is the net result of all this, I would argue, is increasing disarray, because there’s no other single country willing and able to fill the shoes of the United States. The world is not good at organizing itself.


And we’re—I’d end where I began. The in box of challenges is numerous and difficult in quality. So it’s, I think, a very difficult and potentially dangerous moment in history.


So let me leave the set-up there, Irina.


FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Richard.


Let’s open it up to the students for questions.


OPERATOR: At this time we will open the floor for questions.


(Gives queuing instructions.)


Our first question comes from Washington & Lee University.


Q: Hello, Mr. Haass.




Q: You recently tweeted that Northern Ireland is at a crisis point due to poor leadership, Brexit, and the failure to deal with the past. So in light of the recent increased tensions due to Brexit, what do you think political leaders can do to avoid a resumption of violence and deal with the past?


HAASS: That’s a good question and it’s a tough question, because twice I’ve been involved in the negotiations. And I’d say I was not as successful as I would have liked to have been.


Dealing with the past in some ways is something apart from the current negotiations about Brexit. And the phrase, for those of you are not—who are listening who are not familiar with it, Northern Ireland went through more than three decades of the so-called Troubles. Well over 3,000 people lost their lives. And we still have rather bitter divisions over who was responsible for what. A lot of people have not apologized for what happened. A lot of people have not been brought to justice who many people think should be brought to justice.


And you still have all the—you still have a very divided society. Just to give you an example, more than 90 percent, if I remember correctly, of Northern Ireland’s young people—say, elementary-school and high-school age—essentially go to schools that are either almost entirely Catholic or entirely Protestant. It’s a very segregated society. And there’s a whole group of schools that try to bring people together regardless of background, and it’s called integrated education, where integration they’re having are religious-in-background connotation, unlike in our country.


So it’s a very divided society. And my whole argument is that people need to deal with the past, just like in this country. We’re having a lot of debates about dealing with our own past; obviously some of the debates about the Civil War, slavery, and so forth. And I just see virtually none of that being dealt with.


The Brexit issue has complicated things. And the question is, if Brexit—if and when Brexit goes ahead, what happens to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland? And this has been essentially an open border. Does this now become once again a fairly traditional border? If so, what would that mean politically, economically, in terms of smuggling and so forth? And if it’s not to become an open border, that would mean Northern Ireland would have a special relationship with Ireland. And many people in the north who fear Irish unification would fear just that. They would see this as a step in that direction.


So it’s one of the many reasons that I think Brexit ought to be on the short list of one of the bad ideas that has happened in recent years. And this is one of the, I think, unintended and unthought-through consequences of what I believe historians will argue was a reckless decision.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Boston University.


Q: Hello. Good morning, Dr. Haass. This is Ayman Grada from BU. Thank you very much for your insightful remarks. I got a copy of your book. It’s an excellent book. I learned a lot from it.


I have a question in regards to failed states. So, given the world affair(s), as you describe it, in disarray, and the increased political entropy, where do you see, like, a failed state such as Libya, for example, heading? Do you see that fragmentation?


HAASS: That’s a good question. You know, so much of history, when you read it, is about strong states who are not content with the balance of power or the political arrangements of their day, and they try to use their strength to bring about a new set of arrangements more favorable to them. And again, that’s a common dynamic throughout history.


But we live in an age in which the principal political units are nation-states. There’s just over 190 of them. But several dozen, I would argue, are extremely weak states, and to be weak in the sense that, in particular, that the government does not have the capacity to do what governments are meant to do in order to fulfill their obligations of a sovereign unit, to basically provide for security and stability within the borders.


And these are the kinds of places where nonstate actors, such as terrorist organizations, drug cartels, pirates, what have you, operate with considerable freedom. And Libya is one of these places. It’s divided. As you know, you’ve got all sorts of nonstate actors that are dominant in portions of the country. There’s a whole literature about so-called ungoverned spaces, which essentially refers to spaces or areas of territory inside a country where the national government is not able to exert its authority. Syria is another country where one sees a lot of this. Yemen is another. Pakistan is another. One can name any number in Africa, for example.


And I think a lot of these linger. These could become—I wouldn’t use the word permanent, but these could become open-ended situations where the central government has limited sway over territory or over the country, and local forces that are largely independent—and they have in some cases extraordinarily nasty agendas—they could be allowed to operate quite freely.


And I don’t see why one would assume this sort of situation necessarily comes to an end any time soon. To the contrary, I would think it would linger. It’s one of the characteristics of globalization that these groups, these nonstate actors, whether they’re criminal and drug cartels in Mexico or the kinds of groups that operate out of Libya or Syria, they now have access to people, to guns, to money, and so forth, thanks to globalization. That suggests to me they could stay in business for years or decades to come.


Q: Thank you so much.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Thank you.


(Gives queuing instructions.)


Our next question comes from Culver-Stockton College.


Q: Hello, sir. My name is Noah Dobson, and my question for you today is what made you take up this line of work, and how do you sleep at night?


HAASS: (Laughs.) Well, thanks, Noah.


How did I take up this line of work? The honest—there’s really two parts to the answer. You may learn a little bit more about me than you bargained for. One is when I came of age. I was born in 1951, so I came of age in the mid to late ’60s. That’s when I was in high school. And I went to college in ’69 and was in college through the early ’70s.


The big public debate in my era was Vietnam. And so that was, in some ways, the first political issue that captured my attention. So that was an international issue, obviously. I was a little bit too young for civil rights. Most of the big civil-rights issues happened when I was just a kid. So if I had been probably five years older, my life may have taken a very different direction. But in this case, the first set of issues that really galvanized me was this set of international issues. So that, first of all—that’s what got me interested in the first place.


And then, second, I went to a small school in Ohio, Oberlin College. And when I got there, I asked some friends and some people who had been at the school longer than I had, I said, who’s the best professor on the campus? Tell me. And I asked the question in part because I came to school without a clear idea of what I wanted to study. I was not one of those students who showed up on campus the first day during orientation who knew what he wanted to major in. I just—I just didn’t know.


Several people said to me, oh, you should take this course in the religion department. Oberlin had an excellent religion department or theology department. And this one professor, Professor Tom Frank, they said, taught a great course on New Testament. I did not have much familiarity, to say the least, with the New Testament, but I signed up for the class and took it. And it was fantastic. And it’s a good example of how a great professor can make any subject incredibly meaningful and alive and interesting. And I got very interested in the set of issues raised by the question of the role of religion, not just historically but in contemporary society.


Thanks to him, I got a chance to go over to Israel and worked in an archaeological expedition; decided to spend my junior year abroad in Israel, and decided very quickly I was not going to spend the rest of my life looking at broken pieces of pottery, but I might be very interested spending some time focusing on the problems of the Middle East. And I came back and made that my major and went on to graduate work in international relations; so all of which is to say I think I ended up doing what I’m doing in part just because of when I came of age, and then because of a totally unanticipated exposure to a professor who got me launched in a certain direction.


And I’ll just sort of say, because I know so many of you are in school, or all of you are essentially in school at this point, that I would hope that some of your time on campus you would ask the same question I did and expose yourself to a subject that might not be one you’d naturally gravitate toward, simply because it’s a really good teacher or it’s a subject you’ve long been mildly curious about.


And it may or may not be something that changes your life or your career or something, but also it’s one of the great opportunities of being on campus is that you can avail yourself of that kind of an opportunity. So everybody has a degree of discretion or electives in which it is he or she studies. And I would just say, to the extent you can, take advantage of it.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Washington University.


HAASS: In St. Louis?




Q: Hello. This is Nicholas Kinberg, sophomore at Washington University.


I just wanted to ask you, Dr. Haass, what do you think the increasing multipolarity of the international order, U.S.-led, will mean for U.S. interests and international security? Thank you.


HAASS: Thanks, Nicholas.


What I think multipolarity will do is probably increase the prospects for more, rather than less, disarray. It’s not inevitable, but it’s likely. And let me just try to back that up with a little bit of a justification.


When people use the phrase multipolarity, like you did, the general understanding is you’re talking about a number of concentrations of power, traditionally nation-states. In this world, you might say it’s obviously the United States, China, India, Japan, Europe, or certain countries within Europe, what have you, and then—but also in this world North Korea or an Iran. And one could add other countries—a Brazil.


Countries may have different kinds of power. For some it may be military power. For some it may be economic power. And certain states blessed with energy have a degree of power that stems from that.


And I think we’re living in a world where, even though the United States is first among equals, two things are happening. One is we’re beginning to see the emergence of a large number of other power centers, including but not limited to some of the countries I just mentioned. And second of all, we’re seeing on the part of the United States a greater reluctance to use some of the power it does have. We saw elements of that under the previous administration, under Mr. Obama, who feared, particularly in the Middle East, the benefits of doing certain things would not outweigh the costs. And we’re seeing it even more in this administration.


So this combination of the emergence of multiple centers of meaningful power and a United States more hesitant or reluctant than it has been in the recent past to assert its—all that it could leads to a more multipolar world. And I think—and I think, as a result, it’s simply a more complex challenge to try to organize it.


Think about it. It’s always harder to get 20 people to agree to something than 10, and it’s harder to get 10 than it is to get five. So if this is a world of 20 or 30 or 50 or 100 meaningful concentrations of power, it’s much harder to line up international activity on behalf of any particular objective.


To the contrary, in many situations you’re increasing—it’s increasingly likely that you’ll find people on various sides of the issue. And I think Syria is a powerful example of just that, where you end up with different alignments and you have different entities arrayed against one another.


So my sense is that’s—we’re going to see more of that as we head off into the future, with a greater distribution or dissemination of power and capacity. So my sense is that while it’s not inevitable that this will prove to be a very—will make for a very difficult diplomatic challenge. And, all things being equal, it will add to rather than subtract from the degree of disarray that exists.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from U.S. Air Force Academy.


Q: Good morning, Dr. Haass. My name is Cadet Fox (sp) from the United States Air Force Academy, and I do have a question for you today. And, just for public affairs, we do—my question does not concern the opinions of the United States Air Force or the United States Air Force Academy.


My question for you today—


HAASS: Duly noted. (Laughter.)


Q: My question for you today is, with the rise of populism in Eastern Europe, the Rohingya human crisis, and other atrocities that are happening around the world, do you see a reduction in U.S. hegemony in the world? And is there any way that your organization is helping the Trump administration on tackling these issues?


HAASS: Well, the first part of your question, I’d almost go back to my previous answer. I think we’re living in a world where there’s more and more—a lot of background noise here. We’re living in a world in which there’s more and more actors with the capacity to exert power. In many cases they’re doing so on behalf of agendas that are destructive. And again, there’s the global arrangements haven’t kept pace with the global—with global realities.


You mentioned the Rohingya. That’s a perfect example where you have a sizable ethnic minority, religious—rather religious minority. And you’ve had essentially what looks like ethnic cleansing on the part—by the government and the military in Myanmar. So roughly half a million people have been forced to leave and cross between I think it’s Bangladesh and Myanmar for their return. There’s the potential, but I haven’t yet seen any actuality of meaningful return.


And it’s just an example in which, again, there’s disarray at multiple levels in this world. And I think that’s going to be the reality for the foreseeable future. And it could be problems within states or between them in places like the Middle East and Africa. We see that all the—all the time.


In terms of the Council on Foreign Relations, we’re genuinely nonpartisan. We’re genuinely independent. We don’t accept financial support from the U.S. or any governments. Our whole goal is to be a trusted resource; to use the cliché, to speak truth to power.


People such as myself and the various fellows, the experts here, who work in the Council’s studies program or think tank, often testify before Congress, meet with administration officials at various levels, meet with people at the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department, the Pentagon, Treasury, the intelligence community. So we have regular interactions. We give our best analysis. We give our recommendations. It’s up to them to decide what to listen to and what to follow.


And we also try to make our work available to the American public. I think, in a democracy, we need an informed citizenry. And it’s one of the reasons we’ve invested so much in two things. One is in, our website. And at the risk of tooting our own horn, if you haven’t checked it out, I really do urge that you go to It’s, I think, an extraordinary resource about American foreign policy. We also have our magazine, Foreign Affairs, and, its companion website.


And we also have now something called CFR Campus, which is our educational resources on our website. And the first generation of these came out, which is Model Diplomacy, which is a National Security Council simulation program. And we’re now in the early stages of producing something called the World101. And the whole idea is to provide academic resources that could either be used as a whole, as a course, or they could be used as supplements to a course, and then to be resources for both college students as well as for—as well as for faculties.


So this is a long way of saying that we try to speak directly to people, say, in the executive branch or Congress or mayors or governors or journalists or corporate leaders or what have you, but we’re also trying to be a resource for people such as yourselves and for the wider American public.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from University of Southern California.


Q: Good afternoon. My name is John (sp).


I have a question recently on the Russian Zapad exercises, which concluded in September of this year in the Baltic Sea. Analysts noticed that it’s a highly modernized and mobilized fighting force in Russia that hasn’t been seen in recent memory in the 21st century. I was wondering, are you concerned about possible renewed Cold War era-style arms buildup as our policy of—(inaudible)—Europe remains strong?


HAASS: Well, like a lot of other people in the field, I was watching what the Russians were doing with their various exercises. And it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. We saw the Russian use of military force in Crimea, and we continue to see it in eastern Ukraine. We saw the Russian use of military force in Syria in often rather indiscriminate bombing there. We see elements of Russian military activity continuing in places like Georgia.


So it is pretty obvious to me and to others that Mr. Putin is not shy about using the military instrument of national security. He’s also obviously not shy about using the cyber instrument of national security. And in the past he likewise has not been shy about using the economy and energy instrument of national security.


So in the military sphere in recent years, I would say that unfortunately he’s largely succeeded. And for relatively modest investments, he has shown some considerable return, both in Ukraine as well as in Syria. So I take seriously the possibility that he might be tempted to use military force again if he saw an opportunity to use modest amounts of force for what would be a large political payoff.


So I think it’s important that we deny him that opportunity. And, among other things, it means strengthening NATO. There was a large understandable weakening of NATO after the end of the Cold War. I would estimate—I hope these numbers are right—that U.S. military presence in Europe is maybe a quarter of what it was then today. There’s a major demilitarization or demobilization of NATO. It’s not surprising. It often happens after wars.


The problem is we’ve got a return of a threatening Russia. And I would simply argue that I think it’s important for NATO to rebuild. And that means for the European countries of NATO, as this administration has argued, for them to do more. It also means not simply worrying about how much NATO spends, whether it’s 2 percent of budgets or what have you, but how it spends it. There’s way too much duplication in what NATO members spend. There’s not enough specialization and rationalization of what it is they spend. We could have—even for current levels of spending, we could have far more NATO capability than we do if the money were spent in a more considered way, and again, avoid large amounts of duplication. The United States is also going to have to slightly increase what it is prepared to do in Europe. At the same time, it obviously has to worry about other theaters of the world.


But coming back to the question, I think it’s important to take the Russian challenge seriously, and it’s also clear to me that Mr. Putin is unlikely to be departing the scene any time soon. There’s an election in Russia in a few months. I don’t think you have to be the world’s leading political observer or pundit to predict that Mr. Putin will win fairly handily. He could then remain in power for quite some time to come. And I think we have to operate under the assumption that he will, and he will look for opportunities to assert Russian power in whatever form he sees as a—as likely to pay off handsomely for him and for his country.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


O: Thank you. Our next question comes from New York University Center for Global Affairs.


Q: Hello, Dr. Haass. My name is Rachel Long, and I’m a Master’s student here at New York University. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.


My question is regarding the future of the Iran nuclear deal. As we know, Trump isn’t the biggest fan of the deal. So my question is, in your opinion, what do you think is in store for the deal? And what do you think might be the implications of simply walking away from it?


And, finally, what do you think the future of nuclear nonproliferation might look like without a strong U.S. presence?


HAASS: All good questions from a few blocks away.


Look, in terms of the Iran deal, let me say a few things. The deal now is, what, about two, two-and-a-half years old. For those of you who haven’t followed it closely, it’s not a bilateral deal between the United States and Iran, but there’s several European countries involved as well. What the agreement did was it dramatically reduced Iranian capabilities in the nuclear domain in exchange for, you know, financial assets were made available to Iran. They were released, many of which had been held for years by the West, and for Iran accepting more stringent, more intrusive inspections.


The most controversial part of the deal, in addition to the transfer of financial assets to Iran, is the fact that certain limits on Iran are limited in the sense they’re specific durations. If my memory serves me right, the limit on centrifuges originally ran for 10 years. That means there’s about seven-and-a-half years left. The limits on uranium, the amount of it, and how high it could be enriched were originally for 15 years, and that means they’ve got about 12 ½ years to run. So the good news about the agreement is that it’s reduced and stabilized the situation. The bad news about the agreement is that when these durations from these fixed terms come to an end, Iran then would be free not to—just to be clear, not to have nuclear weapons but to put into place many of the essential prerequisites of nuclear weapons. And if they were to decide to opt for nuclear weapons, the warning times that the United States or Israel or anyone else would have would be dramatically, dramatically reduced. So the agreement is quite controversial.


That said, as best I can tell and as best you, others in a better position than me can tell, Iran is essentially complying with the agreement. And if the United States were to take itself out of the agreement, we would be more likely to isolate ourselves than Iran. I don’t believe we could rally the Europeans or anyone else, the Chinese, the Russians or anyone else around new sanctions. So I wouldn’t recommend that. And I also think we’ve got enough on our plate right now with North Korea and other challenges.


The biggest issue for Iran in the short run for the next decade or so is not what they do in the nuclear sphere, it’s what they do everywhere else. It’s what they do in Syria. It’s what they do in Lebanon. It’s what they’re doing in Yemen. It’s their regional challenge. And I would suggest that we would be wise to focus our efforts on meeting the Iranian regional challenge, rather than reopening the nuclear challenge. Saying that, I think we have to understand that we will have to return to the nuclear challenge at some point, and I would—I would think that we ought to be at some point consulting with those who signed this first agreement about what sort of follow-on arrangements might be required.


And that kind of segues into your second question. I think we have to be very worried by events in the Middle East and events in Northeast Asia. We do not want this to be the tipping point for the nonproliferation regime, which is mostly held up—I mean, you’ve got the five original powers—the United States, Russia, and you’ve got Britain, France, and China, and you’ve also got Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea. So you’ve got nine countries that have nuclear weapons. We do not want to see either in Northeast Asia others following suit. We’d rather not have a situation where obviously countries like Japan, South Korea, and others felt they needed nuclear weapons. And the Middle East, they wouldn’t want to have a situation where Iran acquired nuclear weapons and then countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Turkey and so forth all decided they needed nuclear weapons. If this were to happen, the chances that the process could lead to war, I think, would be great, and the chances that stability could break down at some point in the future would be great, and the consequences would obviously be horrific if nuclear weapons were in fact used. So I actually think this is a critical moment for the world, and this is a problem that has never been solved, but it has to been to some extent managed.


And I think, again, over the next decade we are going to see where—if we can continue to manage it in the two theaters of the world, in Northeast Asia and in the Middle East, where serious challenges are emerging. And I just don’t think that the United States breaking the agreement is the best way to go about increasing the odds we will be successful at managing the nonproliferation challenge in the Middle East. And I say that as someone—just to be totally transparent here—who is quite critical of the agreement. I believe we should have pressed for longer durations of the limits on Iran, and I think we agreed to an agreement in some ways that wasn’t stringent enough. And I can’t prove we could have negotiated that successfully, but I believe we could have. But that said, it’s the agreement we have, it’s the only one we have, so I would argue that we should live with it, focus on what Iran is doing in the region, and prepare ourselves for what we would try to put into place once important sub limits of this agreement expire.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from George Mason University.


Q: Hey, Dr. Haass. My name is Dave Marteno (ph). I’m an international security student at George Mason. I had a question regarding Afghanistan.


HAASS: Yes, sir.


Q: So we’ve been there for 16 years and the U.S. has spent significant resources in terms of lives lost and money spent. So, in your opinion or estimation, what do you think it would take for the U.S. and the international community and the Afghan government to kind of bring that war to a successful close?


HAASS: Well, I’ve worked on this a lot. I had some responsibility for Afghanistan for the four years of the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, who came under me at the National Security Council. And this is when—the period when the last Soviet fighters left Afghanistan. And then, again, I was appointed by President Bush 43, George W. Bush, as the U.S.—I was put in charge of thinking about the future of Afghanistan after 9/11. So I have some long and often frustrating experience. And it’s taught me to be, quite honestly, modest about Afghanistan, and there’s a couple of reasons. One is the nature of Afghan society. I think the divisions within the society make it extraordinarily hard to think about creating what we think of as a, quote/unquote, “normal, strong” central government that exerts and asserts authority throughout the territory. I just don’t think that’s going to happen given the historic and tribal and ethnic divisions within the country.


And making things much worse is not only that we’ve got an active insurgency led by the Taliban, but they enjoy a sanctuary in Pakistan. And the history of civils wars teaches one that when insurgent groups enjoy a sanctuary, it’s extraordinarily hard, if not impossible to bring the civil war to an end. So as long as Pakistan is willing to play that role, I’m frankly fairly—what’s the word?—modest in my hopes or ambitions about what can be accomplished. And I would simply say that we can try—we can introduce a diplomatic element in to things, or strengthen it, but I’d be surprised if we could get either the Afghans to agree, and even more difficult to get the Taliban to agree to a realistic deal—not just agree to it, but to live up to it—if one ever were negotiated.


So my own view is in Afghanistan is we should probably be modest, and rather than thinking we can bring the war to a close, and we might simply need to think about ways of making sure that we continue to sustain a government in large parts of the country, but probably accept the reality that other smaller parts of the country are going to remain beyond the reach of the government for some time to come. And I think that will probably remain the case until Pakistan, one way or another, can be pressured into changing its policy, and then the Taliban will have to deal with a far less favorable situation from its vantage point.


Q: Thank you very much.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Thank you.


Our next question comes from the University of Central Florida.


Q: Hello. My name is Catalina Udani from the Global Perspectives Office at the University of Central Florida. Thank you for speaking with us today.


HAASS: Thanks for listening.


Q: I would like to ask you a question about the sort of paradigm shift that has happened in the last 20, 30 years due to technology and its spread throughout the world and its impact on international relations and global communications, particularly in the potential of developing innovations or exacerbating or maybe, hopefully, regulating global disarray. For example, Bitcoin, a single Bitcoin on Monday just exceeded $10,000 in value. And how might that affect, for example, the global economy?


HAASS: Yeah, I’m sitting here, like many people, wondering why I wasn’t smart enough to invest in Bitcoin.


It’s a little—I don’t see it—one answer is there is a big debate going on. Let me take a step back. I don’t claim to be an expert in it, so I won’t speak at length about it. I’m trying to understand it. But it’s—I don’t yet see it as somehow a new great global currency. Maybe at some point it will emerge as more of one. It also seems to be almost playing something of a role of a—besides a limited currency, also almost like a commodity, gold, a place to keep value. My hunch is it will probably in the future play a larger role than it plays today, but I still think we’re going to live in a dollar-dominated world. The euro is, you know, too uncertain given the future of Europe is too uncertain. Japan is too small. China does not allow its currency to be freely convertible. So the dollar, for all of its limits and weaknesses, is still the most powerful and important currency in the world. And I would think that things like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are going to emerge. The new technologies make it quite feasible for all sorts of transactions, and so forth. But I see them coexisting in still a dollar-dominated world for as far as at least as I can see.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


HAASS: Let me just one other point. Let me just make one other point right now. I think it’s sort of—coming back to one of the basic themes of the conversation, though, it adds—it’s—it adds to the multipolarity in the world. If you think about it, it’s a—it’s another—how would I put it—it’s another actor in the world of the international economy, and it’s an actor that’s outside the control, in this case, of the Federal Reserve or any other central bank. So it potentially adds to the disarray in the world simply because it’s yet another factor or set of factors which are outside the control of governments—and in this case, in particular the United States. So it—I just see it as yet another example of the emergence of a new technology, or a manifestation of the emergence of a new technology that increases the challenges, in this case to managing or maintaining an international financial order. So I see this as not as an anomaly. I see this as simply another example of a historical pattern.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from International School Moshi.


Q: Hi. So I’m Reifi (ph) from International School Moshi, and I have two questions.


The first one is on Africa. So I feel like we’ve been seeing a rise of people by—in many countries in Africa, certainly from protests in Burundi, Kenya, these sort of elections and even in Zimbabwe the ousting of President Mugabe. So do you think Africa is setting some sort of foundation to full democracy in the next coming years? And what do you think the political situation is going to be in the future?


And the second question is, do you think that the U.S. is slowly losing its influence in Africa as far as to China?


HAASS: Both good questions. Look, I’ve been following events, among other places, in Zimbabwe with considerable interest. I don’t know too many people, if anyone, who’s shedding tears over the departure of Mr. Mugabe, who essentially inherited a country with many of the prerequisites of success and systematically undermined it. But it’s one thing to remove a tyrant and something very different to put into place a government and a society and an economy that functions well. So hopefully the opportunity is there right now in Zimbabwe in a way it has not been there for 37 years and hopefully the new leadership will act with—how would I put it?—far greater restraint and far greater respect for their citizens than Mr. Mugabe ever did, and far greater respect for the rule of law. But we’ll see. Again, it’s a difference between regime ouster and something that constitutes something qualitatively different and better. And, you know, what I would hope is that the United States, the African Union, other countries would work with the new government and basically support them to move in certain directions and make certain support available conditioned on their taking or their introducing certain types of reforms. But it’s going to be a long road back because 37 years is a long time, and several generations were lost and in many cases people departed the country and I expect will not come back. So this is—and no one should underestimate the scale or scope of the challenge there.


But, again, at least there’s an opportunity and there’s a ground for hope, where a month ago there was not. And the same thing could be said about a few other countries. And any time you see elections challenged and people coming out in the streets protesting for democracy, one sees, you know, real civil society. One sees the—some of the prerequisites of a liberal, in the classic sense, society.


In terms of China, I think China will run into limits in Africa. I think that, you know, Africans will also have a sense of nationalism. There will be resistance to the role of China, like historically there was resistance to the times—the role of the United States or Soviet Union. Obviously, there was resistance to the colonial powers. So I think China will run up against certain limits. Certain countries will want to follow developmental and political paths that will not in any way mimic or resemble China’s. In other cases, China will probably find that it can create close relationships and it can spread its—some resources around in ways that will buy it some favor.


But I think at the end of the day, you know, the dozens of countries of sub-Saharan Africa are going to have to find their own path. They’re going to have to deal with the enormous demographic challenges they are going to face in this century. A lot of them face, I think, not just economic and demographic challenges, not just challenges related to climate but also real governance challenges. And I don’t think China has a lot of answers in many of these areas, so I think the opportunity for the United States and Europe will be—and for certain countries in Africa to help other countries in Africa will be large. And I just hope that we step up to the challenge. And I think in some ways historically we have. I think the United States, over the last, what, decade or two, whether it was with things like PEPFAR to fight AIDS, the Millennium Challenge Corporation to promote good governance and development, I think we’ve been involved in helpful ways. And my own sense is we’ll continue because—and I think there’s many people in Congress who see the value of those programs.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.


Next question.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Washington University.


Q: Hi, my name is Natalie Geisler (ph). I’m a junior at Washington University in St. Louis.


In the beginning of this call, you referred to Libya and Venezuela as failed states, and I was just wondering what do you think makes a state a failed state, and what are the precipitating factors in that process of failure.


HAASS: It’s a good question. It’s an important question, Natalie (sp). Look, I think it’s—when we normally think of a functioning state, we think of a state in which you have a government that can maintain order within its borders, that it can run a functioning economy that provides at least the basics to its own people and provides the basic other services—education, health, whatever—and again, in a context in which people are able to avail themselves of those things. And I think in places like Libya, to take an extreme case, that just doesn’t exist. You don’t have the federal government or national government that asserts authority over big portions of the territory. It can’t maintain order, it can’t provide basic services, and either people are forced to fend for themselves or you have local groups that are setting up sort of makeshift arrangements.


Venezuela is a slightly different case because the country hasn’t fractured geographically in the way that, say, a Libya or a Syria has. But you’re beginning to see the real weakening of the government’s capacity to meet its obligations to its own citizens. One way we’re noticing that is we’re seeing a major increase in the amount of Venezuelans who are leaving. Refugee flows are increasing dramatically in recent months. And the situation could well get worse as Venezuela essentially becomes bankrupt. And, you know, what precipitates these things is everything from bad government—bad governance to often extremely illiberal policies that alienate large sectors of the population. Could be external intervention, could be massive corruption. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty long list—(coughs)—excuse me—of what could lead to either state weakness, or in its extreme form state failure.


And the questions—and how you get out of that cycle, the questions it raises are not—they’re not easy questions either for people within the country or for neighbors or outsiders. To bring a country back after it’s in an advanced state of weakness or failure is no easy undertaking, and—but in some cases that’s what—you know, that’s what might have to happen. A lot of these countries are going to need help. And a prerequisite is usually somehow maintaining or reintroducing order. It’s very hard to feed a country, run an economy, educate people, and so forth if young—if children and men and women are unable to venture outside without endangering their lives.


FASKIANOS: So, Richard, I’m going to ask the final question, which is the—


HAASS: Please make it an easy one.


FASKIANOS: It will actually not be an easy one. What are the long—short- and long-term consequences of the State Department’s staff reduction for U.S. diplomacy abroad?


HAASS: I actually think it’s a serious issue. I’m glad you raised it. Look, this administration faces as daunting an inbox as any administration has faced, you know, arguably in the entire post-World War II era. It’s the number—the sheer number of complex challenges coming at the United States at once, some of which we made worse by our own policies and statements, granted, but whatever. The reality is that it’s a difficult and stacked inbox, and we need all the expertise we can. And the State Department has a lot of knowledge of situations. One of the things I’ve argued and long concluded is there’s no substitute for local knowledge. Well, people in the State Department have served in these countries on the ground. They can bring to the conversation local knowledge that others simply cannot. Plus, to be perfectly blunt—it’s not meant as a criticism; it’s meant as an observation—you’ve got a lot of people in the senior levels of this administration who have not served in government before. They need the expertise. They need the background. They need the advice of people who have served in these countries or worked these issues for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. There’s no substitute for a sense, again, of history, understanding of local cultures, politics, economics.


And my worry over time is that State Department is not going to be able to retain the people that we need, it’s not going to be attract the people it needs. It’s going to weaken one of the principal tools of American foreign policy and American national security. We can’t turn to the Pentagon to do everything. We need a balanced national security approach, including but not limited to the military. We need the intelligence community, we need—and we need diplomats and we need diplomacy. And if we don’t get the diplomacy right, the demands upon the military will only grow. And I simply don’t see that as a healthy situation for this country. So I would hope very much that this president and this secretary of state would rethink both their what seems to be a certain—would rethink their positions either about the value of diplomacy, full stop, or the actual potential contributions of the Foreign Service. And the sooner that rethink happens, the better.


FASKIANOS: Richard, thanks very much for today’s call. We really appreciate it. Obviously, your tenure in the government, your service there, and your leadership here at CFR has been terrific. So thank you very much—and to everyone for your excellent questions and comments.


Again, I recommend to you Richard’s book, which will be out in paperback in January, “A World in Disarray,” and to watch the Vice documentary which highlights four case studies in their report. Again, you can access on Go to CFR Campus at for our teaching and learning resources, including Model Diplomacy. And you can also subscribe to Foreign Affairs, our magazine on international relations.


This concludes our fall 2017 Academic Conference Call Series. Our next call will be in the new year. We will be sending out the lineup in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow CFR Campus on Twitter at @CFR_Campus for additional information on new CFR resources and upcoming events.


So thank you all again for your participation, and good luck on your exams, and enjoy your winter break.


HAASS: Thank you.



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