Centennial Speaker Series Session 9: The Future of World Order

Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Alessandro Bianchi/REUTERS

President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, The World: A Brief Introduction@RichardHaass


Host, Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN; Member, Board of Directors, Council on Foreign Relations

The 21st Century World: Big Challenges & Big Ideas

Richard Haass and Fareed Zakaria discuss U.S. grand strategy and world order in the 21st century.

This meeting is the ninth and final session in CFR’s centennial speaker series, The 21st Century World: Big Challenges & Big Ideas, which features some of today’s leading thinkers and tackles issues ​that will define this century. 

This event series was also presented as a special podcast series, “Nine Questions for the World,” in celebration of CFR’s centennial. See the corresponding episode here.

ZAKARIA: Hello, everyone. It is an enormous pleasure to be here. This is my second in-person event, I think, at the Council since the pandemic and the crowds are getting slightly larger. I think we are maybe beginning to relax the—some of the rules, and I hope it gets—continues to go in that direction because I think it’s one of the special things about the Council is that people get to actually see each other.

I have some pro forma stuff I have to say to you. Oh, I’m Fareed Zakaria. I don’t know if this is some kind of legal requirement but I have to say I’m a member of the board of directors of CFR, so Richard has to be nice to me. This is the ninth and last in the CFR Speaker Series The 21st Century World: Big Challenges & Big Ideas. Each one—I don’t know if you—some of you have been to the others. Richard interviewed a kind of top expert and that’s going to be—those are going to be part of our podcast.

In case of world order, the biggest of all the subjects, Richard decided with characteristic modesty that he was the leading world expert on the subject—(laughter)—and so I am to engage him in conversation.

This is on the record. So Richard can feel free to be—

HAASS: That comment was off the record. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: Yeah. That will be edited out of the podcast, I think you can be sure, and there will be a more appropriate introduction. I think that that’s about it. We will do questions and we will do questions virtually.

So I think one of the challenges of talking about this is it seems such a large abstract phrase. I want to start by talking about world order in a kind of historical way, and then pose the question that comes out of it, which is when we think about world order today what we’re thinking about is not the abstract idea but a very specific world order that was created, really, by one man.

Franklin Roosevelt, in about 1942, starts to decide what he thinks the world should look like at the end of the war, even when the United States is not clearly going to win the war, and it’s really extraordinary to think about that, to think about how this one man had this extraordinary role in history and he is determined to create a kind of system to manage international relations that does not lapse back into another world war.

He knows that he wants to do something along the lines of what Woodrow Wilson had tried to do. He was, in many ways, a great Wilsonian. But he thought Wilson got wrong, you know, several key elements of it. He was actually briefly at Versailles—he was visiting as assistant secretary of Navy—and he thought Wilson left out power politics, left out the importance of great powers in playing the role of kind of policing this system.

You know, he didn’t believe you could treat all countries the same. There had to be major powers that were vested in the system, as it were. And so he begins to label his first conversations on this with the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and what came out of it, broadly speaking, is the world order that we think of—the U.N. system, the Bretton Woods system.

And for all that one may say—Soviet Union didn’t accept large parts of it for—you know, for many—for four decades—it’s remarkable how much it changed the world. There’s a very good book out by a Yale—a couple of Yale law professors that points out how rare it has been to have annexations of territory by force since 1945 and when you compare to the previous hundred years, you know, Russian invasion of Crimea, obviously, being a very important exception.

And my question to you, Richard, is if we accept that this came out of this moment of extraordinary power that the United States had, you know, after 1945—by some measures 50 percent of global GDP, probably 75 percent of the global military budget since Europe was in shambles—and it came out of this one man’s very determined vision, does it have the staying power, given the realities of a completely different world we live in? A United States that is in some relative decline, certainly, compared to 1945, other world powers that are either strong and rising, like China, which do not completely buy into the system, or I leave that as an open question, and a country like Russia, that is playing a rogue—playing a kind of rogue—is becoming a rogue element, I guess, would be the right way to say it, in this system? Or did it tap into some kind of roots that were so deep that it can be sustained?

HAASS: The short answer is what worked then worked for various reasons, which—many of which no longer exist or cannot be replicated. I mean, world order—let’s just take one step back—I mean, world order tends to reflect two things. One is an agreement on the arrangements in the world and how they are meant to be changed. When Henry Kissinger wrote about it he would use the word legitimacy. It was kind of acceptance of it. And the balance of power, and the balance of power was essential for those who didn’t buy into the agreements. They would be unable or deterred from trying to overthrow it by force. So there was an element of buy-in and an element of deterrence or, if necessary, defense.

Roosevelt—I think what you said I would agree with most of with one exception. Roosevelt didn’t anticipate in ’42 and ’43 the breadth and depth of the Cold War. There was still at that point a lot of optimism about the U.S.-Soviet relationship. And so the world order after World War II, what was so interesting about it is you had a couple of features. One was the one you talked about, the extraordinary new set of institutions. I mean, Acheson’s book, it really was prescient at the creation. Really quite remarkable what he and a number of other people did.

But you also had the alliance system, which very much was the balance of power idea. You had nuclear weapons, which introduced an interesting overlay to it all. Plus, you had a world that really had two decision-makers, United States and the Soviet Union.

And I say all that because when I look at today’s world, Fareed, it seems to me it’s almost hard to think about a single balance of power. You have multiple decision-making. In that sense, it’s a more decentralized world and a more distributed world. Plus, now you have this set of global issues. I mean, climate change didn’t exist as an issue. Cyberspace didn’t exist at all. And nonproliferation was—and you had an issue of proliferation.

So we didn’t have this set of global issues for which there weren’t or still aren’t, in many cases, institutions, certainly not adequate institutions, much less a sense of legitimacy as to what ought to be the world rules. And then you put your finger on the last feature. You have a United States, which is still first among unequals, if you will, in strength, but not always because of local balances and, in many cases, our willingness to use our power is constrained by choice or by politics.

For all these reasons, I would say that the post-World War II era was quite special and what worries me now is this has become—a lot of the trend lines seem to be going against order and there’s many more factors. So if you think of world order as more the sum of these various parts or dynamics, it’s harder for me to make the argument that what we have now is orderly or is moving in a more orderly direction.

ZAKARIA: So that’s really interesting and you touched on so many things that I think I’m going to try and kind of take each one in some way, because you touched on a series of reasons why we need more world order—you know, the global issues that really can’t be solved in other ways. But then you talked about factors which make it more unlikely or at least in the conventional sense.

So the central realist argument about how to create world order, and I believe that Roosevelt kind of combined realism and idealism in a very clever way in ’44, ’45. Truman deserves a lot of credit, but he was, by his own admission, entirely implementing Franklin Roosevelt’s vision. Truman had never thought about world order in his life. He was, essentially, translating Roosevelt’s vision with Roosevelt’s officials, for the most part.

But a realist would say the only way to achieve world order is by having a stable balance of power among the various great powers and some shared sense of legitimacy. That is the central thesis of Henry Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation, A World Restored, and put in very simple terms, I think the way he was thinking about it was you can—you know, you can either try to create a world order where you bring in everybody, including the defeated great power that comes out of a war, and then create a legitimacy by that because even the defeated power accepts it. This is the Congress of Vienna bringing in France even though it was the defeated power.

Or you can, you know, if you will, there’s the Congress of Vienna or there’s the Congress of Versailles, and in Versailles you leave out the defeated great power, which leaves you with a wounded enraged power that does not accept the legitimacy of the system and that was, in a sense, the great dilemma of the interwar years that causes—at some level, causes World War II.

So what is the mechanism by which we would get some kind of Congress of Vienna? And I put it to you that there are a lot of people who would argue that is the wrong way to think about it because we have powers in the system right now that are good and there are powers that are bad.

As you know, the current climate in Washington is much more determined to say the task of creating world order will rest on how strongly the United States can stand up to China and Russia rather than incorporate them.

HAASS: I would think that’s a dimension of world order. It’s necessary but not sufficient. And too much—

ZAKARIA: I mean, what is—

HAASS: I’ll explain.


HAASS: To think about standing—imagine—let’s play a thought experiment. Imagine the United States were successful in the classical sense of deterring Chinese or Russian aggression and, essentially, backing up the norm in international relations that you ought not to acquire territory through the threat or use of force.

I would say that would—that’s an important goal. It’s an important dimension. But we could do all that and the world would still be—the temperature of the world would still be rising. We could do that and we wouldn’t necessarily have any mechanism to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. We wouldn’t have world health machinery that can prevent or deal with pandemics or produce and distribute vaccines in adequate amounts.

So I find this debate a little bit about whether we deal with the traditional geopolitics or the more newfangled global issues. It’s not either-or. It’s both. It’s one of the reasons foreign policy in this moment is so hard is that world order has actually taken on or the task of building it and sustaining it, I actually think, has taken on this added dimension. You’ve got the traditional geopolitical managing great power rivalry, a slight added fact that because of proliferation and the distribution of power from nuclear stuff to missiles to drones to what have you, that stuff has gotten more difficult, and now we have this whole overlay of the global issues.

So I think that’s—so and just to deal with the global issues, that is necessary but not sufficient. So, again, I think the foreign policy agenda or task is larger than it, in many ways, has ever been. At the time of the—you’re right. You talked about the Congress of Vienna. That was a pretty classical thinking about how to—on how to integrate defeated countries and reestablish balances of power and set up rules that people could live with. And I think now it’s just—in that sense, it’s more demanding for all the reasons you and I have noted, and the fact that, again, so much of order for the last seventy-five years, not unilaterally, but at least has emanated from Washington. There’s been a significant dimension of American leadership and I think our willingness and ability to do that now is, clearly, more suspect than it was.

ZAKARIA: So it seems to me the tension was—that you’re describing was on full display in Glasgow at the COP because, on the one hand, the only way you could get real progress on climate was if the United States and China worked together, which was why the fairly lukewarm agreement or communiqué that John Kerry put out with his Chinese counterpart was received so warmly by the delegates and it really did breathe a kind of little—a little bit of life into what was a conference that seemed like it might even end without any kind of agreement. It ended with a weak agreement.

But my point is it shows you that there is a kind of global search for that kind of joint management of a common problem by the two largest powers. And yet, from the United States’ point of view, it has been very hard to—for the Biden administration to make any kind of sustained cooperative agreements with China because, I’m going to say, I think that they would be more inclined to do so were there not such a fierce domestic backlash almost certain to come not just, by the way, from the Republican Party but from Nancy Pelosi, from Chuck Schumer. The political climate in Washington is one where it’s difficult.

But a lot of those people would say, Richard, that that’s not the right way to get world order. The right way to get world order is to confront China, to force it to, you know, mend its ways.

HAASS: The United States simply doesn’t have the power to do that, Russia or China. So the idea that we can impose our view of order is, I think, simply not on. You know, we can’t bring about regime change in these countries. We can’t bring about fundamental policy change. We can, to go back to what you—you know, realism, we can maybe shape their behavior and that, to me, is the traditional goal of foreign policy and that’s plenty ambitious enough for me.

The problem is this administration and previous administrations as well have not been clear as to our priorities. I mean, is it the promotion of democracy? To what extent is our notion of legitimacy in the world does human rights and democracy play a big part of it? I would say it can’t and it shouldn’t.

But if we are thinking about balances of power and managing global issues, the only way we’re going to succeed, for example, in managing global issues is if we work with nondemocracies. You’re not going to—you’re correct, you’re not going to make great progress on climate or global health or other issues without the Chinese and Russians and others who are anything but democracies coming on board, which gets to a larger problem, coming back to the post- World War II moment.

We don’t really have machinery to do this. A lot of the machinery in the world is either built around classic alliances, and we’re trying to, in some ways, after the end of the Cold War adapt NATO to Russia. We’re now looking at things like the Quad and AUKUS and other stuff. How do we, quote/unquote, “pivot to Asia,” modernize the U.S.-Japanese alliance and all that? So we’re thinking about how we do that.

But we don’t have the machinery. I mean, COP, to me, the whole process, is as an—that is about as inadequate an approach and a mechanism I can think of. Everything is voluntary. Countries provide the data about what they’re doing, which we know is flawed. They set the goals for themselves. Shockingly enough, they set goals they think they can reach that do not sacrifice economic growth for climate. They can change them at any point they want. There’s no enforcement mechanisms. This is—if you will, this is as minimal a form of multilateralism as you can—if you want to think about on those global issues, Fareed, at this moment in global—in world order terms, there’s no yet a shared sense of legitimacy about how to deal with global challenges. And we have a sovereignty-based system with issues, in many cases, or challenges that don’t respect sovereignty.

Or to use another example, take Brazil. So we have world order. The physical geopolitical part of world order to the extent that exists is, largely, based on sovereignty. We don’t want to have the Iraqs do what they do to Kuwaits. We don’t want to have the Russias to do what they do to Ukraine.

So we hide behind sovereignty for good reasons. But look at Brazil. It owns most of the rainforest—the Amazon rainforest—and if you think of it as its sovereign right to do what it wants within its borders then it can chop down trees till the cows come home. That’s probably a mixed metaphor in the climate conversation.

But if you think of them as the custodian, and we all have a stake in it, they then should not necessarily have the sovereign right to do that, one. And two, if they exercise what they think is their right all the same, why don’t we gang up on them and introduce sanctions? Boycott Brazilian goods.

Now, that, to me, would be a very different approach to thinking about how to reconstruct world order in a world of global problems or challenges where it can’t—we can’t see everything. The concept of legitimacy cannot only be a narrow one of sovereignty of rights. I would say, and I’ve argued this in our magazine, we also have to think of sovereign responsibilities and obligations and how do we create a sense of a global community that’s based upon obligations as well as rights and are we prepared to enforce it when obligations aren’t met? We’re not willing to do it because we want to keep West Virginia coal mines open. We don’t want to raise taxes on gasoline. There’s lots of things we’re going to have problems with.

But I think there really is a problem at this moment in history where both the thinking and the machinery is in a previous era where we still have some of those challenges, the geopolitical. They’re not obsolete. But, again, we now have this whole new set of challenges, and I don’t think we either have the rules and the machinery to deal with it, which is why I’m so worried about where we are in history.

ZAKARIA: So if you think about what you were saying about why we cannot take the view that the only task of American foreign policy is to ally with democracies and stand firm against dictatorships, particularly Chinese and Russian dictatorships, I suppose the strongest support for your argument would be to look at Brazil and India, which are two of the great culprits in terms of obstacle to actually getting something done on climate, both of which are democracies, which has not in any way made them share that kind of sense of common legitimacy.

So in that sense, you’re kind of the realist to idealism. But at another level, it seems to me you are a kind of crazy woolly-eyed idealist because you are describing a world—

HAASS: (Laughs.) That’s a first, by the way.

ZAKARIA: —a world order that could—that would be great except for the small matter of the existence of nations and nationalism and national interests. I mean, nobody—and this is true of democracy or nondemocracy—nobody leads their nation and says, you know, my goal is going to be to tax you, send some of that money as reparations payments for our misdeeds over the last hundred years of industrialization and try to create some kind of an equitable pool and we will take—suffer costs and such. You know, of course, it’s technocratically the right solution, Richard, but, like, what world are you living in?

HAASS: Actually, I’m not sure it’s the right solution and I think climate reparations are a particularly useless, I think, or counterproductive path to go down. But—

ZAKARIA: No, but I assume you would be in favor of richer countries providing subsidies—

HAASS: Yeah, but not—

ZAKARIA: —for India to get off coal, for the—for Brazil.

HAASS: Absolutely.

ZAKARIA: So yeah, I was just—


ZAKARIA: I was calling them reparations, you know, metaphorically.

HAASS: To help them adapt and all that. I think that’s—for lots of reasons it makes sense to do that and we should. But, look, to me, the alternative is not woolly-eyed. It’s actually hardnosed. I would be willing—why not have coalitions of the willing that would deal with certain aspects of the climate problem?

If you think deforestation is somewhere between, what, 10 (percent), 15 (percent), 20 percent of the problem—I haven’t seen the latest numbers—OK, could we get some like-minded countries to work with us in incentivizing the Brazils and Indonesias to do the right thing but also threatening them with sanctions if they don’t?

We have something, last I checked, Fareed, called the CPTPP. We have a trade agreement in Asia, which we helped bring about. The only problem is we decided not to join it. And by the way, if anyone in this room thinks bipartisanship is a swell idea in foreign policy, we’ve got too much bipartisanship on this issue because both parties are against the United States joining a trade agreement that makes economic and strategic sense.

But if we wanted to, we could get into it and we could, among other things, use this as a place to impose cross-border taxes on goods made with coal if we want to—we want to move things along there. So I actually think the problem with the climate approach is that India can block a move on coal. It’s the problem with the WTO. Who thinks 192 countries are going to agree on anything? That’s a forum—that’s called the U.N. General Assembly. Who thinks that’s a serious place to conduct diplomacy?

ZAKARIA: So that—there we get into the classic, you know, the Wilsonian versus the Rooseveltian way, because the argument for the first one is that you have greater legitimacy if everyone’s involved, if everyone has a vote. The problem, as you say, is that nothing gets done because everyone has and, more importantly, it’s very easy for one bad actor to paralyze the system and world trade has, largely, been stopped again because of India and Brazil being so—

HAASS: And, increasingly, us.

ZAKARIA: And, increasingly, us. What is the—how do you get the legitimacy you want without having it be just the United States and a few of its pals ganging up on Brazil and saying if you don’t do this we’ll—

HAASS: I’ve got two ideas, and both—you know, I don’t know if either would work. But it’s like everything else in life. It’s compared to what. One is Charlie Kupchan and I put out the idea some months ago of creating a concert of powers. Going back, when you began by talking about the Congress of Vienna, what followed from that, you had a group of countries—the major powers of their time—essentially, trying to guide international relations for decades during the nineteenth century.

Now, I understand all the differences historically. But the idea that now we would have a standing concert that doesn’t look like the U.N. Security Council, because no one would create this security council if they were starting from scratch, but you would have the United States, China, Russia, India, the EU, Japan, and to try to work out whether we could agree on certain things.

ZAKARIA: You mean we wouldn’t put France in, which we pretended was one of the victors of World War II?

HAASS: No. France would be represented through the EU, but the Brits would pay a price for Brexit, which is not a popular idea in—

ZAKARIA: But, again, I just want to bring us to the real world. For this to happen, the U.N. Security Council will have to pass this.

HAASS: No. We just do it.


HAASS: No. The United States would make it in a diplomatic initiative to create a concert, a consultative mechanism. Doesn’t replace the U.N. Security Council. It supplements it. It’s where the major powers could have serious conversations about some of these issues, and where there ever was a degree of consensus it could be passed off or introduced into more operational mechanisms. That’s one.

ZAKARIA: So, essentially, it would replace the U.N. Security Council?

HAASS: Yeah, replace it. The other would be, yes, it would be coalitions of the willing, whether in the trade sphere or the climate sphere or maybe in the public health sphere. Now, is it as good as—as you say, not only it lacks the legitimacy. Obviously, you want total inclusion. It’s much more effective. Holes in the net can become problematic. But my view is you got to start somewhere, and so this—a bottom-up approach based on choice seems to me much more realistic than a universal top-down choice based upon that everybody has to agree.

ZAKARIA: Let’s talk about what, again, is I think the central issue from both a theoretical and a practical point of view, which is China. A lot of people who oppose this would say, look, you’re just not understanding that the fundamental nature of China, of this Chinese regime under Xi Jinping, is one which is deeply dissatisfied with the international system as it exists, seeks to radically change it in China’s favor, would be comfortable with invading Taiwan—in fact, plans to invade Taiwan at some point unless, miraculously, there can be a peaceful unification because unification there will be—is, essentially, engaging in unfair trade practices which undermine the WTO.

You know, you know that I don’t completely buy—share this view. But you have to grapple with it both theoretically but also politically because that is probably the single biggest problem in getting to where you want to get to.

HAASS: So what I would—100 percent. So me, the realist, hears you say that and doesn’t disagree. So I’d say the following. We put on a back seat efforts to transform China, whether it’s Mike Pompeo saying he wants to get rid of the Communist Party or this administration with its emphasis on democracy and human rights. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against democracy and human rights.

But China’s not about to buy it and we don’t have the means to force them to, and we’ve got other things, I think, we have a better chance of influencing them. On Taiwan, the only thing we can do, I believe, is deter them and I think that we can somewhat reassure them, say we continue to abide by the One China policy but we will not accept any use of force to change the status quo and we will do what is necessary, ourselves with Japan, Taiwan, and others, Australia, to—that you will not succeed and you will pay an enormous price. That, to me, is the classic balance of power dimension of the world order.

ZAKARIA: So let me paraphrase it and tell me if I’m right. What you’re saying is a kind of narrow deterrence against China on the issues where we worry that they would overturn world order, the balance of power, but, in broader areas, cooperation?

HAASS: Yeah. And I would—exactly, and then on global issues I would try and where, again, I could—we could get them someplace, great. If not, again, on trade and climate, I think we have a tool, which would be entering the CPTPP. And so China, I believe—you know, Xi Jinping, what does he care most about? His own rule, China’s territorial integrity, the continuing role of the Communist Party. Obviously, Taiwan. So we’re, basically, saying we’re not going to challenge those first few. Taiwan, you’re not going to succeed on by any means other than consensus and peaceful, and we try to shape their behavior in other places.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. All I’m saying is—and China may continue to opt out, though an interesting question is the price they will pay in the health and environmental and, given some of their demographic challenges, whether they might be slightly more pressureable than we think.

But, look—and we may have to do a lot of things without them. Again, less than ideal. We may set up carbon trading markets and so forth without China in the first instance, though, again, they would face hurdles if they wanted to export their goods. But that, to me, is a serious approach to multilateralism and we, basically, with others consult and try to come up with the rules, if you’re coming back to the word legitimacy. This is what we think ought to govern international relations in the third decade and beyond of the twenty-first century.

This is something we’ll have to develop with others. We can’t impose it. And we’d have to also be willing to do our share, which is a big issue and, you know, I can—and I’m not sure at the moment we have the political consensus. Climate’s a good example. At the moment, we don’t to do some of these things.

ZAKARIA: Let’s talk about the other kind of power that’s outside the system, in some ways, is Russia, but as a way of talking about a kind of broader problem. So with Russia, you have the problem that they have actually invaded another country. They have actually annexed territory by force. And we—you know, the question is do we, in some way, even de facto ratify it by not standing in opposition to it in order to cooperate with them?

But there’s a broader issue—Anne Applebaum writes about it in the Atlantic this week—which is you are seeing a kind of wave of authoritarianism around the world and what’s interesting about it is it is beginning to now feed on its—each regime feeds on the other and supports the other. So that, first of all, you know, Belarus’ authoritarianism rests on Russia’s authoritarianism, that, increasingly, the state-owned companies that are part of the Russian kleptocracy are trading with the Iranian state-owned enterprises that are part of the Iranian kleptocracy.

And so, you know, does one look at that trend and say this is the most alarming thing going on in the world right now, a kind of wave of authoritarianism, that really is reversing a seventy-five-year trend, which has been the slow but steady growth of democracy around the world, particularly over the last thirty or forty years?

Or is it, as you say, you just—you know, you’re looking to see whether these countries are willing to do business on issues like climate change, trade? You know, you’re not interested in piercing the sovereignty of these countries.

HAASS: I’d say a couple of things. One is I read the piece. As always, anything Anne Applebaum writes is smart. In this case, I think she exaggerated the impact or the significance of what you might call this league of autocrats—the Autocrat International, for those of us old enough to remember another one—and underestimated the domestic sources in our countries that contribute to democratic backsliding.

Yes, the Russians have “helped,” shall we say, quote/unquote, with their bots and the rest, but we’re doing just fine without them in weakening our own democracy. So I actually think she exaggerates, to some extent, the external aspect of it.

No, I don’t think we should agree to Russian conquest or annexation of Crimea. We don’t have a lot of norms in the world. One of the very few is that you can’t acquire territory by force. And yes, we were not in a physical position to reverse it, given geography and given military might, but I still don’t think we ought to acquiesce or accept it. I just think that would set off—indeed, what worries me about Taiwan as much as anything is China looks at that and looked at Hong Kong and says, oh, you can get away with a lot with just a slap on your wrist.

ZAKARIA: What would you do if China were to do something? Let’s assume not a kind of completely blatant invasion but some kind of hybrid attack that involves a cyberattack, a certain amount of aerial stuff, some financial stuff that cuts off supplies and trade and things like that so that it cripples Taiwan, but you don’t actually—it’s China’s version of doing what Putin tried to do, which was, you know, send in these people who were not wearing Russian army uniforms and say, oh, I don’t know how these people happened to go in—

HAASS: Yeah. It’s a gray area thing and I would say—you know, you and I have talked about this—we ought to have defense planning that looks at two very different scenarios. One is this one. It could be seizing outlying islands. It could be something less than something that looks like Normandy. Or there’s the Normandy model where China, basically, says, why do something halfway? We’re going to pay a large price. Let’s at least get the entire prize. And I would, essentially, say we got to be prepared for both and we need to have proportionate responses of how we would deal with a gray area China challenge, and we’d have to think about what would be the target set, what would be the tools. And I do think we have to have—

ZAKARIA: What—spell it out. Let’s say—let’s say that gray—because I think I know, you know, and you’ve said that you think the United States should come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if it were an outright invasion. But what to do if it’s this hybrid attack?

HAASS: I mean, I’d have to look at. It’s everything from I’d want to see what they did and what they gained from it, what they were trying to do and what they seem to be gaining from it. But there’s everything from, you know, economic sanctions to we could take—we could retaliate against certain Chinese assets.

I mean, I don’t think we can—if we’re serious about this, we’re going to have to think about how we impose costs on China and that’s going to have to be within China, and that’s true of an all-out military response to an all-out military attack. You can’t tell, I would say, our Pacific Command you’ve got to—you got to succeed but here’s all the things that are off limits. That’s not going to work.

And I think if China does gray area stuff we have to think about things. Deterrence is in the eye—you know, we have to think about what would influence their calculus. What do we think—and we have to be willing to do it. So it might be cyber—certain things cyber in response. It might mean certain military things. It might mean at that point rethinking some of the basics about the three communiqués in Taiwan to, basically, say, you want this kind of a situation? Here it is. I mean, I’d want to think it through. But I think what you want to do is for—you always want the other side, one, not to succeed and to have to think about escalating.

So I would—but I would be prepared for that because I’m not smart enough to know if China’s going to move against Taiwan and, again, if they were to do it whether they’d go big or go more modestly, and I would simply say we’ve got to be prepared with two very different packages. I think, in some ways, it’s probably militarily more demanding to deal with the big thing. It might be, in some ways, policy wise slightly more demanding to deal with what you’ve just—what you’ve just articulated.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you the last question, which is the greatest degree of idealism on—or nonrealism in your argument may be your view of the most important country in this whole conversation, which is the United States. The United States is currently—has engaged in more protectionism than at any point since the imposition of Smoot-Hawley.

If you were to tally up all the measures that any country has taken, any major country—and I think it was Pricewaterhouse that did this—in terms of protectionism, the United States far outstrips China. By the way, China is not even in the top three. I think it’s the United States, Brazil, Russia, India, and then China, and the U.S. is by far the world leader in new protectionist measures over the last ten years.

HAASS: Good to see we’re still number one in something. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: We are, by the way, number—I just looked it up—we’re number fifty-two in COVID—in vaccination rates in the world right now. But also there is a much greater degree of nationalism, a much greater degree of protectionism, much less of a desire to kind of have this open broad-minded Rooseveltian attitude towards the world. And how do you get from where we are now? And as I say, I mean, I don’t think it would be—that’s a little easier with the Democrats but not that much easier. How do you get from where we are now to where you need to go?

HAASS: I’d say three things and, look, I don’t disagree with the premise of your question. One would be—I don’t know the answer to this question. If you introduce climate to the trade conversation, does that help you shake up the coalition, particularly on the Democratic side? You know, I would love to have John Kerry pounding on the door of the USTR, essentially saying, this is my best instrument for advancing climate. So I would like to change the trade conversation a little bit. William Nordhaus and others have written about it. But I think that’s something worth exploring.

Second of all, we need a far more developed set of worker retraining education, reskilling proposals. Trade gets blamed for a lot of stuff, from what I can tell, that’s not trade. I mean, you’ve seen the research out of MIT and other places. Probably 90 percent of the job loss over the last decade has been because of technology and innovation and productivity, yet trade kind of is hung out to dry.

But the fact is then we need to have vast programs for, essentially, helping people who are—whether it’s trade or not that has led to the demise of their—getting the plant closed or the job disappearing, I think you’ve got to build—you’ve got to do more of that in order to.

Third thing—and this may have changed—in the old days, the way you got trade bills passed was with overwhelming Republican support and just enough Democratic support, and if you think about it, the last trade agreement that got passed was the USMCA under Donald Trump. After describing NAFTA as the worst agreement ever and describing the TPP as the other worst agreement ever, he took all the elements of the TPP and put it in the USMCA to make the greatest agreement ever. It’s really interesting alchemy in trade negotiation.

So one possibility is just it might take a slightly different political constellation where you—but I think you’ve got to change the coalitions and change the conversation because we’ve seen—probably goes back several, like, twenty years now—we’ve seen an erosion across partisan lines for slightly different reasons of support for trade. So it ain’t going to—but I’m not fighting your basic point. I think it’s a long shot.

ZAKARIA: In a sense, you know, what you’re trying to figure out is how do you get people to understand that the best, the most optimal, solution for the world is an open world with people cooperating on global problems but then using the wealth that’s created from that to help the losers in the transitions, help the losers in technological change, invest in people, you know, kind of keep the country—I think of it as open but arm your—arm the citizens with what it would take to thrive in that open world.

HAASS: Exactly right.

ZAKARIA: But, politically, that’s very—and, economically, that’s, clearly, the right answer. Politically, it’s very hard to sell.

HAASS: And the other example of exactly what you said is vaccines. We want to make sure Americans get vaccinated first but we need the rest of the world to get vaccinated or we create this terrible loop. So you’ve got to—you’ve got to help others in order to help yourselves. It’s kind of the enlightened involvement argument. We’ve got to do, I think, a better job of explaining it and then showing how—it’s part of the larger conversation of connecting the dots that what happens out there doesn’t stay there and it’s in our own self-interest to do certain things, not as philanthropy, not as generosity—not that there’s anything wrong with philanthropy or generosity—but we’ve also got to do it for ourselves.

ZAKARIA: And in that sense, I feel like we are back to the ’30s and ’40s. That was the—you know, I once asked Arthur Schlesinger what was the most bitter debate that he could recall in his lifetime, and I assumed his answer would be Vietnam. And he said, oh, no, the debate over the entry into World War II was much, much more bitter because it was really the foundational break. You know, before that, 150 years you’d had since Washington’s Farewell Address, the idea that the United States should stay out of the evil international system. And that was—so it feels like we’re coming back to that.

HAASS: Well, actually, I agree with you. I think this is a moment—I feel two things really strongly. One is that we’re living in a degree of history that we haven’t lived in for a while, that you get up in the morning and the things that are up for grabs are much more fundamental.

During the Cold War, it was how many warheads we put on how many launchers. This is much more fundamental than that. So I feel we’re living in history and I think the questions are really first order. I mean, we didn’t—you know, for the Cold War and all that we woke up every day and we had a world order, a bipolar world reinforced by nuclear weapons, all sorts of written and unwritten rules of the road about how the superpowers would behave, the limits to what they would do on behalf of allies and clients, and the rest.

And I feel now we’re living in a world with far fewer rules, which is also worrisome because the chance for miscalculation, the chance for accidents, for things spinning out. We talked about Taiwan or something with Iran. You can imagine scenarios where things happen not by design, they just happen, and then the ability to manage them. It’s not clear to me that we’re on top of things as much as we might be.

So I actually think this is—again, I think it’s a really, really difficult time that puts a real premium on diplomacy and statecraft, and I would just simply say I hope we’re up to it.

ZAKARIA: All right. We’re going to open it up to questions. We have people here. We have people virtually.

Sir, usual Council rules, which is identify yourself and your association.

Q: Hi. Good evening. My name is Daniel Levien.

First, thank you very much for the engaging conversation, and forgive the muffled tone through my double mask. My question pertains to the evolution of weapon delivery systems and the threat that potentially poses to the current balance of power. This past weekend, I listened with great concern to the very thorough CFR reporting segment on Hyperventilating Over Hypersonics.

Specifically, I’d appreciate your thoughts on what is the appropriate U.S. foreign policy response to hypersonic missile technology and the development of that technology. Would it be, for example—forgive me, I’m a lawyer—the retooling of the space treaty? Increased export controls? Any sort of thoughts you have on what we should be doing at this time?

HAASS: Look, it’s a good question and it’s a good podcast. I hope you—it’s part of the Why it Matters podcast series. So thank you for—look, whenever you have new systems like this, I think the question is can you restrain them, and that’s an arms control question. And there’s restraint that’s preventive. There’s restraint that’s a ceiling. And you can—so I think you try to do that. It’s a little bit hard because countries are at different stages of progress and it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. We have advantages in other aspects of nuclear balances.

So I think it’s going to be tough to prevent this one. So the question is can you restrain it at some point with ceilings? Can you also make it more transparent, which is, you know, the confidence-building dimension? And then the question is also do you match it, and the reason you match it is if you do think it has a significant degree of a military impact or could be destabilizing to balances then you, basically, ask yourself what will it take to recreate conditions of firm deterrence if I can’t look to diplomacy to do it?

And, you know, and these have an added dimension, which, potentially, given the maneuverability that it could reduce the effectiveness of missile defense systems, which already have a certain degree of questionable effectiveness. So, look, I think you got to think about all of that. My own view is in the short run this is not a game changer and so I would—my instincts are not to overreact.

But, sure, I want to monitor what they’re doing. I (thought you were going to a different list ?). Thirty more seconds. I think we’re also entering an interesting moment in time where you have—and it’s a real threat to world order because what you’re talking about is an incremental change to what you might call the large vertical inventories, vertical proliferation of the major powers.

I’m also worried about the horizontal, and it’s not just the North Koreas and Irans but also drone technology, which is now so widespread, it’s so easily to produce, has all sorts of uses, and I feel it’s one of those areas—and we could extend the conversation—there’s a technology where this race between technologies and diplomacy, it’s pretty clear who’s winning, and that, again, it seems to me, it’s a worrying thing. It’s a worrisome sort of trend in the world. I think the drone issue is one that people—it hasn’t probably gotten the attention it should.

ZAKARIA: I would just say I’m not hyperventilating about hypersonic. Hypersonic goes five times the speed of sound. A traditional IBM goes twenty-three times the speed of sound. The great asymmetry about hypersonic is it, essentially, renders totally ineffective any kind of missile defense. Missile defenses have never worked. You know, I mean, we’ve spent $400 billion on this since Reagan first unveiled Star Wars.

It’s never worked, and it’s easy to—the people who argued at the time against it made points that have been successively vindicated and confirmed by every major effort, which is small asymmetrical measures—like, believe it or not, firing two missiles at the same time will render completely inoperable a multi-billion-dollar, you know, SDI system.

So your return, in a sense, Richard, is valid, right. You returned to the classic balance of terror, which is what deterrence rests on and it’s—which is scary, but it has kept the peace for seventy-five years.

So at the back there.

Q: Adem Bunkeddeko.

Appreciate the conversation. I guess my question is more tied to sort of, I think, Richard’s point around sort of the internal politics within sort of nation states and sort of what is going to be—you talked about—I think, Fareed, you touched on Roosevelt over and over again. And sort of what kind of the thought that keeps coming into my mind is sort of what kind of political actors are we going to need in order to—

HAASS: Sorry, what?

Q: What kind of political actors are we going to need in order to navigate some of the challenges that we face? Are they going to be imaginative? Are they going to be bold? Are they going to be daring? And do we have the ingredients or do we have the climate within sort of the great powers in order to sort of see that sort of work be done in the years to come? Because, as you pointed out, Roosevelt, he was quite a unique political character in our American context. You can think of (Deng Xiaoping ?) in China, Mao Zedong, a few others. And so the question is, is while we’re in a unique point in history, do we have the individuals who are going to meet the moment?

ZAKARIA: Right. Do we have the conditions to produce great leadership? I mean, the political system itself seems broken today. Just a simple thing. I mean, Roosevelt’s fourth election, I think, he won four hundred and twenty electoral votes or something like that. I mean, you know, we’re just not in a—and that’s his fourth election. I would say the lowest margin he ever got. But what do you do when you have great crises but the great crises are not calling for great leaders?

HAASS: Pray. (Laughter.) No, worry. Now, there was a poignant moment at the memorial service for Colin Powell—your question, Adem, reminds me of it—and I think it was his son, Michael, giving the final eulogy. And there was a moment, and a lot of the service was not about Colin’s great public accomplishments as secretary of state or chairman of the Joint Chiefs or national security advisor or what have you, but it was about his personal qualities.

And Michael said something to the effect what’s—you know, it’s kind of sad that people were making such a big deal about him, that someone could have, you know, that kind of character and be in the public place and do good things and so forth and we wanted to—you want to be at a point where that’s the rule, not the exception, and it wasn’t—you wouldn’t even have to point it out. To me, it was a poignant moment, that people—you know, good people going into the political space and doing good things.

And, look, I think the Roosevelts and the Churchills—extraordinary historical figures come, you know, once a century. I think but the real question is whether, if you will, quote/unquote, “more average people” come in greater numbers and do the right things. And I’m writing a book now about democracy in this country and what we need to do and it’s interesting. One of the books I reread is Profiles in Courage, and for those of you that have never, John Kennedy, or Ted Sorensen, wrote this book of, basically, eight senators who did the right thing, either standing by principle or compromising when compromise was appropriate.

You’d be hard pressed to find those eight these days. But I think what history depends in this case, to me, it’s not to wait for the exceptional. It’s to wait for more normal ordinary people doing right things. And I think the question is how do we get the society there and that becomes—that’s an even easier thing to think about is in terms of civics, in terms of what we do to imbue character and so forth, what our religious leaders talk about, what parents talk about. That seems to me slightly more controllable than, basically, hoping the next FDR comes along.

ZAKARIA: And I think that, you know, it’s worth remembering that Profiles in Courage, the line is often, you know, it’s a great book but it’s a very short book. But the truth is you could have extended it very easily. I mean, while John F. Kennedy was writing it, the Republican senator from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith, was incredibly brave in standing up to McCarthy when President Eisenhower wouldn’t stand up to him. Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, essentially, signing away the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on the South, an extraordinary act of courage.

You know, there are many. It’s just now. (Laughs.) So I think one doesn’t have to look back to some kind of golden Edenic age where this stuff happened. It was pretty routine to find people who had a certain degree of political courage. But I would agree with you not now. I mean, you have Liz Cheney and a few people like that, because the book was all about people standing up to their own party. Almost all the examples are like that.

Anyway, we don’t have a lot of time, so I’m going to try and get a few more. Yes, ma’am?

Q: Hi. Lauren Leader.

Actually, apropos of that, I wanted to ask about values. And, you know, we talk about democracy so much of my lifetime. Part of the ethos of our foreign policy was about values, about inspiring other nations to aspire to democracy, and then it feels like since the Arab Spring that has sort of fallen off the radar. And, obviously, we have legitimacy issues of our own to talk about democracy for so many obvious reasons. Plug for Richard’s next book.

HAASS: Thank you.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about what you think now, today, the role of values and maybe human rights are part of that across this idea of unifying world order? And where does it come from if it’s not the traditional means?

ZAKARIA: So I think the question is how should we be pursuing a values-based foreign policy, democracy promotion, those kinds of things.

HAASS: Well, I’ll start, but you’ve written wisely on this so I’ll just speak. I’d say the single most important thing we can do is set a good example. More important than anything we say or sanction or money we send, if American democracy is seen to be admirable, if our economy is delivering to our people, if the American Dream seems real, I actually think that’s a pretty good advertisement for democracy.

I hated—I got to tell you, I hated when Chinese television showed things like the riots on January 6 and they used this as an excuse for what they do. That gets under my skin as much as—so I think that’s, in some ways, more important than anything we say out of the State Department is what we do as a political system, as a society.

Other than that, you know, I think I would just sort of say in terms of world order two things, and one is that, you know, we promote democracy and human rights—I’ll put on my academic hat for a moment—for both normative and instrumental reasons. Normatively, because we think democracies and human rights are inherently good, because of the—what they allow people—the kind of lives they allow people to live with greater rights and freedoms. And then, secondly, there’s a school of thought that if countries are fully democratic—Fareed wrote the classic book about what happens if they’re not fully democratic, his book about illiberal democracies, which is eerily prescient, given what we’re seeing with the rise of illiberal democracies around the world, particularly in parts of Europe—but if they’re fully democratic, then they tend not to make wars on others. They tend to be more—and since they’re better within their borders and they’re better beyond their borders.

So there’s an argument for that. I would just say that, again, we’re living at a time where, one, it’s very hard to shape the internal dynamics of other societies. To me, that’s the single most ambitious foreign policy thing you can ever try. Really, really difficult. And also, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. We got other priorities. Are we going to refuse to sign nuclear arms control agreements or trade agreements, or imagine we could persuade the Chinese to do something useful on North Korea? Are we going to refuse to do it because of what they’re doing on human rights? The answer is we don’t have that luxury.

So my own view is we can’t put democracy and human rights at the center of our foreign policy. On the other hand, that’s not an argument for not having them as part of our foreign policy and we should talk about it. But I actually think the single best thing we can do is set an example that, in some ways, others want to emulate and it embarrasses other countries because they look—it shames them, in certain ways, or shows them up for what they are.

ZAKARIA: I think, you know, one of the challenges of having these conversations, Richard, is that we agree so much, and I agree with what he said. But what I would add to it is, because I think it addresses the kind of questions, essentially, that you’re asking, you know, what to do—we have done best when we have created an open dynamic world in which other countries can modernize and assist in that modernization, rather than forcing a regime change and saying, now be democratic—you know, that when it is a more internal process, a more organic process. Think about the—you know, the pre-process of economic growth in Europe and then starts trickling—you know, and economic growth in Spain and modernization and Portugal, you know, that first wave of democratization in the 1970s. Then think about even what happens with communism with the countries in Eastern Europe that have become more modern over time.

What we tried to do with the Arab Spring, and I don’t mean in the Arab Spring—I mean with Iraq and this push, kind of fast dramatic top-down modernization/democratization on societies that were ill prepared for it. People think that one—that this means you’re taking some kind of a—you know, a kind of culturally imperialist view or something like that. I don’t think that’s the point.

The point is you need to get enough domestic consensus around it. So we had a very interesting conversation with Zal Khalilzad and—you know, the guy who was negotiating with the Taliban, and he said the thing—he’s himself of Afghan origin—and one of the points he was telling me, and this was, you know, not on air—is that the thing that struck him the more he grappled with this problem was he realized that there were Afghans—rural Pashtuns, basically—who didn’t quite agree with the Taliban but definitely did not agree with the idea of the, you know, the Kabul government, and that there was a large enough divide in Afghan society that it was, essentially, impossible to make progress, because while you did have a modernizing force, you had a very strong anti-modernizing force that felt very strongly about it and that was willing to go to war on that issue.

Well, I mean, that’s a very difficult circumstance to modernize in, right. Like, you need to have some degree of domestic consensus around things like that and I think we forgot that. And I’d just end by—you know, Richard put it very well when he said, you know, what we do at home matters. You know, somebody have said this—I don’t think this is my line, but so I want to be clear. I don’t—I’ve tried to figure out whether somebody wrote it. I haven’t been able to. The central lesson of the Cold War was being was more important than doing. In other words, the doing—the going and intervening in Vietnam, overthrowing Mosaddegh, overthrowing Lumumba, you know, all those machinations—aiding the Contras, not aiding—actually, what mattered was that the United States became more and more powerful, dynamic, vital, open.

It created a dynamic Europe, it created a dynamic East Asia, and that the models of success eventually began to make people around the world realize, hey—you know, I mean, the best example being the East German-West German divide—that when people—enough Germans realized what—that you couldn’t spin it because being was so powerful that you didn’t have to do, you know, and that that may be something we should think about, going forward, because we are tending towards this—you know, there’s a tendency, particularly in the foreign policy bureaucracy, you know, don’t just stand there, do something. And often, you know, one of the reasons I admire Richard is he has always had the wisdom to say sometimes, you know, don’t just do something, stand there.

Anyway, thank you. A pleasure.

HAASS: Thank you. (Applause.)


Top Stories on CFR


United States

However, Pillar II of the AUKUS—which promises cooperation on AI, hypersonics, quantum computing and other advanced technologies—could significantly strengthen the U.S. position in the Asia Pacific.


Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border each year, sparking debate over how to respond. How is the Joe Biden administration handling it?