Does World Order Have a Future?

CNN Host Fareed Zakaria and Richard Haass examine the concept of “world order” and what to do to promote it in an age of revived great-power rivalry and global challenges.

December 16, 2021 — 38:55 min
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Fareed Zakaria

Host, Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN Full Bio

Episode Guests

Richard Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

Show Notes

About This Episode


Global challenges require international cooperation and norms, but the framework for these norms is shifting. In this episode of Nine Questions for the World, Richard Haass and CNN Host Fareed Zakaria examine the concept of “world order.” At the core of the conversation are two questions: What will the world order look like in the future? And what role should the United States play in the century to come?


This podcast series was originally presented as “The 21st Century World: Big Challenges and Big Ideas,” an event series in celebration of CFR’s centennial.  This episode is based on a live event that took place on November 16, 2021.


See the corresponding video here.


Dig Deeper


From Fareed Zakaria


The narrow path to liberal democracy,” Washington Post


Is the West’s future really so gloomy?,” Washington Post


The United States and China are locked in a Cold Peace,” Washington Post


From CFR 


Terrence Mullan, “The World Order Is Dead. Long Live the World Order.”


The Liberal World Order, With Robert Kagan,” The President’s Inbox


Kyle Evanoff, “Working on World Order: Help Wanted for Twenty-First-Century U.S. Leadership


Read More


Francis Fukuyama, “The Pandemic and Political Order,” Foreign Affairs


Walter Russell Mead, “A Liberalish New World Order,” Wall Street Journal


Stephen M. Walt, “The World Might Want China’s Rules,” Foreign Policy


Tom McTague, “Joe Biden’s New World Order,” Atlantic




Hello. I’m Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and this is Nine Questions for the World, a special limited edition podcast series. 

In each episode, you’ll be hearing me in conversation with some of the best thinkers of our time, as we ask fundamental questions about the century to come.  

For those of you who don't know, the Council on Foreign Relations, or CFR, is an independent, non-partisan membership organization. We are dedicated to informing the public about the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. We're also a think tank, a publisher, and an educational institution. 

Today’s episode, the final in our series, flips the script a bit. For once I won’t be asking the questions, but instead mainly answering them, I couldn’t have asked though for a better interlocutor, Fareed Zakaria, the author, the journalist and the host of CNN’s, appropriately named, Fareed Zakaria GPS.  

Full disclosure, Fareed and I are good friends. He’s also the former managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, which we publish here at the Council on Foreign Relations, and he currently sits on our board  

 Fareed and I spoke on November 16th about a pretty big topic - world order. World order is a term central to international relations, it is a measure of the state of the world, how violent, how organized, and tends to reflect whether there is a balance of power and whether there is widespread acceptance of the principles and rules for how the world is to operate. The more balance, the more acceptance, the more order there is likely to be. Conversely, the less balance, the less acceptance, the more disorder. At the core of our conversation were two questions. How is world order changing? And what role should the United States play in the century to come?

Stay with us.

Fareed ZAKARIA: 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. Then pose a question that comes out of it, which is when we think about world order today, what we are 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 Woodrow Wilson had tried to do. He was in many ways a great Wilsonian. But he thought Wilson got wrong, 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. 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 labor his first converse on this out with the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. And what came out of it broadly speaking is the world order that we think of, the UN system, the Bretton Woods system and for all that one may say. Soviet Union didn't accept large parts of it for four decades. It's remarkable how much it changed the world. There's a very good book out by a couple of Yale law professors that points out how rare it has been to have annexations of territory by force since 1945. When you compare to the previous a hundred years, 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, after 1945, by some measures 50% of global GDP, probably 75% 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 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?

Richard 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. 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". There's acceptance of it. A balance of power. The balance of power is 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's an element to buy in and an element of deterrence. Or if necessary, defense. Roosevelt, I think what you said, I would agree most with one exception, Roosevelt didn't anticipate in 42, 43 the breadth and depth of the cold war. There was still, at that point, a lot of optimism about the US-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, Atchison's book, it really was present 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, the 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. Non-proliferation wasn't yet an issue, or 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 rules. 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 local balances. 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. 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 take each one in some way. Because you touched on a series of reasons why we need more world order, 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 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 word 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 it in very simple terms, I think the way he was thinking about it was 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. 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 inter war years that 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: What is?

HAASS: I'll explain it.


HAASS: 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 and international relations that you ought not to acquire territory through the threat or use of force. I would say that's an important goal. It's an important dimension. But we could do all that, and 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 could prevent or deal with pandemics of 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. Now we have this whole overlay of the global. 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. And you're right, you talk about the Congress of Vienna. That was a pretty classic one, thinking about how to integrate defeated countries and reestablish balances of power and set up rules that people could live with. 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 75 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 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 communique that John Kerry put out with his Chinese counterpart was received so warmly by the delegates. And it really did breathe a little bit of life into what was a conference that seemed like it might even end without any kind of agreement, that 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's point of view, it has been very hard 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 the 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. That 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. 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, realism, we can maybe shape their behavior, and that to me is a traditional goal of foreign policy. 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. That 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 non democracies. 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 onboard, 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. 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 OCUS and other stuff. How do we quote unquote, "pivot to Asia", modernize the US-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, that is about as an adequate 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 from 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 and mechanisms. This is as minimal a form of multilateralism as you can. If you want to think about almost global issues, I hadn't thought about this moment 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 extent that it 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 Russians to do what they do to Ukraine. So we hide behind sovereignty for good reasons, but, but, 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 you 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. 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 we can't see everything. The concept of legitimacy cannot only be a narrow one of sovereignty of rights, I would say. I've argue 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 of 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. 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, 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 idealists. But at another level, it seems to me, you are a crazy the wooly-eyed idealist because you are describing a world-

HAASS: That's a first, by the way.

ZAKARIA: A world order 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 non-democracy. Nobody who 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 suffer costs and such." Of course, it's technocratically the right solution, Richard. But what world are you living in?

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

ZAKARIA: No, but I assume you would be in favor of richer countries providing subsidies for India to get off coal, for the Amazon for Brazil.

HAASS: Absolutely. Right.

ZAKARIA: Yeah. I was calling them reparations as metaphoric.

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 wooly-eyed, it's actually hardeners. 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, 15, 20% of the problem, I haven't seen the latest numbers. Okay. 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. 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. 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 can agree on anything? That's called the UN General Assembly. Who thinks that's the serious place to conduct diplomacy?

ZAKARIA: Then we get into that classic, the Wilsonian versus the Rooseveltian. 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. I mean, world trade has largely been stopped again because of India and Brazil being ...

HAASS: And increasingly us.

ZAKARIA: And increasingly us. 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 go."

HAASS: I've got two ideas. I don't know if either would work, but it's like everything else in life, it's compared to one. One is Charlie Kapshan and I put out the idea some months ago of creating a concert of powers. Going back, you began by talking about the Congress again and 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 19th 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 UN 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 to try to work out whether we could agree on certain things.

ZAKARIA: You mean we wouldn't put France in which we pretend 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 UN Security Council would have to pass this.

HAASS: No, but just do it. No, the United States would make it. A diplomatic initiative to create a concert, a consultative mechanism. It doesn't replace the UN 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 UN 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 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. 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: So let's talk about it. But again, as 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 reunification, because unification there will be, is essentially engaging on unfair trade practices, which undermine the WTO. You know exactly. You know, that I don't completely share this view, but you have to grapple with it both as theoretically, but also politically because that is probably the single biggest problem, getting to where you want to get to.

HAASS: 100%. So me, the realist hears you say that and doesn't disagree. So I'd say the following. We put on a backseat 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 and democracy and human rights. Don't get me wrong. I'm not against democracy and human right. But China's not about to buy it, and we don't have the means to force them to. 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. 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. We will do it what is necessary ourselves with Japan, Taiwan, and others, Australia too. That you will not succeed. And you will pay an enormous price if. That, to me, is the classic balance of power dimension of 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 power, but in broader areas, cooperation?

HAASS: Yeah. Exactly. then on global issues I would try and where again we could get them someplace, great. If not again, again on trade and climate, I think we have a tool which would be entering the CPTPP. So Xi Jinping, what does Xi 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. We try to shape their behavior in other places. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. All and China may continue to opt out. Though an interesting question is the price they will pay in the health in some of their demographic challenges, whether they might be slightly more pressurable than we think, 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 consulting, try to come up with the rules, if you come back to the word "legitimacy". This is what we think ought to govern international relations in the third decade and beyond of the 21st century. This is something we'll have to develop with others. We can't impose it. And we'd also have to also be willing to do our share, which is a big issue. 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 broader problem. So with Russia, you have the problem that they have actually invaded another country. They have actually annexed territory by force. 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. Ann Applebaum writes about in the Atlantic this week, which is you are seeing a wave of authoritarianism around the world. What's interesting about it is it is beginning to now, each regime feeds on the other and supports the other. So that first of all, Belarus's authoritarianism rests on Russia's authoritarianism. But 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 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 75-year trend, which has been the slow but steady growth of democracy around the world, particularly over the last 30 or 40 years. Or is it, as you say, 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 Russian's 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. 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 cyber attack, a certain amount of aerial stuff, some financial stuff that cuts off supplies and trade and things like that. So that it cripples Taiwan, China's version of doing what Putin tried to do, which was send in these people who are not wearing Russian army uniforms and say, "Oh, I don't know how these people happened to go into there."

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

ZAKARIA: Spell it out. Because I think I 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: Well again, I'd want to see what they did, and what they gained from it, or what they were trying to do, and what they seemed to be gaining from it. But there's everything from economic sanctions to we could retaliate against certain Chinese assets. If we're serious about this, we're going to have to think about how we impose costs on China. That's going to have to be within China. 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 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 what would influence their calculus, and we have to be willing to do it. So it might be 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 communiques 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, you always want the other side, one, not to succeed and to have to think about escalating. 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 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 articulated.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you the last question, which is the greatest agree of idealism or non realism in your argument may be your view of the most important country in this whole conversation, which is the United States. The United States has 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 Price Waterhouse that did this in terms of protectionism. The United States far out strips China. I think it's the United States, Brazil, Russia, India, and then China. The US is by far the world leader in new protectionist measures over the last 10 years.

HAASS: Good to see we're still number one in something.

ZAKARIA: We're, by the way, number, I just looked it up, number 52 in COVID vaccination rates in the world right now. But also there is a much greater degree of nationalism, much greater degree of protectionism, much less of a desire to have this open broadminded Rooseveltian attitude towards the world. and how do you get from where we are now? As I say, I mean, 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? 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'd like to change the trade conversation a little bit. William Nordhouse 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, re-skilling 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% of the job loss over the last decade has been because of technology and innovation and productivity. Yet trade is hung out to dry. But the fact is then we need to have vast programs for essentially helping people, whether it's trade or not that has led to the demise of getting the plant closed or the job disappearing. I think you've got to do more of that. Third thing, and this may have changed. In the old days, the way you got trade bills passed, which was 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. You 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. But I think you've got to change the coalitions and change the conversation. Because we've seen, probably goes back several, 20 years now. We've seen an erosion across partisan lines for slightly different reasons of support for trade. But I'm not fighting your basic point. I think it's a long shot.

ZAKARIA: In a sense, what you're trying to figure out is how do you get people to understand that the most optimal solution for the world is an open world with people corroborating 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, keep the country. I think of it as open, but arm the citizens with what it would take to thrive in that open world.

HAASS: Exactly. Right. But what's interesting-

ZAKARIA: But politically, that's very hard. Economically, that's clearly the right answer. Politically, it's very hard to sell.

HAASS: 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. You've got to help others in order to help yourselves. It's 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 your generosity. But we've also got to do it for ourselves.

ZAKARIA: Right. In that sense, I feel like we are back to the 30s and 40s. I once asked Arthur Schlesinger what was the most bitter debate that he could recall in his lifetime. I assumed his answer would be Vietnam. He said, "No, no. The debate over the entry into World War II was much, much more bitter." Because it was really the foundational break. Before that, 150 years you'd had since Washington's farewell address that the idea that the United States should stay out of the evil international system. So it feels like we're coming back to that.

HAASS: Oh, actually I agree with you. I think this i 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. You get up in the morning, and the things that are up for grabs are much more fundamental. During the cold war was how many warheads we put on how many launchers, this is much more fundamental than that. I feel we're living in history. I think the questions were really first order. I mean, 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 a 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. 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. Again, I think it's a really, really difficult time that puts a real premium on diplomacy and statecraft. Then I would just simply say, I hope we're up to it.

HAASS: Alright 

ZAKARIA: Thank you. Pleasure.

HAASS: Thank you.

Thank you for joining us. I hope you enjoyed the conversation.

If you’d like to learn more please visit where you can find a transcript as well as additional resources on this topic. Have a question or some feedback? Send us an email at [email protected]

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