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NON-FICTION: WORLD ORDER OR AMERICAN DOMINANCE?

September 10, 2017
In his analysis of China’s relations with the United States, the author is more concerned with the two countries’ anti-Soviet sentiment of the 1980s and ends up underselling their present economic interdependence | AP
In his analysis of China’s relations with the United States, the author is more concerned with the two countries’ anti-Soviet sentiment of the 1980s and ends up underselling their present economic interdependence | AP

The political evolution of humankind has led us to the present system of sovereign states, most of which respect human rights and the rule of law, but the interaction of these sovereign states used to be arbitrary and heavily influenced by the power structure. There is no global government or an international executive to maintain peace and order. The world has gone to war several times because of the lack of a centralised government. However, politicians, diplomats and military strategists have devised various tools to ensure peace and security in modern times. These tools, whether conceptual or institutional, lay the foundation of an international order. A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order by Richard Haass aims to examine the history and evolution of world orders and the prospects for an improved version of the global order.

Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and has served as the senior Middle East adviser to George H.W. Bush, president of the United States between 1989 and 1993. The book is divided into three parts. The first traces the history of world orders up until the Cold War. The second discusses problems faced by the global community in the present times. The third tries to make recommendations for improving the existing world order.

Haass has conveniently ignored the atrocities committed by the dominant powers in the name of maintaining order. Noam Chomsky highlights this problem in his book World Orders: Old and New in these words: “One revealing example is the standard current interpretation of the campaign of slaughter, torture and destruction that the United States organised and directed in Central America through the 1980s to demolish the popular organisations that were taking shape, in part under Church auspices. These threatened to create a case for functioning democracy, perhaps allowing the people of this miserable region, long in the grip of US power, to gain some control over their lives; therefore, they had to be destroyed.” Whether it is the record of the US in Central America as explained by Chomsky, or the CIA-sponsored toppling of the elected Iranian government of Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and re-imposition of monarchy, or the outcome of supporting jihadists in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and how the policy backfired later on, Haass chooses not to mention such contradictions and does not consider them important enough mistakes for the US to learn from before formulating new policies to establish the World Order 2.0 so much cherished by Haass. Moreover, he does not discuss the mainstream criticism made on international financial institutions and how they can be reformed in his proposed World Order 2.0.

While analysing Sino-American relations, Haass is more concerned about the anti-Soviet sentiment that was prevalent in both countries prior to 1989. It is as if the ‘real’ common ground has been lost after the demise of the Soviet Union. He is underselling the economic interdependence both countries have today.

A proposal for global governance neglects to account for key factors

The chapter ‘Global Gap’ plays the significant role of assessing the various challenges being faced by the international community. For example, it discusses the issues of state sovereignty, right of self-determination, doctrine of right to protect, humanitarian interventions and nuclear proliferation in detail. However, issues such as climate change, global health, and most importantly, the role of the World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund have only been discussed in passing. This is perhaps because much of the disarray in these areas can be blamed on major powers such as the US, instead of small countries that are an easy target of criticism.

In the chapter ‘Regional Realities’, Haass briefly discusses every region of the world. He describes both Latin America and Africa as stable or less volatile for international order because, according to him, there are no geopolitics and no threat of nuclear proliferation either. The existence of intra-state conflicts and widespread inequalities both within and across countries has not been considered as a genuine threat to the international order by Haass. It reflects on his viewpoint, according to which the economic problems of ordinary citizens are not serious enough to be discussed in a treatise analysing the world order, although dissatisfaction over economic conditions can lead to violent revolutions.

While discussing the rise of China and resurgence of Russia, Haass states: “Both Russia and China place an emphasis on their respective ‘near abroads’: the European countries to its West in Russia’s case, the South and East China Seas in the case of China’s.” He fails to mention here that the US had similar ambitions in Latin America as well, that were embodied in the Monroe Doctrine enunciated by the American president James Monroe in 1823. The only solution Haass can think of for these Russian and Chinese hegemonic designs is increased vigilantism by the US. He prescribes enhanced military presence for these “anticipated” transgressions by Russia and China. But what he conveniently ignores is the question of who will safeguard the world against the transgressions of the US. On the one hand, he rejects the idea of unipolarity and even multipolarity and argues for non-polarity, but on the other, he wants the US to take unilateral action against other powers.

An honest proposal for the establishment of any new world order should be made from a neutral viewpoint regarding various competing national interests. However, the proposal by Haass seems to be a rallying call for the US to pursue its national interests in the name of creating a new world order. It has been taken as an assumption that whatever the US government will perceive to be in its national interest will serve the interest of the global community as well. A litmus test was recommended by the old guru of American foreign policy, Henry Kissinger, in his book World Order: “The vitality of an international order is reflected in the balance it strikes between legitimacy and power and the relative emphasis given to each. Neither aspect is intended to attest change; rather, in combination they seek to ensure that it occurs as a matter of evolution, not a raw contest of wills.” The World Order 2.0 proposed by Haass lacks this balance between legitimacy and power.

The author’s prescriptions are more focused on what the US should do and neglects what China should do, even though Chinese actions are becoming more important for the maintenance or creation of a new global order. Major uncertainty lies with China’s foreign policy as its economic power grows. Therefore, more thought should have been given to that.

Haass discusses Pakistan as a country supporting terrorists, having weak civilian control, providing sanctuaries to the Afghan Taliban and interfering inside India. This reflects the author’s lack of a deeper understanding about this country. He does not mention Pakistan’s sustained efforts to eliminate terrorism from its soil, nor does he take into account the recent appreciation of the Pakistani economy by international financial institutions and the future economic prospects of the country in the wake of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and One Belt, One Road initiative.

Haass explains the evolution of the international system briefly and in easy terms, but sometimes this brevity and simplicity is achieved at the cost of ignoring key factors and cardinal personalities that set the course for the future of the international order. For academics, what the book lacks in rigour, it gains in simplicity for the layman. Overall, it is a good read for students of international relations and general readers who are interested in an overview of the global issues we face today. In terms of a neutral stance, however, whatever Haass writes cannot be taken at face value. Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, dreamed of a voluntary federation of republics with a strong commitment to non-hostility and transparent domestic and international conduct. Let us hope for the dawn of such an era with the help of a scholar pointing the pathway towards that direction.

The reviewer is a civil servant and a freelance writer

A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order
By Richard Haass
Penguin, US
ISBN: 978-0399562365
352pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, September 10th, 2017