45 pages 1 hour read

Richard Haass

A World In Disarray

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2017

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A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order is a nonfiction book by Richard Haass, published in 2017, that deals with foreign relations from an American perspective. Haass is a longtime diplomat who served several administrations from the 1980s to the 2000s. He was a special assistant to President George H. W. Bush, and as an official in the State Department, he was a close advisor to Colin Powell when the latter was secretary of state. Since 2003, Haass has been the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.


The book is divided into three distinct parts. The first gives an overview of the history of foreign relations from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to the end of the Cold War in 1991. Chapter 1 covers 1648 to 1945. The Treaty of Westphalia is important because it established the idea of sovereignty as something to be respected by other nations regardless of the size or strength of any given nation. Prior to this, sheer power provided whatever order existed. Haass analyzes the 19th century’s main foreign relations achievement, the Congress of Vienna, then goes on to explain how that system broke down and resulted in two world wars. Chapter 2 deals with how the Cold War kept the balance of power in the postwar years, while the following chapter details the liberal democratic order and its role in foreign relations during the same time period. Part 1 demonstrates that until the end of World War II, international relations focused on the foreign policy of nations while domestic policy was considered each state’s own affair. The actions of Germany and Japan changed that approach as both underwent a lengthy period of occupation after the war.

The second part of the book deals with the events of the 25 years since the end of the Cold War. During this period, a gap emerged between the challenges facing the world and nations’ ability to respond to them. Chapter 4 presents China and Russia as the two states most important to US foreign policy during this time, and Haass explains how the relationship with each has evolved in the last quarter century. Chapter 5 looks at the global challenges in the post-Cold War period and how they were managed. It was then that the Westphalian focus solely on nations’ external affairs shifted a bit in favor of intervening in the internal affairs of a country given certain conditions. Weak states posed a problem by creating humanitarian crises and allowing terrorism to flourish. At the same time, a lack of consensus regarding the principles and processes involved in international organizations began to erode, threatening their legitimacy. In Chapter 6, Haass focuses on the issues affecting particular regions, with an emphasis on the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The next chapter concentrates on the process of international cooperation and explains the reasons for the decline in legitimacy during this period.

While the first two parts of the book summarize and analyze events of the past, the final part presents the author’s foreign policy recommendations for the United States. Chapter 8 provides a brief transition to this shift in focus. Chapter 9 presents advice for how the United States should deal with Russia and especially a rising China to avoid conflict. His main focus is integrating them into world systems and incentivizing them to act responsibly. In the next chapter, Haass outlines his ideas for a new world order, which he calls “sovereign obligation,” premised on the idea that all nations have obligations to other nations in how they act. Chapter 11 returns to the specific regions described in Chapter 6 and presents ideas for how best to deal with the actors and issues involved in each. The final chapter brings the discussion home to the United States, as Haass explains that foreign policy begins with a strong domestic policy. He describes the state of the country and prescribes remedies for areas he thinks need improvement to achieve a robust foreign policy.