Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has to have a broad horizon when looking at the world, as he shows in his latest book, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order. We need a new operating system to manage the “disarray” in the global arena that has emerged as the previous global order based on nation-states starts to erode. While that time did not exclude major wars, Haass argues that disorder emerged when the equations of legitimacy, sovereignty, and stability were challenged by rogue states and their leaders or when one war leads to another, as in the first half of the twentieth century.

Haass looks at the second half of that century and sees the Cold War remaining cold not only because of the standoff between two global powers, but also due to the limited number of actors that could upset it. He notes the methods through which the Soviet Union and the United States were able to interact with each other to sustain a stable standoff, and argues that they are lessons for the present as well.

Moving into the current arena, Haass paints a picture of a world in which no one global power—or even two—can control the agenda. The number of and types of players have multiplied. At the same time, we have seen an increased degree of global interaction and interdependence—as well as friction—in a globalizing economy. This has led to a clash over what the new order should look like, who should set it, and how it can secure legitimacy. That is where we currently find ourselves.

In looking for a solution, Haass introduces the concept of “sovereign obligations,” a mixture of national sovereignty and duty to square its responsibilities. This has the touch of a Kissinger-style realism—basically, a humbler approach to the possibility of multi-national agreements and processes. It recognizes the increasing trend of nationalism within the domestic political frameworks. He argues that national interests should be steered in the direction of shared policy and process, but seems to suggest that it will be require a step back from aspirations of global governance.

What makes this book of interest to those following transatlantic relations is the fact that the author is very skeptical of Europe in this process. He describes the European project as an amazingly important experiment in pooling sovereignty, but sees the trend now moving backward. As he puts it, “in a span of a little more than two years, Europe has gone from being the most integrated and stable region in the world, the region most resembling an ‘end of history’ ideal, to one that appears to risk being overwhelmed by history returning with a vengeance.” He foresees more centrifugal forces pulling at the fabric of the EU, particularly if it’s going to be operating within a low economic growth environment. Haass doesn’t spend a lot of time on this subject, but he ends one section by stating “history shows that the United States benefits from the close partnership with Europe; the real question is whether European governments will have the capacity and the focus to be meaningful partners.”

This is more of a warning than anything else. But it is one that the Europeans are fully aware of on their own. The question is: what can they do about it?


Dr. Jackson Janes is the President of AICGS.  Follow him on Twitter @DrJJanes.