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Richard Haass and His Rules for “A World in Disarray”

The latest book of the President of the Council on Foreign Relations

by Vito De Simone

Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations since 2013

Richard Haass suggests that in order for "sovereign obligations" to function, there would need to be some first "elements" in place, accepted by the willing nations: respect for borders, no use of military force to change borders, constraints by nations to act as they please within their borders and use of the diplomacy.

The Cover of the book “A World in Disarray”

Richard Haass is the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, was a Special Assistant to US President George W. H. Bush during the 1989-1993 period, and is the author of thirteen books, all related to international relations and diplomacy. In late 2016, together with Mr. Rex Tillerson, he was on the short list of the newly elected President Donald Trump for the position of Secretary of State.

In this most recent book, A World in Disarray, American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old World, the author writes a concise, methodic and exhaustive presentation of the most recent historic events: today’s “hot spots” of the globe. The book deals with the problematic national and international situation each specific country or region finds itself in now, and in its relation to the US. The fact that Prof. Haass brings the latest updated accounts on some of the most troubled nations, makes this book an invaluable set of data very useful for the student of foreign policy and international diplomacy.

The author begins with the observation that when things had begun to look bright and orderly in the international arena, inaugurated with the auspicious speech given by President George W. H. Bush, before the Joint Session of Congress (1990), after the military victory in Iraq for the liberation of Kuwait. The President proclaimed his vision of a new world order. On that occasion he said:

Out of these troubled times…a new world order can emerge: a new era-freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace…a new world… a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle; a world in which the nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice…. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.  (Haass 2017, p. 4)

President George Bush Sr. had good reason to hope for a brighter future. With the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), and with it, the peaceful demise of the Soviet Union, the world was indeed experiencing and had reason to believe that the ideal Bush dream could indeed become reality. Much human well-being, political stability, economic and technological advances had been achieved around the world after the end of World War II and after the Cold War; this was especially true with the nuclear reduction treaties achievement that reassured the people of the world that an orderly coexistence of nations was possible. Yet, the euphoric atmosphere, caused by the push back of Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, mandated by the United Nations, turned out to be short lived. Soon, it became the “harbinger,” in Prof. Haass’ own word, the forerunner of a world that could not maintain order. The old order crumbled before new economic and political anxieties, created by globalization, free trade, the Russia’s taking of Crimea, terrorism, the fear of war-torn displacements of peoples who are to this day, invading Europe and are even knocking at the American door. As if these problems had not been enough, there were still the old unresolved Middle East tensions between Israel and Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea. Then, recently, with the advent of Brexit in England, the election of Donald Trump in the US with his retrenching policy: “America First,” plus the next national elections in Italy and Germany, even the European Union could add more uncertainties and further disorder: A mess, which Professor Haass, appropriately defines as, “A World in Disarray”.

Recognizing that the world has indeed been unraveled, Professor Haass advances a proposal, perhaps an elaboration of President Bush’s “shared responsibility for freedom and justice,” that he defines as “sovereign obligations.” In his opinion, the world is too interconnected to continue to claim absolute sovereignty of nation/states, especially when an act done internal to a state, can and does often have adverse repercussions out of that state. Textually, Haass says:

I am suggesting something fundamentally different. The need to develop and gain support for a definition of legitimacy that embraces not just the rights but also the obligations of sovereign states vis à vis other governments and countries. … It is about a government’s obligations to other governments and through them to the citizens of other countries. (p. 227)

Stated more clearly:

…the emphasis is less on what another country is (or does within its borders) as it is on what it chooses to do beyond its borders, that is, in its foreign policy. (p. 229)

In other words, if I understand it correctly, once countries, but especially the major powers, “develop a common approach” based on the legitimacy of existing countries, then, alongside the stubbornly guarded “sovereignty” of states, Prof. Haass would add the principle of “sovereign obligations, extended beyond national borders.” Once the international “consensus,” is established, governments would more closely represent the exigencies of our modern global reality, thus creating a more desired order among nations (pp. 248 -255).

Professor Haass suggests that in order for his “sovereign obligations” to function, there would need to be first some “elements” in place, accepted by the willing nations. Among the many elements needed, we find that there should be:

Respect for borders; no use of military force to change borders; constraints by nations to act as they please within their borders. If the US or any other party calls for and carries out an intervention in the name of the United Nations R2P (Responsibility to Protect), it must be limited to humanitarian interventions. The creation of statehood by the people, who claim it, must be asserted. That is, the dominant state from which the new state would have to be carved out of, would have to be open to consider the bid for statehood (p. 236); unacceptability of terrorism as a means of obtaining political objectives; weapons of mass destruction (nuclear) should remain in the hands of the five nations, provided that they guarantee what they can and cannot do with them, and under what conditions. Climate change ought to be able to fall under the rubric of sovereign obligations, as well as cyberspace security, global health, and the economic accords of global importance.

Diplomacy, for the author, takes center stage to procure the desired outcome and the implementation of the eventual Sovereign Obligations Accords. Diplomacy would need delicate, continuous consultations, negotiations and tactics that go from granting incentives to armed interventions once the international consensus has been obtained. (Pp. 249-250). To justify his proposal, Dr. Haass enriches his presentation with a dowry of examples that I, for lack of space here, leave to the readers to review.

Richard Haass during a speech

But, wanting to play the devil’s advocate with Dr. Haass’ position of “sovereign obligations,” I would like to air some of the points that I believe his presentation may require further thought:

  1. It will be very difficult (a) to convince, especially the powerful nations to adopt a policy of “sovereign obligations” in which they themselves would most probably have to curb their own appetites for power and dominance. Even if that were to occur, it would require (b) long “years of diplomatic negotiations”. Perhaps, most importantly, (c) the smaller nations would mistrust the intentions of the “Sovereign Obligations Accords” in that, the major powers could easily use those accords as a pretext to invade their countries. For example, Russia can invade Crimea with impunity (even with Sovereign Obligations in place), but Crimea cannot invade Russia, under any situation. Recognizing that even the Unites States would fall under the same possibility of violating the accords, Dr. Haass himself calls the United States to task when he says that the United States foreign policy “must practice what it preaches.” The US must recognize that “it appear(s) hypocritical or look(s) to be guilty of double standards,” or its “unwillingness to play by the rules,” as in its refusal to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, its refusal to support the International Criminal Court, etc. (p. 250). In other words, Prof. Haass himself is worried that the first dissenters to his “sovereign obligations” policy would be the United States and Russia themselves.

On the instance of invading Iraq (again, a small country), after having received the blessing from the UN, the willing nations restored the Kuwait border and independence heroically. However, what should the US and other nations do when the likes of Russia takes Crimea by force? Short of war, what else can peace-loving nations do? Dr. Haass, in his list of possible remedies to “bring countries into compliance with their obligations,” mentions sanctions ranging from “naming and shaming,” to political and economic penalties, and, on occasion, even the use of “armed intervention.” When one has to deal with altered dictators, or eccentric/headstrong Prime Ministers and presidents, war will be the only viable solution. But at what cost, in this era of nuclear weapons of mass destruction? What can a willing nation do to respond to the recent US unilateral decision to bomb Syria’s airport (4/16/17), simply because Assad decided to use gas to kill some people instead of using hundreds, if thousands of equally, if not more, deadly conventional bombs? (Here we have a clear absurdity): The former is illegal as pronounced by the UN; the latter is legal under UN Charter, Article 51).  Some international observers could claim that President Trump may have used the airport bombardment in Syria, not because the gas-bombs are illegal (the pretext), but because (the possible motivation for doing it) served him to show the world about his tough stance on international policy intentions.

Again, think about the United States dropping of the “mother-of –all -bombs” in Afghanistan (4/13/17)? Will any nation claim that the US has violated any international law? Would any nation, even under the Haass proposal, have affected President Trump decision to use force? How would any nation force/convince Russia to respect its sovereign obligations by not crossing the border and drop devastating bombs in Syria? It is obvious to me that the idea of “sovereign obligations” of nations, though commendable, would not be sufficient to create “order” in the world.

  1. How does one respond to Prof. Haass when he says: “I would not place a great emphasis on bringing about a comprehensive peace between Israel and Palestine?”(p. 280) Or, when he rejects the notion that if “the Israel-Palestine conflict could be resolved, it would lead to a broader Middle East peace.” Or, when he says that, by now, this problem “is nearly irrelevant?”(p. 283) Is it irrelevant that the Israelis (the people, not their government) live under constant fear of terroristic tactics and death? Is it irrelevant that the Palestinians live under periodic bombardment that result in devastating their properties, suffer psychological traumas, and the denial of their fundamental rights to peace, independence and human dignity? Of course, Professor Haass, to be honest, is arguing here, that as long as there is terrorism in the Middle East, peace, at any rate is not possible, even between these two peoples. Perhaps this last statement may be true, but only as long as the US has a policy that favors conceived friendly nations and penalizes conceived enemy nations. Is it not, Prof. Haass, along with US policy, stuck with Roosevelt’s idea of: to police the world, to penalize the enemy and reward friends, of WWII era? (Nigel Hamilton, 2016, pp. 19-32) If the US had found a just and equitable way to resolve this conflict almost fifty years ago (the job of an impartial world leader), we would have the two peoples living side by side, in peace, and today, they would confront terrorism together, like many other nations do.
  2. Likewise, it seems to me that Professor Haass miscalculates the recent phenomena of “terrorism”, “Yes we Can,” the “Arab Spring, ” and “America First,” or, the rebirth of “nationalism” and the advances being made by “populism” around the world. These manifestations could, I say, they just could, become the winning factors that may soon dominate the political world scene, at the loss of the traditional political and diplomatic systems, which are presently being totally discredited.
  3. One last observation: At the first glance of the title of this book, A World in Disarray, a person could deduct from it, that a world in disorder, or “disarray,” is a world more easily subjected to wars than a world that is orderly. This same person could further deduct that Prof. Haass would talk of a world wishing for peace. However, the author does not talk of peace. Instead, he openly, talks of using armed forces, even if as a means last resort, if nations would not abide by their sovereign obligations. Instead, in this book, he writes about “control.” Regrettably, this is the same old talk that produces violence rather than peace. Dr. Haass, is an incorrigible diplomat. Despite the fact that the “Old Order” is in disarray, he still seems to long for the days when conditions and controls over peoples and nations, were decided by a few dominant world powers that imposed “order,” and maintained it with violence. Overall, I would still recommend reading this book, even if only to reflect and discuss the proposal, on academic grounds.

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