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Book Review of "A World in Disarray" by Richard Haass

John is a writer based in Portsmouth in the United Kingdom who enjoys writing on a wide range of personal and professional interests.

Richard Haass

Richard Haass

Book Overview

A World in Disarray discusses the present-day world order, claiming that it has been in 'disarray' since the conclusion of the Cold War. The book is divided into three parts.

The first examines models for world order, primarily in Europe, from the 17th century up to the 20th century and World War II and through the Cold War. Part two details the 'disarray' of today’s world and how it has resulted from the absence of the major power rivalries which characterized the Cold War and global issues such as terrorism, climate change, cyber technology, and nuclear proliferation. The final part offers recommendations for the United States to navigate and lead in this new era.

Review and Analysis

The early chapters of the book provide a useful and detailed critical analysis of the origin of many of today’s problems. Haass makes clear the historic leadership role the US has played in world affairs in the 20th century and claims that the US has a responsibility to continue its role as a leader in this era of increasingly globalized affairs. In detail, Haass unpacks the origins of many points of friction and what can be done to improve relations of some of the world's great powers—specifically the US with China and Russia—as well as promote stability in some of the world’s regions, such as the Middle East, which Haass devotes much time to.

Haass includes a valuable discussion of 'sovereign obligation' in chapter 10, “World Order 2.0.” (Haass, 227). The concept in principle maintains the fundamental respect for sovereignty and borders of nations but includes a 'sovereign obligation' in which sovereign states also have a responsibility to regulate behavior and actions within their own borders, particularly where adverse actions will have impacts well beyond their borders. Haass makes it abundantly clear that in the increasingly globalized nature of world affairs, actions of nations can no longer be viewed in isolation and that actions and choices can have far-reaching consequences across borders and continents.

With clear articulation and framing of arguments in favor of continued US leadership, Haass is a clear advocate of the US' responsibility to work with other nations in solving world problems. In Haass’ concluding chapter, “A Country in Disarray”, he notes that there are some disappointing aspects of the state of US leadership. Haass cites the perils of democracies being governed 'by the passions of the moment and false representations without regard to enduing and interesting facts' (Haass, 304).

Haass also uses BREXIT and the short-sighted—according to him—vote for Britain to leave the European Union as one such example, but also a reason why the US Constitution ought to remain difficult to change without a representative and balanced government.

To climate change, I view the US as failing to lead where others might well be able to now assert and gain international political capital. The consequences of such failures to lead and act are framed well in Haass’ conclusions, and these are of particular bearing for military professionals to understand and consider as prospective executors of US foreign policy and diplomatic actions.

One example of security cooperation is the Partnership for Peace. Multinational military exercises inlcude examples like the Cooperative Archer in Tbilisi, Georgia, in July 2007 with 500 servicemen from four NATO members, eight PfP members, and Jorda

One example of security cooperation is the Partnership for Peace. Multinational military exercises inlcude examples like the Cooperative Archer in Tbilisi, Georgia, in July 2007 with 500 servicemen from four NATO members, eight PfP members, and Jorda


There is much here to consider here. Haass is a clear advocate of diplomacy, but he also understands the role of the military option for both security and stability as well as offensive and defensive purposes. The military is also a tool for crisis response and a method for strengthening diplomatic ties.

In response to crises, the military is a flexible and useful method and means to initiate actions in response to a wide range of problems, even those short of war. In diplomatic terms, the US uses the military to bolster existing relations with foreign militaries in a security cooperation role—the activities of the Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group are one such example.

The arguments made by Haass are informed by many years of study and discussion but ultimately focus on the role of the US. In his concluding chapter, Haass states that there is no replacement for US leadership in the global order. The US must balance its national security and domestic concerns as well as its foreign policy objectives. The challenges faced are those of the present state of dysfunctional and frequent acrimonious politics and the lack of consensus on the US role within the world.

Failure to act and lead is not only a moral issue but one which imperils the security of the nation as well. While the policies of the US have not always been in the best interests of world order, allowing or yielding the opportunity for others such as Russia, China, or Iran to take actions may well be a conflict to global security interests but almost certainly to those of the US as well (Haass, 305).

© 2020 John Bolt