Is the alternative to a US–led international order less international order?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 11, 2018

These days, prophets of doom are more likely to be the authors of political books rather than sages and philosophers.

So it is with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, whose book ‘A World in Disarray’ was published yesterday, January 10.

The book’s subtitle builds on the gloomy tone of the title. It is as follows: “American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order”.

For all that one might have hoped to be more cheery so early in 2018, Mr Haass’s pessimism seems entirely on point in the second year of Donald Trump’s presidency.

As Mr Haass recently told Axios, the title of his book actually understated the situation and the world was in greater disarray than in 2017 when the title was conceived. He writes in the book’s afterword: “Things have become even worse that I had imagined. Disarray is greater than expected.”

He identifies the Trump administration as a significant cause of increased disarray in the world: “Trump is the first post-WWII president to view the burdens of world leadership as outweighing the benefits. The United States has changed from the principal preserver of order to a principal disrupter.”

Most interesting, however, is Mr Haass’s analysis of how the US is fading out as a world power.

“History,” he writes, “suggests great powers and the international orders they are associated with inevitably fade…[S]ome powers exhaust themselves through overreach abroad, underinvestment at home, or a mixture. For some other powers, their privileged position is usurped by the emergence of one or more new stronger powers. [But] the United States has now introduced a third means by which a major power forfeits international advantage. It is abdication, the voluntary relinquishing of power and responsibility.”

This will produce greater disarray than before, he suggests, because “there is no alternative great power willing and able to step in and assume what has been the US role.”

And because “there is no other candidate…The cold truth is that the alternative to a US–led international order is less international order.”