A World In Disarray Book Summary, by Richard Haass

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1-Page Summary of A World In Disarray


World War Two was a major turning point in the world order. It led to the Cold War era, which was mostly peaceful due to a variety of factors. However, things are changing again and new tactics are required. Since the end of World War 2, international relations have changed drastically—there are more powerful players now than before and they’re all trying to get their way. The United States is one of those powerful countries that needs to change its foreign policies so that there can be more stability around the globe.

You will also learn that the Cold War was not as violent as it’s often portrayed to be. In fact, it took a genocide to make international intervention a valid principle. You’ll see how inaction in Syria led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in history and why this is an example of passivity leading to disaster.

Big Idea #1: After World War II, the world was relatively stable because of balanced power and the threat of nuclear war.

If you look back at history, it appears that World War Two was followed by a long period of peace. However, this wasn’t the result of world leaders suddenly turning pacifist. Instead, there was a balance of power during the Cold War era which prevented active conflict.

For example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created by a group of countries in Europe and North America that decided to work together militarily. This meant that an attack on any one of these nations would be considered an attack on all of them. The United States also implemented the Marshall Plan following World War II after it became clear that there was growing influence from communist Soviet Union.

Military and financial agreements helped keep the peace during the Cold War. When the Soviet Union blocked road and rail access into West Berlin in 1948, there was no war despite a dramatic stand off between East Germany and Western countries. Instead, Western countries launched a series of supply drops to West Berlin from hundreds of planes flying over East Germany daily.

The greatest safeguard against armed conflict was the existence of nuclear weapons, which significantly reduced military ambitions. Both countries recognized that a nuclear confrontation would be unconscionably destructive and were therefore highly motivated to avoid any direct altercation.

The balance of power and the threat of nuclear destruction were important factors that contributed to global peace during this period. However, there are other key elements worth discussing as well.

Big Idea #2: Economic and diplomatic agreements helped create a stable post-war world order.

People often feel like finance rules the world. In fact, there was a shift toward prioritizing finance after World War II. This shift occurred because of how the economy was propped up after the war as well as global stability.

The Bretton Woods system was launched in 1944 to create a uniform financial system. It set the dollar as the world’s currency and backed all currencies with gold. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided loans for financially troubled countries, while GATT cut costs on exporting and importing goods across national borders, thereby encouraging global trade.

Because of the financial support from the US to its allies, a global world order was created. This reduced the risk of armed conflicts and promoted diplomacy between nations. The most famous example is when many nations came together to form an institution called UN (United Nations). It allowed them to negotiate their interests without resorting to war.

The UN Security Council was created to monitor and keep the peace around the world. It could even intervene militarily, if necessary. Because Russia, China and the United States had a veto power in this council, it ensured that it would not be used inappropriately or as an attack on any one country.

The diplomatic system, the world order it protected and the economic aid that supported such a shift were all means of keeping peace throughout the Cold War. However, what came next?

Big Idea #3: The United States has avoided conflict against China by not interfering with internal matters.

During the spring of 1989, Chinese students assembled in Tiananmen Square to pay respects to Hu Yaobang.

The government in China ordered the military to clear Tiananmen Square of protesters. Many people were injured or killed as a result. At that time, the United States was tasked with making a decision about how it would react to such violations of human rights. In the end, they chose not to intervene and took no punitive measures against China. Why?

In the past, America had a lot of reasons to maintain good relations with China. The country was powerful and it would have been detrimental for America to isolate them from the world. In addition, they stood to gain economically from trade with China so they didn’t want to impose sanctions on them.

The United States’ non-interventionist policy toward Taiwan was similar to its non-interventionist policy toward China. Both countries had been contentious topics between the United States and China since World War II. During that time, a nationalist government ruled China and fought alongside America against Japan during World War II.

But in 1949, the Chinese communist party took power and forced the nationalists to flee to Taiwan. Today, China still claims that Taiwan is part of it.

The United States has worked hard to maintain peace with North Korea, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s another example of how war can be avoided.

Big Idea #4: The Rwandan genocide led to the creation of laws that govern international intervention, but they’ve been difficult to implement.

In 1994, a conflict in Rwanda between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority reached a breaking point. The situation escalated into genocide as the international community failed to step in. Hundreds of thousands of people could have been saved with minimal military risk but nothing was done.

This event changed the world in many ways. It resulted in a shift from non-intervention to intervention. The Rwandan genocide was also responsible for major changes within the military order, including the principle of responsibility to protect and other important policies that were adopted by countries around the world.

The passing of this resolution was revolutionary. It allowed countries to be invaded even if they hadn’t attacked another country, but it’s been anything but straightforward in the Syrian war. The conflict began during the Arab Spring of 2011 when Syria was ruled by an authoritarian family that belonged to the minority Alawite ethnic group. Most Syrians were Sunni Muslims, and many rebelled against their government because they weren’t happy with how it was being run.

The government responded to peaceful protests with violence, leading to a full-blown civil war. Hundreds of thousands died and millions were forced to leave the country.

It was clear that the state wasn’t protecting its citizens, but it couldn’t be resolved who exactly was responsible. Therefore, the international community didn’t act on their responsibility to protect. However, there is one case in which the United States clearly violated rules and you’ll learn all about it in the next key point.

Big Idea #5: The invasion of Iraq caused a dramatic shift in world opinion about the United States.

In 2003, America’s popularity plummeted when it decided to invade Iraq. People across the globe were outraged at what they saw as a violation of humanitarian law.

Despite the public disapproval, it was only after the war ended that people realized how wrong this action was. It wasn’t until things calmed down that they realized what a terrible mistake had been made. Once the dust settled, it became clear that this invasion of Iraq by America was illegitimate and unjustifiable because there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to begin with.

However, when US troops invaded Iraq in 2003, they claimed that Iraq was amassing nuclear weapons. There wasn’t any definitive evidence for this claim and it didn’t stand in as an armed attack on another nation. So, the invasion of Iraq didn’t meet the responsibility to protect doctrine because there was no genocide or ethnic cleansing going on. Saddam Hussein’s government certainly violated human rights within its own country but not enough for a legitimate military intervention under the responsibility to protect doctrine.

If we reworded it, we can say that the invasion of Iraq was preventive rather than preemptive.

A preemptive invasion can sometimes be justified. However, this could only have been the case if a country was about to attack another one. This clearly wasn’t the case with Iraq.

Preventive warfare is not a good idea, as it can easily lead to chaos. In today’s world, there are many emerging powers (countries).

Big Idea #6: Threats should be followed by action, and military activity shouldn’t be abandoned without good reason.

We all know that the war in Syria has been devastating. It’s so bad that it has even called into question how we should respond to such events.

The United Nations has been criticized for not being able to stop war and atrocities. This criticism is due to the fact that they are supposed to uphold their responsibility of protecting people from such violence, but don’t always take action. The Syrian War is a prime example of this failure because it was allowed to escalate when Obama called on Bashar al-Assad to step down in 2011 instead of taking direct military action against Assad’s regime.

Obama said that using chemical weapons would force the US to rethink its involvement in Syria. However, when Assad used gas on his own people, the US didn’t intervene.

The United States convinced Syria to destroy their chemical weapons in order to avoid an invasion, but they should have stood by the promise of retaliation if such weapons were used. Therefore, it’s important to follow through on threats and take action after a threat is made. However, once military action is taken, it shouldn’t be dropped easily. When President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 because Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons that could threaten America and its allies, things fell apart over the years following this decision. So later on in 2007, he increased the presence of American troops with support from certain Sunni tribes and offered more military assistance than before.

This strategy was working, but when President Obama pulled out troops faster than originally planned, the area became unstable. Soon after that, militant Islamic extremism returned as ISIS. This shows how dangerous it is to pull out of a military commitment too soon.

Big Idea #7: In order to maintain the current world order, there needs to be cooperation between the three major powers.

These days, it’s easy to get worried about looming conflicts. For example, Russia is claiming territory in Ukraine and China is expanding its influence into the South Seas. However, they don’t seem like countries that are trying to expand their borders very far beyond them.

Since the West knows that China and Russia won’t go away, we should make every effort to cooperate with them. This would be good for everyone involved because it would stabilize the world order.

Let’s take the Cold War as an example. During this period, cooperation was usually conditional upon a country agreeing to cooperate with another nation on other matters. For instance, the United States would agree to work economically with another country only if it cooperated militarily. In so doing, each country tried to get what it could for itself from these agreements.

However, today a new kind of cooperation could be possible with China and Russia. They would cooperate whenever possible and avoid disagreements that can’t be solved. In this situation, the US should restrain itself from intervening in domestic issues that affect these two countries.

The United States should not undermine the economies of Russia and China. If all three nations are prosperous, they will work together to ensure global stability.

If Western countries stick to a certain strategy, they’ll be able to respond effectively to the new world order.

Full Summary of A World In Disarray


In A World in Disarray, diplomat Richard Haass argues that the world has become more disordered since the end of the Cold War. He believes that America should take a leading role in restoring security and stability to it.

The world today is based on the balance of power between nations. However, this pact can be shaken up by the Thucydides Trap, which refers to how a rising power threatens an established one and causes instability. The name comes from the Greek historian Thucydides who chronicled how Athens and Sparta had a war that resulted in chaos. In early twentieth-century Europe, Germany and Italy rose as superpowers but led to two devastating wars.

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a Cold War. Nuclear weapons prevented outright hostility between them. They had high-level contacts, trade, and negotiations on nuclear disarmament through international institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank. Meanwhile, they maintained stability with diplomacy among themselves.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union changed many things. The United States was seen as a dominant world leader, but it did not turn out that way. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, there was hope for a new world order where global norms would be enforced by the U.S., but it didn’t happen like that.

The end of the Cold War was hopeful. However, unrest in former Soviet countries led to violence and genocide. The United States struggled with how to deal with these situations without a clear plan or principle for intervention. For example, it failed to stop the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 by not intervening. It also falsely claimed that Libya was about to commit genocide and used this claim as an excuse for regime change there in 2011.

Diplomacy has been complicated by the rise of non-state actors, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. States are having trouble with them because they don’t have a system to deal with entities that aren’t states.

The world is facing many challenges. There are nuclear weapons, terrorism, and climate change to name a few. In order to avoid crisis and disorder in the future, we need a new international order that will help all nations work together for peace and prosperity. The sooner we start building this new order of nations, the better it will be for everyone involved.

We need to create a new world order. The current one isn’t working, and it’s causing too many problems. We need to make sure that sovereign states are accountable for their actions. For example, they should be required to reduce carbon emissions because climate change is threatening the entire planet. This will require stronger international institutions and more robust diplomacy between countries in order to enforce these rules of engagement.

Book Structure

Richard Haass is a diplomat, not a journalist. His book is serious and he assumes the reader has prior knowledge of diplomacy. He uses dry language and sometimes does not explain certain things that are obvious to those who know about politics. For instance, he mentions ping-pong diplomacy without defining what it means or providing an example of it in action.

About the Author

Richard Haass is a career diplomat who works for the US government. He believes in promoting world stability, which he feels is important to America’s interests.

Haass devotes a large portion of the book to US foreign policy and how they should deal with domestic politics in other countries. However, he doesn’t discuss US politics extensively. For example, he mentions that there was opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but doesn’t go into any details about what it is or why people oppose it. Thus, political forces in the United States are seen as obstacles rather than issues themselves.

Haass has a right-of-center political leanings and served in Republican administrations. He admires Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state for the Nixon administration. Haass is critical of George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq but praises George H Bush for his foreign policy decisions. He believes that Barack Obama should have been more aggressive with military force than he was during his presidency.

Haass briefly addresses domestic politics in the final chapter of his book. He’s concerned about the national debt and calls for fiscal responsibility, he supports free trade and increased military spending, but is against raising corporate or personal taxes. While he supports moderate cuts to social programs as a way to balance the budget, Haass believes that these changes should be made slowly so as not to negatively affect people who rely on those programs.

Haass has written this book before Donald Trump won the US presidency. He made a number of inflammatory statements about China, Mexico and other countries during his campaign that have upset many people around the world. It would’ve been quite different if it had been written after Trump’s victory because he is friendly with Putin and has threatened to leave NATO.

Intended Audience

The World in Disarray is written as a series of lectures that Haass delivered at Cambridge. It was revised significantly, but it’s still addressed to highly educated audiences who are familiar with international relations. The book is directed toward policymakers and diplomats in the United States and abroad.

Haass’ argument is about how the world has become more chaotic since WWII due to new threats such as terrorism, climate change, state collapse, etc., which makes it harder for countries to cooperate and solve problems together effectively.

A World In Disarray Book Summary, by Richard Haass

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