World Order 2.0

I’d like to go over an article by Richard Haas in the winter issue of Foreign Affairs (available here). Haas describes the changes taking place in the international system and the steps that need to be taken to go from World Order 1.0 to World Order 2.0. I will give a quick summary and then move on to my comments.



In this article, Haas pays homage (as all the experts tend to do) to “recent” changes in the international system, namely US hegemony following WWII, and the establishment of a new world order led by the US and the winners of the war. Together they established global institutions (UN, WTO, IMF, World Bank, international courts, international law) in order to prevent the catastrophe of  another Great Power war and economic depression. Of course soon after this the Cold War ensued, which was the guiding principle of international relations until 1991.After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western states were given an opportunity to lead a liberal order and embed/spread liberal values (democracy, human rights) like at no other time.

However, as Haas recognizes, the liberal world order is now on shaky ground. Populism is on the rise in major democracies; the EU will shrink in size for the first time in its history with the loss of the UK; and US hegemony is being countered more and more by the rise of China and the rebellious nature of Russia. Both countries rail at certain values of the current order, such as the prioritization of human rights over state sovereignty and the interventions to which that line of thought has led (Syria, Libia, etc.).

Haas establishes the fact that state sovereignty and self-interest is no longer sufficient to act as the sole guide of state action. The world is increasingly interdependent, with problems arising that can only be solved collectively through cooperation, including climate change, trade, international disease prevention, refugees, terrorism and cyber warfare. This is not to mention maintaining freedom on the high seas, international communications and logistics. States must cooperate to solve these issues, and cannot value their sovereignty over the solutions to these problems. In order to solve these problems, Haas holds that states must begin to adopt the norm of “Sovereign Obligation.” According to Haas, Sovereign Obligation is the obligation one state has to help/protect other states. Among the obligations that Haas sees as essential are (1) the obligation to prevent nuclear proliferation, (2) the obligation to prevent cross-border pollution and climate change, (3) The obligation to prevent terrorism. Specifically, he thinks that norms need to be created to define statehood (so that ethnic groups can’t claim self-determination willy-nilly) and to allow for “preventive action” to stop nuclear proliferation (i.e. destroying nuclear facilities before they can be used to create weapons).


With his homage to R2P early in the article, it is clear that Haas believes in international law and its potential, including the right of states to intervene on behalf of the citizens of other states. This is of course very controversial. Just based on his support for R2P, it would not be amiss to say that Haas probably believes in the potential of Collective Security. His idea of Sovereign Obligation is indeed a step toward building the trust between states that would be essential for establishing a collective security system. Actually, I don’t really have a problem with the idea of Sovereign Obligation. In fact I feel like he’s stating the obvious: states most definitely need to fulfill international responsibilities in a reciprocal fashion in the issue areas he listed. I also agree that the only way to establish Sovereign Obligation is very gradually through constant dialogue. In truth, this is probably the only way a Collective Security system could ever be established: Two states who are friends slowly but surely expand their  clique until it includes all the states in the system. This is what Europe and the US haave attempted, and it’s probably the right way to go if Collective Security is the end goal. Whether Collective Security should be the end goal is another matter, as the concept is rife with practical difficulties. But in any case, everyone will agree that global problems need to be solved and that world peace is desirable. Soveriegn Obligation sounds as if it would be conducive to both.

However, I very much disagree with his idea of “preventive action.” When I hear his explanation I really wonder if he wrote this article before the Iraq War and is just pawning it off on Foreign Affairs without revising. I don’t see how anyone could support preventive action after the Iraq War, which was basically one big preventive/pre-emptive action against I supposed stockpile of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Whether it was preventive or pre-emptive is up for debate. Haas says that pre-emptive action is taken to prevent an eminent attack, whereas preventive action would be taken to prevent the creation of nuclear materials needed for nuclear weapons. Both notions are dangerous there is no doubt, because it is hard to say that they are actions taken purely in defense — you must have very good evidence of the threat to justify a pre-emptive strike. But preventive action would potentially be much more dangerous than pre-emptive action. The reason is that preventive action would greatly increase the number of states that would be possible targets of attack. States would not even have to be planning an attack to warrant being targeted, they would merely need to have nuclear facilities, which of course many countries do. If preventive action was adopted as a norm in a world where situations of imperfect intel are profuse, you would have countless Iraqs on your hands! Clearly, preventive action, similar to R2P, would have the potential to be very intrusive. Overall, I think it’s a horrible idea.


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