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The New American Century?

Haass believes that there is now a clear opportunity for a better world, but that it may well soon disappear:

This could turn out to be an era of prolonged peace and prosperity, made possible by American primacy successfully translated into influence and effective international arrangements. Or it could turn out to be an era of gradual decay, an incipient modern Dark Ages, brought on by the loss of control on the part of the United States and the other major powers and characterized by a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states, and growing terrorism and instability.
He feels that the United States should use its power and influence to persuade the major powers, along with as many other countries, organizations, corporations, and people as possible,

to sign up to and support a set of rules, policies, and institutions that would bring about a world in which armed conflict between and within states is the exception; where terrorists find it difficult to succeed; where the spread of weapons of mass destruction is halted and ultimately reversed; in which markets are open to goods and services and in which societies are free and open to ideas; and where the world’s people have a good chance to live out lives of normal span free from violence, extreme poverty, and deadly disease.

With a few contemporary additions, these goals are ones that many of us hoped the governments in the UN would pursue sixty years ago. As an ex-military, newly recruited member of the UN Secretariat, I well remember the righteous wrath that the least breath of skepticism about achieving such results aroused among the members of the remarkable early United States delegations to the UN, which included such people as Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. As it turned out, governments were willing to accept the UN’s rules on paper but didn’t always find it easy or profitable to obey them. Worst of all, relations among the designated guardians of the peace, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, soon deteriorated to such an extent as to pose the most terrifying possible threats to world peace. Even so, when the world organization was not completely paralyzed by great power rivalries or talked to a standstill by bickering governments, the United Nations system, usually with United States leadership and support, made a good start on much of Haass’s agenda. As he proposes, now is the time and the opportunity to make significant progress on the basis of what has already been done.

To achieve such progress Haass recommends a US policy of “integration,” which he defines as

the ambition to give other powers a substantial stake in the maintenance of order—in effect to co-opt them and make them pillars of international society—so that they will come to see it in their self-interest to continue working with the United States and damaging to their interests to have a falling-out with the United States.

This may seem a patronizing, and mildly threatening, approach to the other 191 or so sovereign nations of the world, including several very large and potentially powerful ones. It is just as well, as Haass mentions elsewhere, that “a good deal of this book has been written for Americans and directed at the current and future governments of the United States.” In the brief, victorious, visionary days of 1945 and 1946, it would have been quite unnecessary to state that American ambition and leadership were central to what happened in the world. Haass notes the achievements of the immediate post–World War II period with admiration, and wonders whether the United States can prove to be equally creative now.


Of the relatively new generation of global issues, Haass singles out four problems as especially susceptible to the process of integration—genocide, terrorism, the proliferation of WMDs, and the need for open trade. An essential requirement of success with these and other matters, he argues, is a re-evaluation of the concept of national sovereignty. All the current talk of UN reform will, I would add, have little reality if the hitherto frustrating conflict between national sovereignty and international responsibility is not, at least to some extent, resolved. Haass rightly points out that any effective system of universal security and protection will require the dilution of national sovereignty, especially when humanitarian intervention is needed to prevent mass killing and other disasters. Haass’s discussion of this important and fundamental problem should be heeded, especially by those who clamor for United Nations reform.

Haass’s chapter on terrorism includes a frank discussion of the Israeli– Palestinian problem. He points out that true Palestinian democracy, much discussed in recent months, is desirable but not essential to the peace process. What matters is the Palestinian government’s willingness and ability to sign, and to carry out, a peace agreement. As he rightly emphasizes, the United States must make such an agreement, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, a diplomatic priority. The aim should be a settlement based on the 1967 armistice, offering the Palestinians territorial compensation for the land outside those lines that Israel ends up keeping.

When it comes to the danger of nuclear weapons, Haass writes, “Mutually assured destruction is a simple concept ill-suited to a complex multipolar region or world.” That nuclear proliferation is not only a global threat but also a matter of widespread disagreement was underlined by the recent UN conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). After weeks of debate, the nearly ninety countries that attended the meeting failed even to reach agreement on its agenda. There are now five established nuclear powers, which also happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—all have signed the NPT; and three nuclear powers, Israel,4 India, and Pakistan, that still refuse to sign it. One country, North Korea, is credited with possessing nuclear weapons, and another with nuclear know-how, Iran, is seen by many governments as aspiring to do so.

Meanwhile the already complicated problems of international control of nuclear weapons have now become more formidable than ever. The possibility has to be faced that the weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists. A private trade in nuclear materials organized by the Pakistan physicist A.Q. Kahn has recently been exposed. The members of the old nuclear club have immense stockpiles of these weapons; and in Russia, and some other countries, they are poorly secured. Finally, there is the widely perceived hypocrisy of those, such as the US and Russia, that insist, as a matter of national security, on keeping huge nuclear stockpiles while excoriating other countries for any attempt to acquire nuclear weapons themselves.

Haass, in considering the difficulties of dealing with North Korea and Iran, writes in the abstract language of foreign policy symposia: “US policymakers would be wise to contemplate a strategic future in which preventive action played little or no role”—words that can be translated into a warning not to bomb Iranian and North Korean nuclear installations. He adds that “when non-proliferation efforts fail, the major powers must have a concerted, well thought out response ready.” Haass does not make it clear what that response should be. But he is right that there are no clear-cut solutions available, certainly not the ballistic missile defense system once called Star Wars. “Not only is it uncertain whether it will work,” he writes,

despite the considerable investment, but the most likely threats from nuclear weapons are more likely to arrive in the United States in some container rather than on top of a missile.

Haass is more specific when he discusses energy dependency—“the Achilles Heel of the United States”—which is caused by “the enormous gap between what the United States produces and what it consumes.” Producing 10 percent of the world’s oil and consuming 25 percent of it makes US goods more expensive, contributes to inflation, the fiscal deficit, and the trade deficit, and makes a hugely disproportionate contribution to global warming. America’s excessive use of energy also distorts US foreign policy, endangers national security, and jeopardizes both the US and the world economies.

Haass is not impressed with the Bush administration’s approach to the energy problem:

The gains that would come from opening up the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska would be modest and would not change the facts about where the United States gets its energy.

For the United States he believes that the main answer must lie mainly in reducing energy demand and in lower, and more efficient, energy use, “the only way to reduce the financial, strategic, and environmental costs of current policy.” About how such a sensible, and sensitive, goal is to be achieved he is silent.

Haass emphasizes the importance of reaching agreement on the rules for international intervention. That the UN Security Council is now the sole source of legitimacy for military and other intervention he finds unsatisfactory. As many others have done, he argues that the Council’s composition is anachronistic and unrepresentative, and the permanent members often don’t agree on what is a “legitimate purpose in the world” and on what specific international actions are legitimate in the world today. This lack of agreement is reflected in the Council’s failure to take decisive action in such urgent disasters as Bosnia or Kosovo, and in many cases in earlier years. Haass concludes that “it is this absence of complete consensus and the Security Council’s rules and composition that make it and the UN too brittle and too narrow an instrument to be the centerpiece of any attempt at this moment to build a more integrated world.” In his view the Council should not be the sole source of legitimacy.

Haass therefore reflects on the possible use of other, less universal, international groups—NATO, the EU, and various regional groups—to intervene by military and other means if the Security Council cannot agree. Personally I think it would be a great mistake to water down the principles of the UN Charter, which were agreed on at a high point of international cooperation and solidarity following World War II. The periodic inability of the Security Council to agree on vital matters is, and always has been, a major shortcoming of the UN, and various ad hoc strategies have been used to take action nevertheless; but to transfer formally the Security Council’s powers to other, less comprehensive groups could easily lead to another major division of the nations of the world and to the violent antagonisms that many nations, for the moment at least, seem to regard as a thing of the past. But Haass is right to raise the problem of the Security Council’s failures and to insist that governments discuss it seriously, even if he cannot present a completely satisfactory solution.

All major powers, Haass writes in his concluding chapter, have a stake in seeing the emergence of an integrated world. The well-known list of dangers—proliferation of WMD, terrorism, neoprotectionism, failed states, global epidemics, drugs, climate change, and doubtless other challenges as well—all have to be met collectively if they are not to overwhelm human society. Obviously a major change both in the spirit and the letter of US foreign policy will be needed before the United States can hope to regain the international respect it once had.


Richard Haass has presented an agenda for United States foreign policy that is realistic, constructive, and conservative in the old sense of the word. His argument can be read as a firm, if restrained, indictment of the foreign policy of the Bush administration. But several questions arise about his basic concept of world “integration” under United States leadership. First, will the rapidly changing world be willing to embrace US leadership as readily as it has done in the past? That will depend on whether US policy can change and also to what extent US leaders can work through the United Nations and its agencies as well as through regional groups and NGOs. Such collaboration will be indispensable if US leadership is to be acceptable to governments that are, in theory at least, coequal sovereign members of those bodies.

Second, Haass criticizes current policies, but he does not suggest how the existing political and ideological climate in Washington could be changed, so that his own proposals and others might be accepted. Nor does he mention the new and growing forces in American political life, some of which have underpinned the policies of the George W. Bush administration both in domestic and in foreign affairs, although he often mentions the widespread anti-Americanism that some of them have aroused. Among these forces are the firm hold of the big corporations, especially on environmental and energy policy; the neoconservative ideology that rejects international organization and international treaties and conventions and favors unilateral military ventures; the growing influence of evangelical religion on the White House, on domestic policy, and on some aspects of foreign policy, including the administration’s approach to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict; and the relentlessly hostile partisanship of congressional politics, which can have a paralyzing effect in Washington.

How can such powerful influences be countered and controlled so that the “Great Opportunity” that is the subject of Haass’s book can be grasped by a confident United States government whose leadership will be welcomed by other nations? One gets little sense from Haass’s book of the problems posed by the social and political forces in the country whose policies he wants to change.

Third, will the United States be able to supply the quality of leadership needed to face the formidable challenges of the twenty-first century? Some of the issues that Haass addresses are of decisive importance to the future of the human race. They will require solutions far more drastic and imaginative than anything that can be agreed on at present, either within the United States or in the world at large.

Haass refers with some awe to the achievements of the US during the period following World War II. In 1945 the world had just endured more than six years of global war and its peoples were gasping for relief and hoping for improvement. United States policy at that time was being created on a grand and visionary scale and executed by a remarkable generation of leaders and public servants. They were pragmatic idealists more concerned about the future of humanity than the outcome of the next election; and they understood that finding solutions to postwar problems was much more important than being popular with one or another part of the American electorate. Led by FDR and later by Harry Truman, they provided the peaceful but revolutionary spectacle of the most powerful and richest nation in history dedicating itself to rehabilitating a world wrecked by war and to developing the ideas and building the institutions that might make possible a more just, peaceful, and secure world in the future.

It is worth recalling what this extraordinary burst of political creativity included:

—the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration led by Herbert Lehman, which was instrumental in bringing war-devastated countries, including the Soviet Union and China, back to life;

—the reconstruction and democratizing of Germany and Japan;

—the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund at Bretton Woods;

—the building of the United Nations, inspired by FDR himself and carried out, with the strong support of Harry Truman, by, among others, Adlai Stevenson, Edward R. Stettinius, Senators Arthur Vandenberg, Republican of Michigan, and Tom Connally, Democrat of Texas, and a distinguished team of experts;

—the struggle for a Universal Declaration of Human Rights triumphantly achieved in 1948 by Eleanor Roosevelt and her associates;

—the attempt, which failed, to bring nuclear production under international control before it proliferated (the Acheson-Lilienthal Plan);

—the Marshall Plan, which turned the countries of Western Europe away from chaos and revolution, helped to make them prosperous and well-governed nations, and laid the foundations of the European Union;

—the US-led Korean War, under the UN flag, which convinced the Soviet Union and China that the United States could, and would, lead the world in resisting Communist expansionism beyond its recognized sphere of influence.

This incomplete record at least suggests what serious international leadership entails. These historic initiatives were not realized by repeating clichés and simplistic formulas. They were the creation of some of the nation’s best public servants and intellectuals, and they were made possible by presidential leadership, congressional bipartisanship in foreign affairs, and by an American public that was, for the most part, prepared to accept, with no guarantee of success, expensive long-term projects, like the Marshall Plan, because the administration and Congress had persuaded them that they were essential to the future of the US and the world.

Large fortunes were made in the US during World War II, but there were determined attempts to defend military procurement and other expenditures from the assaults and influence of special interests. A principal weapon in this struggle was the Senate committee, headed by Harry Truman during much of the war, to investigate corruption and mismanagement in the awarding of government contracts. It would have been extremely difficult for a major policy initiative to be sidelined by lobbyists for corporations or other special interests. Toward the end of his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, warned against the growing power of the “military-industrial complex.” In our time such interests are vastly more powerful in Washington and can, and do, successfully block the approach to important global problems.

One symptom of the vast current influence of corporate business is the tendency to cover up or soften informed predictions about universal problems like energy, the environment and global warming.5 The results are dismaying. It seems likely, for instance, because of Western energy consumption and increasing demand from India and China, that, sooner than previously thought, affordable oil will become steadily scarcer, with an economic and social impact that will be staggering and universal. Attempts to increase energy efficiency, which Haass advocates, are all very well, but surely real leadership demands something more radical, an intensive search for alternative sources of energy through an international undertaking on the scientific, intellectual, and financial scale of the World War II Manhattan Project that produced a nuclear bomb in just over two years. How soon will there be an administration in Washington that could even consider such a step?

Global warming is an even more complex and frightening issue than the future of energy, and perceptive leadership would treat it as the threat to human (and animal) society that it already appears to be, instead of balking under corporate pressure at serious steps to do something about it. (At the recent G-8 conference President Bush was willing to acknowledge only that climate change is a “long-term” challenge.)

Richard Haass is right that a fleeting opportunity must be grasped before it is too late. But, in view of the forces that stand in the way of accepting such a historic challenge, it is also essential to consider how the United States is to muster the public consensus and the political will and sense of responsibility to face up to it.

  1. 4

    On Israel’s nuclear weapons, Haass out-Orwells the Orwell of Animal Farm: “Although it is right to oppose the emergence of new nuclear weapons states in all circumstances, it is also right to oppose it more in some than in others.”

  2. 5

    A White House aide, Philip Cooney, a former energy lobbyist, recently had to resign when it was revealed that he had taken it upon himself to soften a report on global warming.

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