One of our favorite activities is to be part of a World Affairs Council event, and thanks to the magic of Zoom, we can continue our participation in the age of COVID.
This program was particularly special, as it featured Richard Haass, whose unparalleled career has included stints at the Department of Defense, Department of State, National Security Council, Council of Foreign Relations, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Brookings Institute, and is a recipient of the Presidents Citizens Medal. He is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable public figures on foreign policy.
Accordingly, Haass set out to write an accessible book about international affairs and foreign policy. Ronan O’Malley, Program Director at WAC, moderated the discussion with Haass and focused on the ideas in The World: A Brief Introduction.
The book begins with the year 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia, which established the idea that countries are sovereign and control affairs within their borders. This, Haass believes, helps us understand the modern nation state, while also being aware of how some things have changed. In an era of globalization, what happens within a country’s borders can have global consequences–whether it be the destruction of Brazil’s rainforests, the rise of militant and terrorist organizations such as the Taliban, or the spread of a virus. While they may begin within a country’s sovereign borders, they are likely to have world-wise ramifications.
Haass sets out to establish a framework in which we can maintain the positive aspects of sovereignty, without allowing a country’s sovereign actions to encroach negatively on another country’s sovereignty.
The author was motivated, in part, by a world he saw becoming increasingly in disarray, largely a result of the United States’ lack of engagement with the world, a phenomenon he refers to as “American Abdication.” Noting that President Obama began “pulling back” in mid 2010s, President Trump has taken disengagement even further.
Haass argues what might seem obvious: (1) the World matters, and (2) Isolation is not a workable response.
While engagement is appropriate, Haass also notes that the solution is not an over reliance on presidential personality. Haass noted that “there’s a long history” of presidential hubris, from FDR believing he understood Stalin and his goals, President George W. Bush saying he looked “into Putin’s soul,” and Trump taking things into a whole new level with his association with autocrats. The key, he argues, is to have workable coalitions and structural frameworks that allow for long-term solutions and equilibria.
O’Malley also conveyed a series of questions from the audience:
- What to do about NATO? Keep it, strengthen it, but don’t enlarge it;
- Nuclear proliferation? We have a new arms race with the Russians, we have lost hope of containing North Korea’s nuclear development, but we may still be able to work with Iran on limiting what they have done;
- Globalization and Trade: He’s for fair trade, which in his eyes, means being less concerned with trade imbalance and more about not manipulating currencies, removing tariffs. Further, he argues that job losses are not from trade agreements, but from increases in productivity in the US, mostly having to do with robotics, computers, and artificial intelligence. Haass believes that these trends will accelerate with COVID-19, and argues that the US needs to begin an aggressive retraining program.
- Chinese and Russian Disinformation Campaigns: Haass argues that China’s disinformation isn’t that effective, but that Russia’s program is more developed and has had a greater impact, arguing that Russia is seeking to “change the context in which the UY
O’Malley ended with a political question, asking Haass if he had thoughts about Biden’s Vice-Presidential selection. Haass noted that Biden had already committed to picking a woman, and that there are “many qualified women to choose from.” He argued that Biden will likely use three criteria: (1) Who would make a good president? (2) Who can he partner with to run the government? (3) And who will help him get elected? Haass also noted the importance of the pick–although he did not broach Biden’s age–by noting that the Vice-Presidency has grown in importance since the 1990s.
It was another great program by the World Affairs Council, and, indeed, a great introduction to “The World.”