By Prabasi Nepali
“A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order”
The above is the title of the new book by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). In spite of the title, the book is not primarily on American foreign policy, although it does analyse various aspects of the same in the phases of international relations before and after the First World War until the present. It is a remarkable erudite book, at the same time eminently readable and firmly grounded in his post-graduate study of history at Oxford.
The book was completed before the US presidential election ended, and its final chapter “A Country in Disarray” highlighted the multiple divisions within American society which came to the fore, and which will probably be long-standing and deep according to the author’s assessment. This in turn has resulted in greater uncertainty over the future trajectory of U.S. foreign policy, given that the new president Donald J. Trump has projected putting ‘America First’. Haass postulates that “support for the old order has crumbled”, the result of “heightened economic anxiety at home” (usually associated with globalization, free trade, and immigration) and “growing doubts about the costs and benefits associated with what the United States has been doing abroad”. The willingness of the United States to continue its policies in international politics is being questioned by all and sundry — not only friends and foes.
The book consists of three reflective parts. The first outlines the history of international relations from the rise of the modern state system in the middle of the seventh century through the two world wars in the twentieth century and on to the end of the Cold War. Haass postulates that there was considerable continuity in how the world functioned during this long historical period — suggesting the nomenclature “World Order 1.0”, in spite of the fact that the actual march of history varied significantly and spectacularly, whether in a positive or negative manner.
The second part recapitulates only the last quarter century. Haass is of the opinion that the past twenty-five years since the end of the Cold War constitutes a dramatic break with the long era preceding it — qualitatively something quite divergent and transformative is taking place in world politics. He analyses developments not only in the world as a whole and in general, but also particularly in the major regions of the globe. His intention is to map out ‘the state of the world’ and to depict the process by which we reached this ‘state’ and what it means for the future of humankind.
The third part consists of propositions, suggestions and recommendations to evolve a better functioning world, in fact ‘World Order 2.0’ — the absolutely necessary new operating system. It has become vital to constrain great-power competition and taking into account new forces, challenges and actors, to calibrate the foreign policies of the United States and many other actors in international relations. According to Haass, such an adjustment should consist of first, a new approach to state sovereignty. Second, it would require implementing a new modus operandi to multilateralism. A third new element of foreign policy will require accepting a more conditional approach to relationships with other countries. Finally, national security should be defined in broader terms than is traditionally the case, taking into account domestic challenges and problems.
The writer’s masterly approach makes the book eminently suitable as a primer of ‘International Relations’, a quick reference for journalists and policy makers, and also an essential mode for deepening their understanding of the important subject for academics. It is a must read for everyone having to do with political developments in today’s troubled world. It is difficult not to agree with Haass that our current historical era is ending, and another is about to commence.
Populism in the Netherlands
The general election in the Netherlands this week will decide the fate not only of the country itself, but also of the European project. If Geert Wilders, the leader of a far-right party wins the election, it will have far-reaching repercussions on the continent. In fact, the Dutch parliamentary elections on March 15 are the start for a pivotal political year in Europe. Later this year, crucial elections follow in France (presidential) and Germany (parliamentary), and possibly Italy. The viability of the European Union (EU) is at stake. Policy makers are very anxious about foreign interference, especially Russian intelligence and other agencies working to help far-right parties through hacking and disinformation campaigns.
In a further development, it has been revealed that Wilders has even received help from American right-wing activists attracted by his anti-EU and anti-Islam views. Normally, Dutch elections are not normally seen as a hot-bed of foreign intrigue. But now the input of American money has raised the stakes and the Dutch see this as an attack on national sovereignty and foreign interference in its democracy. However, it is difficult to measure the impact of outside support since most European countries have many regulatory loopholes.
A diplomatic crisis between the Netherlands and Turkey further deteriorated on Monday with both sides exchanging angry accusations after Turkish ministers were prevented from holding election rallies to gain support for plans to expand the executive powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan himself had accused the Netherlands of acting like the Nazis — which in turn sparked outrage in a country bombed and occupied by German military forces during Eorld War II. Previously, Turkey had already reacted ranting after Germany’s refusal to give permission to ministers to hold rallies there for security reasons. Erdogan compared such action to “Nazi practices”. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who faces a major challenge from far-rightist Wilders in the key general election said Erdogan’s comments were unacceptable and it was Ankara that should apologize. Rutte’s robust reaction could possibly tip the balance in his favour.
Nascent Nationalism and Populism in France
While a corruption scandal swirls around the conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon, nothing seems to affect Marine Le pen, the candidate of the National Front, a political party that combines ultra-nationalism, protectionism, and anti-immigrant sentiment. Her party is involved in a phony jobs scam in which 20 legislative assistants worked for Le Pen’s party while being paid by the European parliament. The National Front’s subsidiaries have also been indicted for fraud, misuse of corporate property, money-laundering and illegal campaign-financing. In the U.S., a long list of proven wrongdoing by Donald Trump did not affect his election chances a wit. Similarly in France, mainstream newspapers and television channels have hardly taken notice of the National Front’s illegal and criminal malpractices. The result is that Le Pen is riding a high wave of popular support and is expected to reach the second round of the presidential election. The first round of voting will be held on April 23 and if no candidate achieves a majority, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held on May 23.
Nothing seems to touch Le Pen especially her close nexus to Vladimir Putin and Russian banks. Her corruption and myriad political offences should have long disqualified her, but she remains the ‘darling’ of the media. In France there seem to be a series of imperceptible shifts, which according to the columnist Bernard-Henri Levy may fast be approaching the bursting point, and for the first time, “the irresponsible, xenophobic and crypto-fascist Marine Le Pen has the wind behind her and could, in fact, become France’s next president.”