AALL 2017 Recaps: FCIL-SIS Book Club Discussion

By Gabriela Femenia

Book coverNow an FCIL-SIS standing tradition, the book club coordinated by Dan Wade met in Austin at 12:15pm on July 17 to discuss this year’s title: Richard Haass, A World in Disarray (Penguin Press, 2017). In attendance were Dan Wade (Yale), Dan Donahue (Houston), Alice Izumo (Columbia), Loren Turner (Minnesota), Susan Gualtier (Penn), and Gabriela Femenia (Penn).

Dan Wade opened the discussion by sharing an email from John Wilson (UCLA), who could not attend. The group appreciated and largely agreed with his review, concluding that it provides a good summary of 20th and 21st century U.S. foreign policy, offers apt critiques of our approach to the national debt, and advances an interesting concept of “sovereign obligation” as a framework for post-Cold War foreign relations, although the attendees also expressed some skepticism about the effectiveness of such a concept. In particular, the participants questioned whether the concept was sufficiently defined apart from being contrasted with traditional sovereignty on the one hand and “responsibility to protect” on the other, and thought that more illustrative examples would have been helpful in solidifying the distinctions. Haass’s failure to suggest an enforcement mechanism for sovereign obligation was also pointed out. The group also noted the lesser depth in treatment of the final third of the book compared with the first two thirds, which reflects the book’s origin as a series of lectures given at Cambridge.

The discussion then turned to the implications of the Trump administration’s policies, which were not discussed in the book as it was completed before the transition. For example, Haass favorably cites the Paris Accords as a model for foreign policy approach in a post-Cold War world, but the administration’s decision to withdraw from the climate accords casts some doubts on Haass’s predictions. Similarly, Haass’s favorable positions toward the Trans Pacific Partnership, a path to citizenship, and the importance of predictability in foreign policy, appear to clash with the administration’s practices and positions thus far.

The participants also offered a few additional critiques of Haass’s analysis, including whether the current moment is really as new and unprecedented as he claims, whether his view is too Western-centered, and whether it sufficiently addresses the role of international law vs. soft law. The discussion concluded with thanks to Dan Wade for establishing this useful annual discussion, and coordinating the meeting.

The book club is open to all interested participants! If you would be interested in participating in the discussion next year, keep an eye out for the call for title suggestions about a month before the AALL annual meeting, over the FCIL-SIS’s My Communities board and email.

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