Concert crashers: British officers during the Crimean War, 1855.
ROGER FENTON / LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

A stable world order is a rare thing. When one does arise, it tends to come after a great convulsion that creates both the conditions and the desire for something new. It requires a stable distribution of power and broad acceptance of the rules that govern the conduct of international relations. It also needs skillful statecraft, since an order is made, not born. And no matter how ripe the starting conditions or strong the initial desire, maintaining it demands creative diplomacy, functioning institutions, and effective action to adjust it when circumstances change and buttress it when challenges come.

Eventually, inevitably, even the best-managed order comes to an end. The balance of power underpinning it becomes imbalanced. The institutions supporting it fail to adapt to new conditions. Some countries fall, and others rise, the result of changing capacities, faltering wills, and growing ambitions. Those responsible for upholding the order make mistakes

To read the full article

  • RICHARD HAASS is President of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.
  • More By Richard Haass