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International Cooperation on Key Issues Fell in 2013

A recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations highlights declining global cooperation across a range of issues—especially climate change, conflict prevention, and nuclear deproliferation.

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Inter Press Service

International cooperation on key global challenges declined in 2013, according to a new “report card” released by the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Particularly disappointing were international efforts in dealing with terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and global finance, according to the report which, however, found some gains in two areas – dealing with or preventing armed conflict and improving global health.

The report also found that cooperation on climate change, which last year’s report card found to be worth the lowest grade – a “D” – of all the major issues on which the report card focused, was neither better nor worse than the previous four years assessed by the 50-some experts who constituted the jury.

“The report card confirms a clear trend,” said Stewart Patrick, director of CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) programme, which issued the report. “Around the world, leaders are less willing to compromise and cooperate in global institutions – even when their interests align.”

U.S. leadership in mobilising other governments and international institutions to address these critical issues also seemed to falter during 2013, he added.

“The United States appears to be losing interest or capacity to marshal collective action to fight trans-national threats and or promote global goods,” according to Patrick.

The new report used last year’s inaugural report, which assessed progress in global governance in the six critical trans-national challenges over the period 2008 through 2012, as a benchmark.

It awarded grades based on the assessments of more than 50 experts – almost all of them from Washington- or New York-based academic institutions and think tanks, including CFR itself, as well as other mainstream organisations, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Brookings Institution. In that respect, the assessments appear to reflect very much a U.S.-centred perspective.

In addition to the “D” on climate change, last year’s edition awarded “Bs” to global cooperation in combating terrorism and global finance, a “C+” on dealing with armed conflict, a “C” on non-proliferation and global health. To the extent the grades either rose or fell in this year’s report, they did so only fractionally; for global finance, for example, the grade fell from “B” to “B-“.

Nonetheless, the overall assessment was negative. “Despite a steady if uneven global economic recovery, multilateral efforts to mitigate global risks and threats were at best lackluster,” according to the report. “In virtually every issue area, the dearth of effective global leadership proved a major stumbling block to more effective international cooperation.”

In addition to assigning grades, the report card, consistent with its schooling metaphor, identified class “leaders,” “laggards,” “truants,” and “detentions,” and awarded stand-outs with “gold stars” and “most improved” prizes in each issue area.

On climate change, for example, it named the European Union (EU) and the Pacific Islands as the class “leaders” in 2013.

This was due to the former’s advocacy for a strong successor to the Kyoto agreement and commitment to spend as much as 180 billion euros on climate-related projects in both the EU and developing countries over seven years. And the Islands were recognised for the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership that commits member states to a speedy transition to low-carbon economies.

China and the U.S., on the other hand, were given the “laggard” label for their failure, despite their status as the world’s top two emitters of carbon dioxide, to produce ambitious plans to curb their emissions. And Australia and Russia were deemed “truants” for repealing anti-pollution taxes and stymieing negotiations for a Kyoto successor, respectively.

At the same time, Canada was placed in “detention” for its government’s continuing reversals on its goals for reducing emissions.

While levels of cooperation on global finance were deemed “respectable” in 2013, some collaborative efforts faded, according to the report. It praised the leadership of the new Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the U.S. Federal Reserve, but noted how little progress has been made in strengthening the EU’s financial governance and the failure of the Group of 20 (G20) to coordinate policy more closely.

It also assessed as “poor” the progress – or lack of progress – in reforming the governance of international financial institutions, notably the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to give a stronger voice to emerging economies. It blamed the U.S. Congress – named as “truant” – for failing to approve the pending reforms.

On nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the report card cited little or no progress on key issues, including ratifications by major players of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the reduction of existing nuclear arsenals.

On the plus side, the report praised the agreement reached last November between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) on curbing Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Significantly, the report failed to name any “leader” and awarded a gold star to the P5+1 and “most improved” to Iran and Myanmar. Pakistan and Russia, on the other hand, were deemed “laggards” for their “obstinate positions” on disarmament and “worrying modernisation activities.”

Israel and India were identified as “truants” for failing to take steps to join the NPT, while detention was given to North Korea for testing another nuclear device and explicitly incorporating nuclear weapons into its national security strategy.

On dealing with armed conflict, the report card noted that U.N. and regional peacekeeping efforts improved markedly in 2013, in part due to the strong mandates given operations in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But these improvements could not overcome the pall cast by the ongoing civil war in Syria and the flare-up of armed conflicts in several African states, notably in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).

The report also complained that the international community needed to focus more on preventive measures, such as mediation, peace-building and state-building.

It praised France and the U.N. Department for Peacekeeping Operations as class “leaders” and awarded a gold star to the U.N. Department of Political Affairs.

The Economic Community of West African States and the African Union were deemed “most improved,” while laggards included the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has failed to address impunity in other regions besides Africa, the U.N. Peace-building Commission, and the U.N. Security Council due primarily to its failure to approve meaningful resolutions to halt the violence in Syria.

On global health, the report card praised the cooperation by both state and non-state actors in dealing with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and in expanding vaccinations for other infectious diseases. On the other hand, the report said the international community has fallen short on dealing with non-communicable diseases and in strengthening national health systems.

The U.S. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest source of non-governmental funding to global health initiatives by far, continue to be class “leaders,” according to the report which awarded gold stars to the World Bank for a new focus on health; India for its successful eradication of polio; and Rwanda for achieving the steepest drop in child mortality in recorded history.

“Most improved” was given to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria for major reforms that it carried out in its management.

Pakistan, however, was deemed truant due to the sharp rise in the number of polio cases and the government’s failure to protect vaccination officials from attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, the report card also suggested that the U.S. effort to track Osama bin Laden by mounting a fake vaccination campaign contributed to that failure.

Jim Lobe blogs about foreign policy at www.lobelog.com

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