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CFR Report Card Gives Poor Grades to Efforts to Address Major Global Challenges

April 25, 2013
Council on Foreign Relations

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The international community and the United States fare poorly on most of six major global challenges, according to a new report by the Council on Foreign Relations' (CFR) International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program.

More than fifty experts assessed international and U.S. efforts between 2008 and 2012 to address climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, transnational terrorism, armed conflict, global finance, and public health. The Global Governance Report Card gives international institutions, states, and nonstate actors a sense of how they are doing and how they can improve. It assigns letter grades and evaluates performance in specific subcategories.

Performance was worst on climate change, where experts gave the international community a D and the United States a C-. Efforts had best results on issues of global finance and terrorism. Experts awarded the international community a B and the United States a B+ on both.

The below-average grade on climate change was awarded to the international community because it failed to achieve meaningful global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or adequately prepare for climate threats. The report finds the U.S. efforts disappointing, due to resistance to new investments in green technology and climate regulation. U.S. leadership on the international stage is inconsistent, having "repeatedly diluted agreements or scuttled negotiations on an international climate change treaty."

The report attributes above-average grades in global finance to swift and coordinated policy responses to the 2008 financial crisis that helped the world economy rebound in the second half of 2009. The United States demonstrated leadership by pursuing expansionary economic policy to revive its own economy and by coordinating rescue packages and broader economic policy with international institutions.

On terrorism, the report recognizes successes that include the removal of high-level al-Qaeda leaders and effective policing of terrorist activity and financing. Terrorism deaths worldwide reached a five-year low in 2011.

Other assessments in the report include:

  • Nuclear nonproliferation. Experts gave the international community a C because countries that are not party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including India, Pakistan, and possibly Israel, continued to produce plutonium. North Korea's nuclear weapons program also remained active, and Iran was in the final stages of building a nuclear enrichment site. The United States received a B for its leadership of new global nonproliferation coalitions, commitment to reductions of its own arsenal, and other efforts.
  • Armed conflict. The United States barely outperformed the international community on managing armed conflict, earning a B- while the international community received a C+. The United States had an uneven record in helping prevent and manage armed conflict, seeing successes in the Sudan and the Philippines and mixed legacies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The international community has been divided on how to respond in Syria.
  • Public health. Though global health governance has become somewhat more effective, ongoing problems with reliable financial support and steady improvement on complex challenges led experts to give the international community a C. The United States earned a B for its leadership on initiatives such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President's Malaria Initiative.

View the Report Card at www.cfr.org/reportcard. Each issue is explored in depth in the Global Governance Monitor, IIGG's award-winning multimedia interactive. This report was made possible by the generous support of the Robina Foundation.

The International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program at the Council on Foreign Relations aims to identify the institutional requirements for effective multilateral cooperation in the twenty-first century.

The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.