Council of Councils: Report Card on International Cooperation 2017-2018The Genron NPO releases its evaluation
of international cooperation on top 10 global issues

May 10, 2018

Overall Grade on International Cooperation in 2017 is "Poor"

International cooperation in 2017 was poor, unchanged from the previous year. Only two issues--mitigating climate change and advancing international development --were rated as decent, but that is only because of the continued efforts for multilateral cooperation and not because any tangible results are in sight. There are no other areas where international cooperation is actually moving forward, illustrating how unstable the current international order is. Efforts for multinational cooperation continue to be sought in various fields. Furthermore, insufficient international cooperation is not the only reason for 2017's evaluation; actual failures were also considered. At this point it is hard to judge how a cooperative framework can be created when society continues to face further divisions. International cooperation did not fail because of expectations for continued efforts in areas such as nuclear nonproliferation and cybersecurity. That does not, however, imply that there is any specific resolution to such problems somewhere on the horizon. In fact, moves that may worsen the situation and even lead to war have not been ruled out. North Korea's development of nuclear missiles and its success in extending its missiles' ability to reach the U.S. mainland, as well as the inability to come up with effective measures and common rules to address cybersecurity, can all be considered failures of international cooperation. Yet international efforts have not ceased completely. There are disagreements and conflicts among nations that add confusion, but efforts persist, as demonstrated by UN sanctions imposed on North Korea four times in a year. International cooperation in 2017 has been tested by President Trump's unilateralism, and the world appears to have been at the mercy of his words throughout the year. No major catastrophe has occurred as a result, but it has challenged the various frameworks rooted in multilateralism. It has also been a year when the G7 and G20 scrambled to show their solidarity in an attempt to minimize divisions. With the United States losing interest in tackling global issues, China has started to show aggressive involvement in global governance with its view of the world as a community bound by a common destiny. But it is difficult to determine whether China's words and actions will contribute to resolving global issues and building a new world order, or whether they will merely highlight the conflicts. If one were to remain fairly optimistic, 2017 can be viewed as a year when moves to overcome the widening gaps caused by globalization as well as challenges to a global order based on freedom and multilateralism in place since the end of World War II emerged. Organizational reform started within the United Nations, such as efforts to improve health care, address poverty in developing nations, and the establishment of a structure that addresses domestic conflicts in different regions. Initiatives to achieve the SDGs continue, and the WHO has worked to establish an emergency medical system to fight infectious diseases. In the field of global trade, the TPP has moved on without the United States, and Britain has expressed an interest in the framework. Furthermore, negotiations between Japan and the European Union on an economic partnership agreement have been finalized. Globalization has widened the gaps and divisions, and forced people to look inward, and that has helped populists win elections. But multilateral efforts to address global issues have not ceased. That is the reason why efforts in advancing global trade, managing the global economy, promoting global health, and combating transnational terrorism have been mediocre.

Assessment Standard

5 Successful
4 Good 
3 Decent 
2 Mediocre
1 Poor 
0 Failed 

Evaluation in each global challenge

Preventing & Responding to Internal Violent Conflict

While the Islamic State has nearly been expelled from Syria, the road to peace remains long. The peace talks in Geneva from November to December 2017, under the auspices of the United Nations, strengthened the conflict between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition and ended without much progress. On the other hand, Iran, Russia, and Turkey have formed a separate framework toward peace in Syria and are striving for a political settlement. There is thus no cooperative mechanism in place in which all international parties act as a united whole. Apart from Syria, the Middle East and Africa also suffer from unresolved civil wars, terrorism, and refugee and humanitarian crises. The move to accept refugees in the United States and Europe has been decelerating and masses of refugees are moving into the neighboring countries of Turkey and Lebanon. International cooperation on the issue of sheltering refugees has reached a standstill. Therefore, the international performance in preventing and responding to intrastate violent conflict in 2017 as a whole was poor.

Preventing & Responding to Violent Conflict Between States

No comment.

Managing Cyber Governance

The year 2017 saw a rise in cyberattacks, with some suspected of being backed by national governments, as the case of the alleged North Korean cyberattack against the United States suggests. But there are no set rules to counter such attacks, and efforts to come up with common international rules are not making any progress as it is difficult to conduct concrete discussions on how to adapt existing legislation to cyberspace as well as on how to build new rules. The fifth round of deliberations by the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security, tasked with implementing the consensus report adopted in 2015, concluded in June 2017 without the release of a new consensus report for the UN General Assembly. But advanced nations have reached a certain degree of consensus, as seen in the 2017 Group of Seven's (G7) joint communique of the foreign ministers' meeting in Lucca, Italy, which approved the use of force in self-defense based on the UN Charter and application of international law as a countermeasure to international illegal activity. It is an irrevocable truth that the internet has improved the lives of people as well as contributed to economic development, but there is also a tendency for the state to try to control information for security and governance reasons. Such moves hamper the free flow of information. With a lack of common rules on cyber governance, the reliability of information on the internet is lost and its merits undermined. While acknowledging the efforts in 2017 for cyber governance, the fact is that these efforts have failed.

Expanding Global Trade

In 2017, President Trump's America First doctrine shook the international free trade system. The United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and began renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); both moves were included in the president's campaign pledges. At the same time, at the eleventh World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference held in Argentina in December, the U.S. representative left before the conference closed, and a declaration could not be adopted for the first time in six years. Communiques at the Group of Seven (G7) and Group of Twenty (G20) showed various signs of discord, including a statement to "fight protectionism." However, this discord did not necessarily result in the failure of the international free trade system, and some moves were made to control the rash inclination toward protectionism. The WTO ministerial conference in December adopted a decision regarding negotiations on e-commerce, which had not been possible at prior WTO conferences. At the same time, an agreement to tackle the problem of excess steel capacity was reached at the G20. Looking at the negotiations made in terms of international trade in 2017, the TPP, an agreement suited to the twenty-first century, is serving as a template for new rules. An official agreement has also been reached by the remaining eleven countries in the TPP, and the United Kingdom is also contemplating participation in the deal. At the same time, agreement has been reached regarding the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. Such moves indicate that free trade rule-making has not yet reached a standstill. Of course, it is still difficult to see where the NAFTA negotiations and President Trump's attitude toward trade restrictions on China will lead. Therefore, at this time, it would be most appropriate to acknowledge the dangers that these events may pose.

Promoting Global Health

Initiating quick responses to critical outbreaks of infectious diseases has been viewed as an issue in need of reform, particularly since the slow reaction to the outbreak of Ebola. The World Health Organization (WHO), with the help of the World Bank, as well as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in times of emergencies, played a central role in establishing a structure for nongovernmental organizations and pharmaceutical companies to liaise with the WHO and related agencies. The WHO has strengthened its regional offices by setting up new financial mechanisms and making preparations to dispatch necessary staff in times of emergencies. But fundamental reforms of WHO governance have yet to be realized, with regional offices still selecting their directors by regional vote instead of through a vote or appointment by the headquarters. The WHO administration under the new director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who started in October 2017, and it remains unknown if everything will proceed as intended. It is vitally important to grasp the general picture of any infectious disease outbreak and move to contain it as quickly as possible. For that, not only do emergency measures matter, but all countries need a fundamental health care system. Universal Health Coverage (UHC), which supports this need, has been included as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but the UHC process is still in the early stages. Measures addressing drug-resistant bacteria such as tuberculosis are also falling behind.

Advancing Development

No comment.

Mitigating & Adapting to Climate Change

No comment.

Managing the Global Economic System

No comment.

Combating Transnational Terrorism

While news that Iraqi and Syrian forces have driven the self-proclaimed Islamic State out of their countries is a good sign in terms of combating transnational terrorism, terrorists still have ways of accessing information and funds, and terrorism is taking on new forms such as lone-wolf attacks by individuals who sympathize with radical ideologies and carry out terrorist acts using vehicles and simple weapons. While international institutions and national governments are working to share information on such unorganized, everyday terrorism, there is no effective framework for cooperation nor is there any effective way to resolve this problem. Meanwhile, the ongoing battle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as seen in the proxy battlegrounds in Lebanon and Yemen, as well as President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, are heightening the instability in the Middle East and making it difficult to build a multinational and regional cooperation network for fighting global terrorism.

Preventing Nuclear Proliferation

In 2017, North Korea test-fired twenty missiles on fifteen occasions. The performance of the missiles improved to such an extent that they are said to pose a threat to the United States. The new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile fired on November 29, 2017, is reportedly capable of reaching the U.S. east coast. Pyongyang is believed to have more than twenty nuclear bombs, and as part of efforts to create nuclear warheads, it tested a hydrogen bomb in September for the first time in a year. Because the world has not been able to halt North Korea's nuclear development program, it is inevitable that the prevention of nuclear proliferation is being evaluated as a failure. However, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution against North Korea as many as four times in 2017, reinforcing economic sanctions step by step. Yet, multilateral efforts to shift from sanctions to a diplomatic process to address North Korea's nuclear development have failed. North Korea is showing signs of making its possession of nuclear weapons a fait accompli. Maintaining efforts for a peaceful resolution should be the fundamental priority, but this an extremely dangerous situation and many observers doubt whether such efforts alone will result in a nuclear-free North Korea. Furthermore, multinational cooperation by nations in Northeast Asia is not functioning at the political level. The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers has been threatened by U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who announced that he will not recertify the agreement. But the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has not been affected and the deal still holds.


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