IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People's Bank of China, and France's Finance Minister Michel Sapin attend a seminar at a G-20 meeting about the international financial system in Paris March 31.

The impressive rise in global teamwork

When it comes to working together to solve global issues, humanity has lately shown big improvements. Progress in international cooperation can beget progress.

In just the past year, the world community has signed a climate-change pact, made advances in curbing nuclear weapons, moved closer toward mega-regional trade deals, and set goals to end poverty based on previous progress. And it has improved its governance of cyberspace, pandemics, and the global financial system.

Welcome to the worldwide web – no, not the internet kind – but rather what has become an expanding web of cooperation – from the Arctic to outer space – that is tackling humanity’s biggest issues.

This progress in teamwork can be hard to measure. It doesn’t always come with treaties. More often these days it arrives in informal commitments through the spreading overlap of existing institutional structures. It can involve governments, industries, or civil society. The international forum known as Group of Twenty (G-20) is a good example.

Despite the difficulty of measurement, the Council of Foreign Relations has tried to tally up this phenomenon over the past two years. The Council has asked hundreds of experts at 26 think tanks across the globe to assess cooperation on 10 major issues, from terrorism to trade. Its latest “report card” shows impressive improvement. The world gets a “B” for working together, up from a “C” the year before.

The results are backed up by at least one big-picture expert, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In a commencement speech this month, he gave this overview:

“Even amidst these crises, the bigger picture is clear: slowly but surely, the human condition is improving. I have seen, in my lifetime, countries ... transform their futures. I have witnessed, in ten years as Secretary-General, the remarkable power of international cooperation.”

The global issues with the weakest grades involve violent conflicts (earning a “C” or “C-”). Yet even there, international efforts are still able to contain the most dangerous trouble-spots: Ukraine, Syria-Iraq, Yemen, and the South China Sea. Even as an international coalition degrades the Islamic State’s “caliphate,” the world’s biggest failure may be the humanitarian crisis in Syria and among its refugees.

For two days this May, the United Nations General Assembly held an unusual “thematic” review of cooperation on security issues and how to improve it. Why was this important? The number of peace operations, either with troops or in political intervention, has increased over the last two years, finds the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. “The UN and regional organizations appointed over 20 new high-level mediators in the last two years to deal with crises from Burkina Faso to Ukraine, “ the center stated in a survey.

That’s a clear sign of how much humanity values both peace and the joint efforts to achieve it.

With the world more interconnected than ever, it has become easier and more necessary for people to cooperate. The frictions from a closer global community receive most of today’s headlines. Those cannot be ignored. But as the authors of the Council’s survey wrote: “Progress will beget progress where global leadership is firm and flexible cooperation works...”

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