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A Report Card On Global Cooperation: Decent On Iran, Lousy In Syria

Kurdish rebels in northern Syria walk near the devastated town of Kobani last November. In a global report card on international cooperation, the failure to halt civil wars, like the one in Syria, was cited as the biggest shortcoming.

The past year has been a bleak one in global affairs: The relentless carnage in Syria. Russia's annexation of Crimea. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Is there anything to applaud?

The coordinated international pressure on Iran, which has led to detailed negotiations on the country's nuclear program, was one of the few bright spots, according to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations and 25 other international policy institutes that teamed up to produce a global report card on how the global community performed collectively last year.

Nuclear non-proliferation worldwide received the highest grade, a B-, out of 10 categories ranked by the institutes.

"The unprecedented sanctions regime against Iran demonstrated that resolved, unified international action on the economic front can bring about significant diplomatic achievements," said Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military commander who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. "2014 gave a good demonstration that nuclear proliferation can be effectively prevented."

Of course, even this development has its opponents. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the most outspoken critic of the negotiations that the U.S. and other world powers have been conducting with the Iranians. The negotiators reached a framework deal in April and are trying to work out a comprehensive agreement by June 30.

A Failure To Halt Conflicts

On most other fronts, global cooperation was rated middling to poor. Eight categories received grades in the C range, including the global economy, climate change and international terrorism.

Pulling up the rear was world's inability to prevent or end major internal conflicts. That got a D.

No major wars ended last year and the United Nations is currently conducting 16 peacekeeping operations around the globe.

"The international community and the U.N. have failed in our responsibility to protect citizens from intrastate violent conflict. The worst example is, of course, Syria," said Michael Fullilove, executive director of Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy.

To drive home that point, the number of refugees worldwide topped 50 million last year, reaching the highest level since World War II.

The policy institutes said there are opportunities to make this year a much better one for international cooperation.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, designed to increase trade among a dozen countries in the Americas and Asia, could provide significant long-term benefits to some of the world's largest and most dynamic economies, according to its supporters. The U.S. and the European Union also have a major trade deal in the works.

"The good news is that despite the continuing global economic crisis in many parts of the world, protectionism has not spiked," said Rohinton Medhora of Canada's Center for International Governance Innovation.

On trade and other issues, the policy institutes appeared to be in general agreement. But many world leaders face a much tougher time in building consensus.

President Obama, for example, may have solid backing from these institutes as he pushes for the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. But the president is facing opposition among some fellow Democrats who feel that the result will be a loss of American jobs in manufacturing and other industries.

The Council of Foreign Relations and the other institutes released the report card Tuesday at a gathering in Washington.

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