Two years ago, the World Economic Forum launched a Global Governance Initiative that brought together a group of experts from around the world to map the state of the world on peace and security, education, environment, health, human rights, and hunger and poverty. The initiative provides an assessment, a numeric score, of the level of effort toward reaching these goals by all the relevant actors combined: governments, international organizations, civil society and business. The maximum (best) score is 10, the minimum 1 (no effort); 0 signifies going backward.

The second annual report was presented to the community of global leaders assembled in Davos last week. Last year the world’s efforts had scored around 3. This year, while most subjects stayed at the same score, we rated the world slightly more dangerous than a year ago and scored the year a 2. Why?

The Iraq nightmare continued; a new man-made catastrophe arose in Sudan’s Darfur region; the situation in the Congo deteriorated; Kosovo erupted again; and murderous terrorist outrages occurred from Madrid and Beslan to Jakarta. Efforts to anticipate or thwart these events fell far short of what was needed to free the world’s peoples of the scourge of war and mass violence.

In Iraq, the occupying U.S. and coalition forces and foreign civilian contractors were the targets of attacks of ever-growing ferocity by insurgents and terrorists. There were even more victims among Iraqi civilians, the deliberate or incidental targets of bombings by Iraqi insurgents and terrorists and of U.S. attacks on rebel strongholds.

Coalition authorities formally handed over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, following a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing plans to hold elections by this month and authorizing the U.S.-led multinational force to remain in Iraq subject to the approval of the Iraqi government. The will of coalition countries was increasingly tested by hostage-taking in Iraq and terrorist attacks at home. Questions remain as to whether the security situation will permit the conduct of credible elections Sunday.

Afghanistan struggled throughout 2004, with the international community often failing in its promises to provide security and narcotics production careening out of control. The Taliban and other insurgent groups increasingly clashed with the U.S.-led coalition force in the south and east while the north and northeast saw regular factional fighting, starkly highlighting a continuing lack of central government control.

Election workers and international aid and construction workers were increasingly the targets of rebel attacks. The presidential election in October proceeded relatively smoothly. The next big test will be parliamentary elections in April. While Kabul remains relatively stable, expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force beyond the capital has had only a superficial impact on the security situation.

Although Kashmir continues to be a flash point, both India and Pakistan declared their commitment in September to detente and a negotiated settlement. Initial discussions have focused on general confidence-building and normalization rather than Kashmir itself. Tension has been reduced with the restoration of communication links, but fighting within Kashmir continues. January has already witnessed puzzling incidents of firings across the Line of Control, which separates the two military forces.

Elsewhere in Asia, Maoist forces continued their insurgency in Nepal, while renewed tensions kept Sri Lanka on edge. Indonesia saw persistent violence in Aceh and an outbreak of fighting between Christians and Muslims in Maluku. However, a smooth presidential election in September and the strong mandate given to new President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has raised hopes for an improvement in Indonesia’s many troubles.

Despite some decrease in terrorist incidents, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained unresolved and continued both to destabilize the region and fuel Islamist extremism. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, but faces much opposition.

Rarely has the death of a major and iconic leader produced such open expressions of optimism about revival of a moribund peace process. But that is the nature of politics in the Middle East, where the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had increasingly been seen as the problem, not a solution. The election of Mahmoud Abbas earlier this month as his replacement could be the hope of better prospects or the lull before the storm.

The threat of international terrorism intensified as the war in Iraq proved a boon to recruitment and motivation. Iraq saw more terrorist attacks than anywhere else in 2004, and lost more lives to terrorism, with large scale car bombings the preferred modus operandi. Particularly gruesome was the kidnapping and beheading of foreign workers.

Although international efforts have conspicuously failed to address what are often argued to be terrorism’s key underlying causes — including political hostility generated by the occupations of Palestine and Iraq — cooperation is improving in the development and implementation of antiterrorist measures.

In Iran and North Korea, there was, at best, a halt toward nuclear proliferation. At worst, international efforts were too little and too late.

The overall experience of the last 10 to 15 years is that the number of battle deaths annually is decreasing; deadly conflict and mass violence are not inevitable; and well-targeted conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building efforts do make a difference.

Will 2004 prove to have been a watershed? With so much going wrong, the limits of what can be achieved by unilateral action — and by less than fully committed cooperative action — were starkly revealed. There are signs that lessons have been learned:

The United States is establishing new machinery for coordinating post-conflict state-building.

Much thought is being given to the general problem of failed, failing and fragile states.

The African Union is showing the way for other regional organizations with its determination to act as a force for peace and challenging the richer world to give it the capacity to do so.

Developed countries are looking hard at how to refashion armed forces to respond to contemporary challenges.

Fresh attention is being given to restoring the authority and legitimacy of the United Nations.

Expectations are that 2005 — the U.N.’s 60th anniversary year — could be the year of a real turnaround. That sense of optimism was reinforced, paradoxically, by the speed, empathy, good will and genuine cooperation with which the world rallied to the victims of the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that hit southern Asia on Dec. 26.

We can only hope that the world’s governments, business and civil society organizations seize the opportunities to make this a better year.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.