Since human migrations began, germs have traveled with people, animals and traded goods. In an interconnected and mobile world, diseases such as HIV/AIDS and SARS can spread rapidly. Yet international cooperation through agencies such as the World Health Organization also allows for a collective response to global health threats and faster response times. Nations have developed diverse health care systems, aiming for cost-effective treatment. Yet the diverse systems contribute to disparities in global health, including availability of technology, pharmaceutical companies targeting innovations to maximize profits, and providers abandoning areas of need for higher salaries in the West, just to name a few.
As governments confront many challenges that are global in scale, leaders find they must cooperate in responding to financial, climate, terrorism and other crises. As a result, a global audience has developed keen interest in how and why nations select their leaders. On one hand, citizens expect sensible and collective action, transparency and fair representation; on the other hand, citizens and leaders fret about compromising security, sovereignty or loss of control. Diplomats and global organizations like the United Nations aim to achieve a balance, even as global communications allow citizens in democracies or authoritarian states to steer attention to issues. Attention to citizen demands and multilateral cooperation contribute to stability.
The global economy thrives on globalization and the increasing interdependence of finance, production, consumption and trade. Such integration has reduced poverty, yet varying national policies along with ever-increasing speed of transactions and market news have also contributed to imbalances, both among nations and within. Regulations often do not keep pace in managing cross-border debt, foreign direct investment, corporate practices, tax codes or economic bubbles. The eurozone crisis and the US subprime mortgage crisis have demonstrated that one nation’s problems and panic can spread like wildfire. Nations must combine a competitive spirit with cooperation to achieve stable economic growth and sustainable prosperity.
The links between security and globalization were highlighted by the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, and the subsequent long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lingering poverty, inequality, religious extremism and war can sow discontent and resentment as unprecedented global mobility lends access to education and travel in other countries. Despite use of drones, cyber-warfare and other advanced weapons technology to mount counterterrorist attacks, the marginalized can strike out at vulnerable urban or economic centers. Annual global defense spending exceeds $1.6 trillion. Containing the trade in weapons, whether nuclear bombs or assault rifles, and preventing them from falling into the wrong hands remain a challenge.