One reason for the remarkable record of the New England Patriots is the team’s single-minded focus on the next game. Managing world affairs requires the same concentration on future challenges, for past accomplishments provide no guarantee of continued success. They can, however, lend confidence that, with the right preparation and effort, positive results will follow.
As one year gives way to the next, international leaders have an opportunity to build on several major achievements of 2015.
Of these, none is more important than the recent global agreement in Paris to prevent the most harmful impacts of climate change. Earlier negotiating efforts had failed because of divisions between industrialized and developing nations. By reaching out to China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, and by emphasizing the incredible economic potential of clean energy technology, we were able to secure an agreement that sends the right message to all. We have a shared responsibility now to sustain the momentum generated in Paris, so that the targets established there are considered not a ceiling on what we can accomplish, but rather the platform upon which we can make further gains.
In July, the United States and our negotiating partners agreed with Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a blueprint for blocking all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon. As it agreed to do, Iran has since begun dismantling critical elements of its nuclear facilities and, on December 28, shipped a major portion of its enriched uranium out of the country. That shipment more than triples our previous timeline of two to three months for Iran to acquire enough weapons-grade uranium for one weapon, and is an important piece of the technical equation that ensures an eventual breakout time of at least one year by implementation day. We must continue to monitor implementation of this agreement closely to ensure that the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran is removed as a threat to Middle East security and global peace.
In August, I had the privilege of traveling to Havana to raise the American flag above our embassy for the first time in 54 years. President Obama’s bold decision to normalize diplomatic ties with Cuba reflects both our own national interests and our desire to help the citizens of that country live in a more open and prosperous society. As I walked through the streets of Old Havana, I felt more strongly than ever that we should not allow our continued differences with the Cuban regime to prevent closer engagement with the Cuban people.
In October, after seven years of negotiation, the United States joined eleven other nations along the Pacific Rim in signing and sending to Congress the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that will ensure heightened labor and environmental standards in 40 percent of the global economy. The TPP will support American prosperity by lowering barriers to our exports and helping to level the commercial playing field for our workers and entrepreneurs.
A year ago, some public health professionals were estimating that as many as one million people would die before the outbreak of the Ebola virus was brought under control. Instead, the United States joined with partners in the international community, and with strong local partners in West Africa, to educate people about the virus and contain its spread, thus spelling the difference between death and life for hundreds of thousands of people.
The past year also marked important democratic gains in such countries as Nigeria, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela. With U.S. help, Colombia moved closer to ending the world’s longest-running civil war. At the UN, countries from across the globe agreed on a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — setting important goals in child nutrition, gender equity, education, poverty, and health.
Meanwhile, the conflict in Syria, the refugee crisis it has spawned, and the violent extremism to which it has contributed, remain a foremost challenge to us all. America’s strategy is three-fold. First, we have intensified our campaign — through the 65-member international coalition we have mobilized — to defeat the terrorist group known as ISIL or Daesh. Just this week, Iraqi forces, with coalition support, retook the provincial capital of Ramadi, further reducing the area controlled by the terrorists. Our efforts are directed both at Daesh’s core networks in Syria and Iraq and at strangling attempts by the terrorists to establish branches or inspire attacks elsewhere — including the United States. Second, we are working with partners to prevent violence in the Middle East from spreading and to care for refugees and other victims. Third, we have launched a renewed diplomatic initiative to de-escalate the conflict in Syria, encourage a political transition, and isolate the terrorists. This initiative has, for the first time, brought all the major international players together while providing a timetable for negotiations between the responsible opposition and Syria’s government.
The obstacles to peace in Syria remain daunting, but the need for a settlement is compelling, and the more progress we make toward that goal, the easier it will be to mount a truly sustained and unified effort against Daesh — the foremost embodiment of evil our generation has known, and a foe we are absolutely determined to defeat.
Despite turbulence and tragedy, the past year has provided fresh hope that the world community can come together and tackle even the hardest problems. That is good, because the demands of leadership are relentless and, as one calendar is replaced by the next, we must prepare — and, indeed, we are preparing — for the new tests that await.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.