A Week of Rising International Risk

A Week of Rising International Risk

The most consequential story in international politics right now is the sheer number of potentially consequential stories. Here are ten of them.

The US-China Trade War: Fed up with a lack of progress in negotiations, President Trump announced new tariffs on more Chinese goods. Beijing, with one eye on the US electoral map, responded by telling its state-run companies to stop buying from US farmers and then allowed traders to push the Chinese currency to a worrying new low. Markets quaked.

Fury in Kashmir: On Monday, India revoked the partial autonomy of the Indian-controlled sector of the disputed province of Kashmir. Pakistan, which controls the rest of the territory, denounced the move as illegal and downgraded relations. Large numbers of Kashmiris, some of whom fear that India wants to alter the region's demographic balance, took to the streets in protest, and hundreds were arrested. This heavily militarized territory has suffered from war, insurgent violence, and terrorism—and the political temperature has just gone up. As of this writing, landline connections, internet and mobile coverage are suspended inside Kashmir, and tens of thousands of additional Indian troops there.

Hong Kong Showdown: There is no clear off-ramp for the continuing conflict between Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters and the city's Beijing-backed government. China has warned its troops will intervene to restore order if necessary. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers responded with the city's first general strike in 50 years. Street protests continue, and on Monday, police reportedly fired nearly as many rounds of tear gas as they did during the entire months of June and July. At this point, it's not clear that conciliatory gestures from Beijing would ease tensions.

An Ebola Emergency: The spread of the Ebola virus inside the Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be accelerating, according to the World Health Organization officials. Save the Children, a relief organization, reports that Ebola has killed more than 500 children in that country. Last week, the government of Rwanda briefly closed its border with the DRC, where there have been at least four reported cases of the highly contagious virus in Goma, a border city of more than one million people and a major regional travel hub.

US-Iran Enmity: Iran reported on Monday that its navy had seized another foreign ship in the Persian Gulf, this one an Iraqi vessel. This is the latest confrontation near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passageway through which one-quarter of the world's traded oil passes each day. It's also a reminder that Iran's frustration with US sanctions continues to grow. The US accused Iran this week of jamming the GPS systems onboard passing ships to fool them into drifting into Iranian waters. The US and Iran have each said they want to talk but can't agree on where to begin.

North Korean Warning Shots: A new UN report claims that North Korea has used cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges to earn $2 billion for weapons. To protest US-South Korean military exercises, North Korea has test-fired four short-range missiles in the past two weeks and warns that it's considering a "new road," presumably one that leads away from the progress Trump and Kim have claimed in nuclear negotiations. President Trump says the missile tests are not alarming because the weapons could not reach the US mainland. But they could reach US allies, say South Korean and Japanese officials.

An Embargo of Venezuela: The US government has announced sweeping new sanctions against the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro, aimed not only at Venezuelan government assets in the US but also at countries, companies, and individuals who do business with it. The goal is to deprive of Maduro of support from Russia and China, and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized by the US and many other countries as Venezuela's legitimate president, applauded the move. The sanctions are likely to add to the hardship of a people already in economic crisis.

A Moscow Crackdown: In Russia's capital, police have arrested nearly 3,000 people this summer during demonstrations that began as protests against the exclusion of opposition candidates in Moscow's upcoming municipal elections. But despite a demonstrated willingness by police to rough up demonstrators, another protest rally is planned for this weekend. In 40 other Russian cities, supporters of often-jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who may have been poisoned earlier this summer, have announced "pickets in solidarity with Moscow."

A Brexit Crash: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain will leave the European Union, with or without a deal on the future UK-EU relationship, by October 31. A no-deal Brexit poses serious economic risks for both sides. What if Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn calls a no-confidence vote, triggering a two-week process in which parliament must form an alternative majority to prevent an early election? Leaked comments from Johnson advisor Dominic Cummings signal that, even if an alternative majority becomes apparent, the prime minister could refuse to resign… and call an election to be held after October 31. Imagine the resulting chaos.

American Political Violence: Bitterness between President Trump and Democrats—and their respective supporters—is intensifying. One of this week's two mass shootings—in El Paso, Texas—was explicitly political. It appears the man who murdered 20 people there had minutes before posted an online protest against a "Hispanic invasion of Texas." Democrats were quick to point out Trump's repeated use of the word "invasion" to describe illegal immigration at the nearby US-Mexican border. Trump supporters accuse Democrats of exploiting mass murder for political gain. The US now moves toward an election year with the risk of further political violence on the rise.

The bottom line: None of these stories is fated to end in disaster for those exposed to them. But all of them look to be moving in the wrong direction.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

Watch the GZERO World episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?

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55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

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