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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.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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