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Israeli democracy, Taiwan invasion, US civil war, and more: Your questions, answered

Trump, robot, tank, ect. on top of colorful flags

Trump, robot, tank, ect. on top of colorful flags

Jess Frampton

Best guess on what the war in Ukraine will look like 12 months from now? (Michael Riley)

A frozen conflict with both sides exhausted, US and Western support starting to erode, Russia fully isolated from the G7 and behaving like a rogue state with asymmetric attacks against NATO, and the risk of dangerous accidents higher than ever.

What will be the impact of the suspension of the Black Sea grain deal? (Nia Bello)

A lot of new antagonism toward Russia from the Global South, in particular sub-Saharan countries like Kenya (which accused Moscow of “stabbing it in the back”), because global food and fertilizer prices are going to go up and, this time around, Russia will find it harder to deflect responsibility for it. Initially, it seemed possible that some grain ships would still be able to get out of the region (with Turkish escorts and/or NATO/UN guarantees), but recent Russian strikes on Ukrainian port infrastructure and grain storage as well as stepped-up threats against commercial shipping signal that the supply disruption will be extensive. On the other hand, in the past year Ukraine has meaningfully reduced its dependence on Black Sea routes for its agricultural exports, half of which now reach global markets either overland or by river through Europe (compared to just 10% before the invasion). That, combined with a record wheat crop from Russia and export increases by major producers elsewhere in the world, should keep the impact on global food prices from reaching extreme levels.

Would a Donald Trump reelection in 2024 undermine Ukraine’s efforts to push Russian forces out of Ukraine? (Paul Cianfarano)

Yes. Trump has repeatedly said he’d “end the war in 24 hours” (why so long?), reduce aid for Ukraine, and strongly push for negotiations. But the extent to which that view gets executed on would depend in part on the composition of his cabinet. Remember that during his presidency, Trump was warmly disposed toward Putin, but actual US policy toward Russia took a harder line than under Obama (tougher sanctions, Javelin missiles to Ukraine, etc.) because of the influence of Russia hawks like Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and other senior advisors.

What are the chances a third-party candidate will join the 2024 race, and who is it more likely to hurt? (Hakeem Janah)

Well, the fact that both nominees are historically unpopular – and, accordingly, that a large number of voters will be up for grabs or otherwise won’t turn out at all – increases the incentive for third-party candidates to come in (I’m looking at you, Joe Manchin). However, the chance of any independent candidate winning is far lower than the chance they hand the election to Trump, who has a much more committed base than Biden. Knowing that, I think it’s ultimately unlikely someone serious like Manchin decides to run unless Biden has to pull out for health-related issues and Kamala Harris becomes the Democratic nominee.

Is Guatemala's democracy at risk? What would be the implications for the US of a failed state there? (Laura Gomez)

It is. President Alejandro Giammattei and his allies are using extralegal means to try to prevent anti-corruption opposition candidate Bernardo Arevalo, the strong favorite to win the August 20 election, from reaching the presidency and threatening their business interests. If they succeed, the country would not become a failed state, but it would slide toward further authoritarianism and kleptocracy. The US would be inclined to cut back economic aid significantly in that scenario, but it probably would stop short of imposing sanctions given the domestic political costs of the surge in migration that would ensue if Guatemala stopped cooperating on border security.

Is democracy dead in Israel? (Gal Rivkin)

Not at all. It's very much alive, as evidenced by the extraordinary (and completely peaceful) outcry among so many Israeli citizens over six months of protesting the government’s attempts to undermine Israel's independent judiciary. The first piece of that, the “reasonableness bill” that passed on Monday, is by itself not a death knell for democracy, though it will probably allow Netanyahu to appoint officials and judges who will make the corruption cases against him go away. If the ruling coalition persists with the next couple of pieces of legislation, which would allow the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to overturn judicial decisions with a simple majority, that would be a more significant threat to Israeli democracy.

As the power in our world becomes more fragmented, are there any agendas or areas that will see joint global action? (Ali Al Suhail)

Climate change, definitely. Nuclear non-proliferation, I hope – before another one goes off. And if we don't see it in AI … we are in big trouble.

How long do you think it’ll take for Congress to regulate generative AI models? (Clara Jones)

I don’t think it’s going to happen. They’ll try, but AI will move much faster than Congress can. Which means we need a new, more agile, and hybrid model of governance. More from me soon on this, so stay tuned.

Do you agree with Peter Zeihan that China only has 10 years left? (Renni Deacon)

No. I’m not convinced that China’s serious demographic challenges are either near-term or inexorable. For example, China’s pension age is low by international standards (60 for men, 55 for women) and hasn’t changed in decades despite big jumps in life expectancy. China can halve its demographic tax by 2035 by introducing 40 million more people into the workforce. China’s educational system has only recently seen dramatic increases in funding, with related improvements coming in quality, especially in rural areas, which will also help boost higher-quality labor participation in the economy. China can further increase productivity by increasing urbanization rates (now 65%, compared to developed countries at 80%) and, in particular, moving workers out of low-productivity agriculture (25%, compared to 3% in most industrialized countries). Don’t get me wrong, demographics are a huge challenge (and I quite like Peter, even though we disagree on some things) … but China has at least 10-15 years of space, and several tools, to address it.

Will China try to take Taiwan by force? And if so, what is the likely timeline? (Berton Woodward)

Not in the near term, given the current balance of power and economic interdependence between the US and China. Having just witnessed the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Xi Jinping knows that an attack on Taiwan would risk devastating economic damage, sweeping diplomatic isolation, and a humiliating military defeat against a still-superior US – all of which would threaten Xi’s and the Communist Party’s standing. There’s no reason for him to take that risk in the near term when he can wait for the balance of power to swing more in his favor (or for a major political crisis in the US that distracts Americans, or for a US president who's unwilling to fight for Taiwan), allowing him to change the political map without firing a shot. Longer term, as China’s economic and military influence grows and as it works to close the semiconductor gap with the West, the potential for a fight goes up.

Do you think the US will split into two or more countries in the next 10 years? (@zk_rollup_chad)

No. In large part because the military and judiciary remain politically independent and committed to upholding the rule of law. But people shouldn’t believe “this can’t happen here.” The United States is by far the most politically divided and dysfunctional of advanced industrial democracies, and it’s hard to be optimistic about the trajectory over the coming years. The 2020 election and its aftermath – Jan. 6, a delegitimized national election, a historically divided country – was not a big enough crisis to bring about structural change to address the dysfunction in the country. Americans are more polarized than ever, and a recent SPLC study found domestic support for "participating in a political revolution even if it is violent in its ends" is historically high among young people – roughly 40% across the political spectrum. I’ve grown increasingly concerned that the 2024 election will bring more political violence on both sides of the aisle and risk a greater political crisis, irrespective of who wins.

What are the four levers we could pull to reduce political division in the US? (@Eric17727617)

Ranked choice voting. Mandatory verification of all social media accounts (while still allowing anonymity). Bipartisan districting for House seats. And exclusively public campaign financing (aka no more dark/corporate/super PAC funding).

What is an issue that isn’t receiving enough attention? (Paul Vant)

One billion more Africans joining the planet with the full potential to participate in global development and thrive as human beings, but neither the infrastructure nor the investment to realize it.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to work in the geopolitics/political risk field? What is a good way to break into it? (Craig Long)

Develop great content. Learn how to best communicate it (across various fora). And build a relevant network of principals in some area of the field (corporates, global markets, policymakers, educators, influencers, etc.). In that order.


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