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COVID-19 and global political risk

COVID-19 and global political risk

On January 6, we wrote about the annual Global Top Risks report from Eurasia Group, our parent company. At the time, there was not yet a single confirmed death from COVID-19 in China or anywhere else.

That was 11 weeks ago.

You can now read a coronavirus-related update to that report, which details the many ways this global pandemic has altered the world's biggest political risk stories.

Some highlights…


Back in January, Eurasia Group's Top Risk #1, titled "Rigged!: Who Governs the US?" argued that the legitimacy of the 2020 US elections will be widely questioned, given that political polarization in the US has become so intense that millions of Americans now believe that courts, federal agencies, the media and US political institutions like the Federal Reserve have no credibility.

Coronavirus has made this problem worse by forcing a number of upcoming primaries to be postponed and making it nearly impossible for candidates to campaign. It's not clear if the party nominating conventions will take place. But most importantly, the coronavirus itself has become a bone of partisan contention in ways that hamper the unity that is needed to defeat it: a recent poll shows that Democrats see the threat in much more urgent terms than Republicans. Meanwhile, some Republicans have charged that media coverage of COVID-19 is a ploy to discredit Donald Trump.

Top Risk #2, titled "The Great Decoupling," detailed how the US-China rivalry would cause the two countries to decouple their economies from each other, not only in strategic technologies like semiconductors, cloud computing, and 5G, but in broader trade and investment too. COVID-19 has given fresh urgency to Western companies' efforts to cut China-dependent supply chains.

Top Risk #3, titled simply "US/China" focused on the growing likelihood of clashes over national security, influence, and political values. Sure enough, the coronavirus crisis now has President Trump and other US officials referring to COVID-19 as the "China Virus," since it originated inside China, while some Chinese officials claim that actually the US planted the virus in Wuhan. In a better world, COVID-19 might have encouraged the US and China to work together to contain the threat it poses. But for now, each side's approach to coronavirus is stoking acrimony with the other.

We encourage you to read the full report, because it also includes Eurasia Group's updated thinking on how COVID-19 can aggravate US-EU tensions, overwhelm India's public services and worsen sectarian tensions, undermine governments in Iran, Iraq, and Syria, inflame public anger in Latin America, and add one more area of unpredictability and political pressure in Turkey.

On all these subjects, here's a video of Ian Bremmer in his own words.

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As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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