2021's Top Risks: global challenges intensify

Eurasia Group today published its annual list of the main geopolitical threats for 2021. For the second year in a row, the #1 Top Risk is rising political polarization in the United States, which not many years ago was deemed one of the world's most stable nations, with strong institutions and — as the sole global superpower — with a clear mandate to lead the world on many fronts.

That's all gone, for now. Why, and what does this mean for America and other countries?


As outgoing US President Donald Trump continues to undermine democracy by questioning his recent election loss to Joe Biden, and Republican lawmakers heed Trump's call to erode the legitimacy of US political institutions, we've reached a new normal in American politics, Eurasia Group Chairman Cliff Kupchan said during a livestream discussion to launch the 2021 Top Risks report.

That new normal is that in future US elections, the American president will be rejected by half the country no matter his agenda, Kupchan explained: in the current political environment, the world simply cannot look to the US to solve any global problem, much less a once-in-a-generation crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.

For Ian Bremmer, president of GZERO Media and Eurasia Group, America is in no position to provide global leadership at a moment when other countries would have hugely benefited from it, so other rising powers may fill the void created by the US abdication from its own role as superpower. The prime candidate to do so is China, which is increasingly competing with the US for global influence.

Indeed, Kupchan expects US-China rivalry to intensify — albeit in a different way than under Trump — when Biden takes office. There'll be a bidding war between both sides to win global hearts and minds as the new US president attempts to "multilateralize" US competition with China on issues such as COVID-19 vaccines or green technology.

Bremmer believes that China has the upper hand in vaccine diplomacy, and that unless Biden's US vaccine rollout is a roaring success, China is better positioned to exercise its soft power throughout the developing world with jabs that are cheaper and easier to distribute than the American vaccines.

Sustainability will be another arena for competition. Biden will try to clip China's wings on Chinese quest to benefit economically from the world's renewed push for renewable energy due to the pandemic, Bremmer added.

A longer-than-expected recovery from COVID-19, furthermore, is poised to make the world even more "GZERO" than it was a year ago. Kupchan said that the lasting scar tissue of the pandemic will create haves and have nots between and within countries in a leaderless world where the US is simply too divided to govern itself — let alone the international system it helped create after World War II.

For Bremmer, the coronavirus did not spur a more "GZERO" world, which we were already in before COVID-19, but underscored its urgency by accelerating all other geopolitical risks. It made everything a lot worse, a lot faster.

Watch the above video for more insights from both experts on other 2021 Top Risks, including why we'll see huge inequality in how different parts of the world recover from the 2020 public health crisis, and questions posed by readers. Check out the full report here and GZERO Media's summary here.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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COVID has officially killed almost 3.5 million people around the world since the beginning of the pandemic. But some public health experts believe that the real number could be more than twice as high, because of challenges to accurately reporting the death toll in many countries around the world. A new study from the University of Washington contends, for example, that actual deaths are nearly 60 percent higher than reported in the US, twice as high in India, more than four times as high in Russia... and a staggering ten times higher than the official tally in Japan. Here's a look at how official figures compare to actual estimated deaths in the 20 countries where COVID has claimed the most lives.

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.

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What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.

Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.

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Would China really invade Taiwan?

The Red Pen

India’s COVID crisis hits home

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

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