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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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