To Keep You Up At Night: Top Risks 2018

To Keep You Up At Night: Top Risks 2018

The United States is deliberately narrowing its role in the world. Bold new contenders are looking to fill the gap. Popular trust in institutions is plummeting. New technologies are at the heart of international tensions and conflict. What could possibly go wrong?


Every January, our parent company Eurasia Group lists the ten biggest global risks for the coming year, as well as a few red herrings that you may not need to worry about. You can read the whole report here, but if you want a shortcut to geopolitical anxiety, we’ve got you covered:

#1 China loves a vacuum: Trump’s “America First” approach seeks to reduce America’s global role and responsibilities precisely as China is now angling to become a global superpower itself. In trade, technology, and even soft power competition — fresh friction between the world’s two largest economies will ripple across all sectors and regions this year.

#2 Accidents: There hasn’t been a major geopolitical crisis since 9/11, but in a fragmenting world without common understandings or leadership, 2018 could be the year something goes badly wrong: that might be a major cyberattack on critical infrastructure, a military miscalculation between rival powers in Syria, a misstep in North Korea, or… you tell us what worries you. We’re here for you.

#3 Global tech cold war: Mastery of artificial intelligence and big data will be essential for any 21st century global power — and so a new “space race” has begun as countries seek to dominate these technologies. The main event? China’s rigorous state-driven model versus the decentralized innovation of America’s powerful private sector. It’s on. Alexa’s not sure what her mother tongue will be in ten years’ time.

#4 Mexico: NAFTA hangs in the balance. Trump keeps needling Mexico about that wall. Rising anti-US sentiment has helped make anti-establishment candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador the frontrunner for July’s presidential election. His victory would usher in a period of profound political and economic uncertainty for Latin America’s second largest economy.

#5 US-Iran relations: Trump and the Mullahs — little love lost. The US will work harder this year to crush Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, raising the stakes in a region already riven by proxy conflicts between Tehran and US-ally Saudi Arabia. What’s more, the possible collapse of the Iran nuclear agreement could open the way to direct military confrontation with Iran.

#6 The erosion of institutions: Across the developed world, popular trust in media and government institutions is falling, undermining governance, accelerating anti-establishment sentiment, and increasing the prospect of unpredictable social and political outcomes.

#7 Protectionism 2.0: A fresh form of protectionism is targeting “new” sectors of the economy like IP and cross-border data flows, while implementing “behind the border” barriers to free trade and investment. With no common rules here — or anyone leading the charge for greater cooperation — the global landscape of trade rules is turning into a confusing and costly kaleidoscope.

#8 United Kingdom: So where’s the new UK-EU border going to be? That’s just one of many unresolved Brexit issues. Stalled or bungled negotiations could cost UK Prime Minister Theresa May her job. And if that happens, buckle up for a wild ride in the UK this year, as avowed socialist Jeremy Corbyn could be within striking distance of the premiership.

#9 Identity politics in southern Asia: Nationalism rocked Europe and the US in 2017, and in 2018 it’ll come to play in Asia. Southeast Asia will see rising sectarian and anti-Chinese tensions, while in India Hindu nationalism and anti-secularism are gaining fresh traction. Will these ideas stoke divisions in a way that undermines the region’s stellar economic and political progress?

#10 Africa’s security: For many years, the continent’s economic success stories such as Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia, have been reasonably insulated from the negative impacts of volatility elsewhere in the region. But this year, domestic political challenges and sparser external support will make them more vulnerable, in particular to the impact of militancy and transnational terrorist groups.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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