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.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truck loads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?

I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.

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