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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.

Meet Alessandra Cominetti, a recipient of MIT Technology Review Magazine's Innovators Under 35 award. As a lab technician at Eni's Research Centre for Renewable Energy in Novara, Alessandra has devoted her career to finding new solutions and materials to optimize solar energy. Much like the serendipitous encounter that resulted in her employment, her eagerness and willingness to try new things allowed her to stumble upon a material for the creation of portable solar panels.

Watch her remarkable story on the latest episode of Faces of Eni.

"If [the election] is very close and it ends up in the courts, that kind of protracted situation I think will lead many Americans to believe that it was an unfair election." Rick Hasen, election law expert and author of Election Meltdown, lays out some of the worst-case scenarios for Election Day, ranging from unprecedented voter suppression to dirty tricks by foreign actors. The conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. The episode begins airing nationally in the US on public television this Friday, October 30. Check local listings.

"No election is conducted perfectly, and elections have all kinds of problems.We're going to have more problems because we're running an election during a pandemic." Election law expert Rick Hasen cautions that both campaigns could misconstrue honest mistakes in the administration of this week's national election as nefarious acts. The integrity of the election, he warns, could be compromised by human error and the unprecedented challenges posed by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Hasen's especially concerned about key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

With COVID increasing in France, Germany, Spain, and elsewhere, has Europe lost control of the pandemic?

Well, I wouldn't say lost control, but clearly it is a very worrying situation. With COVID increasing virtually everywhere, we see a new wave of semi-lockdowns... it's not as bad as it was in the spring... with the hope of being able to contain the surge during the month of November. Let's wait and see.

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An extended conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top State Department official under President Obama and the CEO of the think tank New America. Slaughter spoke with Ian Bremmer about how a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy.

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