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Top Risks 2019

Top Risks 2019

US-China relations are hitting the skids. The future of the Middle East is doubly uncertain now that US President Donald Trump wants to pull American troops out of Syria. Meanwhile, politics in Washington, DC are about to become a bitter smackdown.


And don't forget about the possibility of a no-holds barred cyber conflict.

But are any of these things the most important risks to watch in 2019?

Every January our parent firm, Eurasia Group, publishes a Top Risks report, which identifies the major political and geopolitical risks to watch in the year ahead. The full report is online (see it here), but here's a one sentence version of each risk to pique your interest (and your pulse.)

Let us know your thoughts

10. Nigeria's presidential election, which pits the ailing President Muhammadu Buhari against business tycoon Atiku Abubakar, could return an inconclusive result that leads to post-election upheaval in Africa's largest economy.

9. Ukraine: A little tension between Moscow and Kiev helps the presidents of both countries at home, but as Russia seeks to influence Ukraine's presidential and parliamentary elections this year, the armed standoff between the countries could get hot again, fast.

8. Mexico's popular and powerful new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, brings to office a centralized style and spendthrift plans to tackle inequality and security that could rattle Latin America's second largest economy.

7. Coalition of the Unwilling: Trump may be unpopular at home and among the globalist elite, but a growing group of populist, nationalist, and authoritarian leaders around the globe will all bolster Trump's revisionist impulses on the world stage.

6. Innovation Winter: The global environment for technological innovation will feel a chill this year as governmental and popular backlashes over security and privacy lead to tighter restrictions on investment and data use across major economies.

5. US domestic politics is going to get supremely ugly as Democrats assume the House and a combative President Trump responds to a slew of investigations in ways that could lead to a constitutional crisis.

4. European populists will gain firmer footing within EU institutions in elections slated for May, giving them an opportunity to reshape the EU's policies on immigration, trade, and democratic norms.

3. The cybergloves will come off this year as the US goes on the offensive with its powerful cyberweapons as a show of force, and blowback from non-state actors as well as nation state rivals like Russia, China, and Iran could open a Pandora's box in cyberspace.

2. US-China relations will get worse as the world's two largest economies diverge on a whole lot more than just trade – technology, industrial policy and potentially even the South China Sea will emerge as bitter points of contention this year.

1. Bad seeds: The fraying of US alliances, erosion of the European Union, and deepening discord between the world's major economies are all "bad seeds" – none will lead to a catastrophe this year, but left untended they will put down deeper roots that erode global stability and leave the world vulnerable to fresh economic or security crises.

Don't want to read? Check out our Top Risks 2019 video, directed/scored by yours truly.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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