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.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

More Show less

The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

More Show less

In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

More Show less

With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.