The most consequential story in international politics right now is the sheer number of potentially consequential stories. Here are ten of them.

The US-China Trade War

Trump meets Xi at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan

The US-China Trade War: Fed up with a lack of progress in negotiations, President Trump announced new tariffs on more Chinese goods. Beijing, with one eye on the US electoral map, responded by telling its state-run companies to stop buying from US farmers and then allowed traders to push the Chinese currency to a worrying new low. Markets quaked.

The bottom line: None of these stories is fated to end in disaster for those exposed to them. But all of them look to be moving in the wrong direction.

The most consequential story in international politics right now is the sheer number of potentially consequential stories. Here are ten of them.

The US-China Trade War: Fed up with a lack of progress in negotiations, President Trump announced new tariffs on more Chinese goods. Beijing, with one eye on the US electoral map, responded by telling its state-run companies to stop buying from US farmers and then allowed traders to push the Chinese currency to a worrying new low. Markets quaked.

Fury in Kashmir: On Monday, India revoked the partial autonomy of the Indian-controlled sector of the disputed province of Kashmir. Pakistan, which controls the rest of the territory, denounced the move as illegal and downgraded relations. Large numbers of Kashmiris, some of whom fear that India wants to alter the region's demographic balance, took to the streets in protest, and hundreds were arrested. This heavily militarized territory has suffered from war, insurgent violence, and terrorism—and the political temperature has just gone up. As of this writing, landline connections, internet and mobile coverage are suspended inside Kashmir, and tens of thousands of additional Indian troops there.

Hong Kong Showdown: There is no clear off-ramp for the continuing conflict between Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters and the city's Beijing-backed government. China has warned its troops will intervene to restore order if necessary. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers responded with the city's first general strike in 50 years. Street protests continue, and on Monday, police reportedly fired nearly as many rounds of tear gas as they did during the entire months of June and July. At this point, it's not clear that conciliatory gestures from Beijing would ease tensions.

An Ebola Emergency: The spread of the Ebola virus inside the Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be accelerating, according to the World Health Organization officials. Save the Children, a relief organization, reports that Ebola has killed more than 500 children in that country. Last week, the government of Rwanda briefly closed its border with the DRC, where there have been at least four reported cases of the highly contagious virus in Goma, a border city of more than one million people and a major regional travel hub.

US-Iran Enmity: Iran reported on Monday that its navy had seized another foreign ship in the Persian Gulf, this one an Iraqi vessel. This is the latest confrontation near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passageway through which one-quarter of the world's traded oil passes each day. It's also a reminder that Iran's frustration with US sanctions continues to grow. The US accused Iran this week of jamming the GPS systems onboard passing ships to fool them into drifting into Iranian waters. The US and Iran have each said they want to talk but can't agree on where to begin.

North Korean Warning Shots: A new UN report claims that North Korea has used cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges to earn $2 billion for weapons. To protest US-South Korean military exercises, North Korea has test-fired four short-range missiles in the past two weeks and warns that it's considering a "new road," presumably one that leads away from the progress Trump and Kim have claimed in nuclear negotiations. President Trump says the missile tests are not alarming because the weapons could not reach the US mainland. But they could reach US allies, say South Korean and Japanese officials.

An Embargo of Venezuela: The US government has announced sweeping new sanctions against the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro, aimed not only at Venezuelan government assets in the US but also at countries, companies, and individuals who do business with it. The goal is to deprive of Maduro of support from Russia and China, and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized by the US and many other countries as Venezuela's legitimate president, applauded the move. The sanctions are likely to add to the hardship of a people already in economic crisis.

A Moscow Crackdown: In Russia's capital, police have arrested nearly 3,000 people this summer during demonstrations that began as protests against the exclusion of opposition candidates in Moscow's upcoming municipal elections. But despite a demonstrated willingness by police to rough up demonstrators, another protest rally is planned for this weekend. In 40 other Russian cities, supporters of often-jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who may have been poisoned earlier this summer, have announced "pickets in solidarity with Moscow."

A Brexit Crash: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain will leave the European Union, with or without a deal on the future UK-EU relationship, by October 31. A no-deal Brexit poses serious economic risks for both sides. What if Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn calls a no-confidence vote, triggering a two-week process in which parliament must form an alternative majority to prevent an early election? Leaked comments from Johnson advisor Dominic Cummings signal that, even if an alternative majority becomes apparent, the prime minister could refuse to resign… and call an election to be held after October 31. Imagine the resulting chaos.

American Political Violence: Bitterness between President Trump and Democrats—and their respective supporters—is intensifying. One of this week's two mass shootings—in El Paso, Texas—was explicitly political. It appears the man who murdered 20 people there had minutes before posted an online protest against a "Hispanic invasion of Texas." Democrats were quick to point out Trump's repeated use of the word "invasion" to describe illegal immigration at the nearby US-Mexican border. Trump supporters accuse Democrats of exploiting mass murder for political gain. The US now moves toward an election year with the risk of further political violence on the rise.

The bottom line: None of these stories is fated to end in disaster for those exposed to them. But all of them look to be moving in the wrong direction.

Don't let a US-China trade war, trouble in Kashmir, the showdown in Hong Kong, the DRC's Ebola emergency, new warnings from Iran and North Korea, the Venezuelan embargo, a Russian crackdown, Brexit risks, and the toxic American political culture persuade you that all the news this week was bad.

Here are three new pieces of good news:

Read Now Show less

In Moscow last weekend more than 1,300 people were arrested during protests over the exclusion of opposition candidates from local elections. Anti-Kremlin activist Alexei Navalny was detained and then admitted to hospital amid suspicions he'd been poisoned. And Vladimir Putin? He was piloting a submersible to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland to check out the wreckage of a World War II Soviet submarine. Even from the bottom of the sea, the Russian president's hold on power appears secure.

We don't know when or how Putin will eventually leave the stage—his current term ends in 2024—but his declining popularity and long time in power have begun to prompt more speculation about what comes next. You can check out interesting examples here, here, here, here, and if you read Russian, here.

Russia's post-Putin future will depend in part on whether he remains the power behind the throne when someone like Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin or National Security Advisor Nikolai Patrushev takes his seat. Even if he does, challenges are sure to follow. Infighting and political uncertainty among the leading contenders could have a big impact on Russia's domestic policy, and maybe its foreign policy too—and well before any transition takes place.

Read Now Show less

Syria's Overlooked Killings – In the past 10 days, Syria's military, backed by Russia, has killed more than 100 Syrian civilians, including 26 children, according to the UN. We've written before about Idlib province, which is supposed to be protected from attack by a 10-month old truce brokered by Russia and Turkey. That agreement spared the province's 2.7 million civilians an all-out government attack. But Bashar al-Assad's military has relied on strikes that kill smaller numbers over time to avoid international condemnation, and that strategy appears to be working. In three months, government attacks have forced 330,000 from their homes, and the story has gone largely unreported. For a look at what the Assad family shares in common with The Godfather's Corleones, check out the latest from Ian Bremmer here.

New promises, and fears, over South African land – Whites make up less than 10 percent of South Africa's population, but 25 years from the end of apartheid, they still own nearly three-quarters of the country's individually-owned farmland. President Cyril Ramaphosa faces pressure to address this disparity. He doesn't want to damage South Africa's economy by throwing property rights into question, but he faces intense criticism that he favors big business over small farmers. This week, a presidential panel proposed expropriation of land without compensation—but only for land that's rented out or held as investment property. For more on South Africa, click here.

Kenya's all-female biker gangs: Throttle Queens. Piki Dada. Inked Sisterhood. Heels of Steel. We're watching these all-female biker gangs cruising through Kenya, a socially conservative country, because the photos show that they're impossibly cool. They've taken their share of criticism but, says a member of Inked Sisterhood, if you're a woman who wants to join, "there is a community here waiting to learn with you, grow with you, ride with you."

What We're Ignoring:

A Greek smoking ban - Nine years, 10 months, and 27 days ago, Greek lawmakers voted to ban smoking in all public places. With the arrival of new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, it has been announced that the nearly decade-old ban will now be enforced inside the parliament building itself. Ashtrays have been removed from hallways. We can now ignore this story, because we're sure that lawmakers—to say nothing of patrons in bars, clubs, and restaurants—in the heaviest smoking country in the EU will now fully abide by the rules. Definitely.

115: There are 115 people missing and presumed dead following a shipwreck off the coast of Libya last week. The numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is down sharply from the height of the crisis four years ago, but significant numbers continue to try.

20: Tonight and tomorrow night, a total of 20 Democratic presidential candidates will take to the debate stage. Each will try to find some clever way to stand out from the crowd to win the party's nomination to take on Donald Trump next year. This is likely the last time so many will qualify to participate.

500 billion: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says half a trillion dollars will go to build an entirely new city over 10,000 square miles of rocky desert and empty coastline. As envisioned by the prince's consultants, the city, known as Neom, will include flying taxis, robot dinosaurs, high-tech security cameras, sand that glows in the dark, cutting-edge hospitals, really nice restaurants, its own artificial moon, a genetic-modification project that makes people stronger, and booze. Lots and lots of booze.

353 million: Ethiopians planted a record 353 million trees in a single day yesterday, according to a government official, as part of a state-led project to plant 4 billion trees over the course of the summer to combat deforestation in a country historically plagued by droughts. India set the previous record of 50 million in 2016.

Promising "a new golden age," Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom's new prime minister, has only just taken his seat at 10 Downing Street, and already it looks possible that the UK is on a path toward early elections, a Labour Party-led government, and maybe even another Brexit referendum.

How might all that happen? To answer that questions, we must answer these questions…

Read Now Show less

5 million: A hacker has stolen the personal and financial information of as many as five million citizens and foreign residents in Bulgaria, a country of about 7 million people. "The state of your cybersecurity is a parody," announced the hacker in an email. It's certainly starting to look that way.

5.1: In 2018, the number of US drug overdose deaths fell for the first time since 1999, according to preliminary data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows 72,224 overdose deaths in 2017 and 68,557 in 2018, a drop of 5.1 percent.

700 Billion: China has lent more than $700 billion to other countries. That's more than double the amount loaned by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund combined and makes China "the world's largest official creditor." A new study suggests that half of that sum is hidden from institutional lenders.

400,000: It took 400,000 people—including engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots, divers, seamstresses, secretaries and others—to send Apollo 11 to the moon and to bring Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins safely home. And while the faces we're most familiar are almost entirely white and male, the larger list of those who made it possible is much more diverse.