Ian Bremer:People are getting more and more anxious about the world we live in: I encounter a lot of panic, people who are online a lot, spending too much time on cable news and social media and maybe talking to their crazy uncle. This is meant to be a counterbalance so you can keep the guy grounded, but you can also spend some time thinking about deeper analytical biases on what really is a question worth worrying about, how we might respond to it. and also all the stuff that, frankly, doesn't deserve the outrageous headlines. What we are talking about in the Key Risks Report are the risks that exist, globally, that will have the most likely dramatic implications for changing the way the world works in ways not anticipated by all of that world's major players. : government actors, business actors and citizens. And they are ranked in terms of impact, imminence and likelihood – put those three things together and you get the top risks.
I'm Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group, and these are the top risks for 2023.
Number 10: Water stress. Around the world, many people think of water as a sudden emergency that requires a quick and immediate political response. Increasingly, this is an ongoing, real-time issue for everyone. Some people have too much water; Major floods in California. Some people have very little; huge challenges with shipping in Europe. Farmers have to constantly change how they get their basic productivity from one season to another because they don't have the adequate resources to be able to plant in a normal season. This is having the biggest impact in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, but it is a global problem. There are global responses, like the COP summits on biodiversity and on carbon emissions, there's a COP summit on water, but nobody's heard of it because it doesn't really do anything, it hasn't become a priority, because you're not getting the resources. and so it is getting worse every year. 2023 is really the first year that we can talk about global water as the kind of ongoing stress condition that we've already learned about carbon, about biodiversity.
Number nine: TikTok boom. It's not really about TikTok, it's about the generation that grew up on TikTok. It's the most diverse generation we've seen in the West. He is also by far the most activist. From an early age, believing that they can do a lot more by going online and speaking out than by voting, and that has a much bigger impact, both in terms of promoting agendas that are very important to them, like the climate, and on equity. , also in terms of changes in outcomes for people in positions of power, and here I'm thinking not just of political leaders but also of industry leaders, CEOs, bankers and the like. This will create big waves in the global economy precisely because we are the most progressive generation and as a consequence will cause more volatility, lead to more political and economic changes, many of which will eventually be welcome, but from here to there there will of course be a challenge.
Number eight: Divided States of America. Now, the fact that it's number eight, the United States, and that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, means that it's barely on the list, means that we're not panicking about the future of the United States. . but still, the divisions in the United States, politically, are enormous, they are much greater than those in other advanced industrial economies around the world, making it much more difficult to govern functionally. Throw that in with 15 votes for Kevin McCarthy barely crossing the line for Speaker of the House, and he'll find it impossible to hold this party together. You also see it with the inability to address fundamental questions like improving education or dealing with immigration in the United States, even though we all know what the basic answers are. But the most upside part of that risk is the fact that all the people who were running for key governorships and secretary of state to oversee the upcoming elections, who claimed that these elections were going to be stolen, and they had to stop the theft. , they all lost. So when we look to 2024, the probability of a constitutional crisis in the United States is close to zero.
Number seven is halted global development. For 50 years, the world has seen an incredible human improvement in education, health and life expectancy, in economic growth around the world: it wasn't just a small group of wealthy people taking advantage, it was the rise of a global middle class. Now we're seeing that shift: we're seeing more people being pushed into poverty, we're seeing more children dropping out of school, and in particular a burden on women who are being pushed into sex trafficking, into the informal economy, because they can't experience the basic human rights they have worked so hard for over the past 50 years. The United Nations estimates that five years of human development have been lost on the planet in the three years since the start of the pandemic, and by 2023 these losses will only accelerate. There are many structural reasons for this, some of them are of course the dangers of the pandemic, others are the challenges that came with the disruptions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, all the supply chain challenges and inflation. that came from behind, part of it is climate change. You put all these things together and global development is changing trajectory.
Number six: power crisis. Russia's invasion of Ukraine means that Europeans no longer get their gas and much of their oil from Russia, one of the world's biggest energy producers. But Europeans need your energy, what are they doing? They are spending as much as humanly possible to get energy from anywhere else they can, which raises prices but also means that developing countries that don't have access to the same deep pockets that Europeans are actually buying. in the teeth. So over the course of the year, Europeans are going to experience another challenging winter, in many ways more challenging in 2023 than 2022, because they don't have the benefits of all that Russian energy that was coming in at the beginning. of the year as last year, but it also means that the collateral challenges for the world's poorest non-commodity producing countries will come under great pressure this year.
Number five: Iran in a corner. Demonstrations across Iran erupted months ago with the murder of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who did not wear her headscarf properly, killed by Iran's so-called "morality police", triggering the biggest demonstrations ever. since the 1979 revolution - and the Iranian government is only cracking down in response, there is no willingness for dialogue or compromise. No, in fact, we are seeing more and more that the Iranian government is willing to execute its citizens for no reason. At the same time that it's happening, the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal that the Americans unilaterally withdrew from, well, the Iranians are also walking away from it, and now they've hit the 'nuclear bang', their willingness to engage in enrichment of nuclear development that would allow them to build nuclear weapons when the inspectors weren't there. And finally, Iranians are Russia's best friends on the global stage. The Chinese are not giving them military support to invade Ukraine, but Iran is, this is making Americans angry, making Europeans angry. The likelihood that we will see regime change in Iran is relatively low, and even if it did, it would likely be in the direction of a military dictatorship, not a democracy; it will not help solve any of these problems. But the likelihood of us seeing a military confrontation between Iran and a new right-wing coalition led by Netanyahu in Israel, Saudi Arabia and even the United States is greater than at any time since the Iran Nuclear Deal was signed.
Number four: inflation shock waves. It should come as no surprise to anyone that after a staggering contraction of the global economy that came with COVID, the global economy basically shut down and massive fiscal spending by every major economy in the world to make sure all the people who were hurting had their businesses. closed down and lost their jobs, they could still survive as the economy contracts, and then economies open up, but not at the same time, and shipping and ships are not in the right place. So what happens is a consequence of all this: while people are ready to spend money, supply chains are massively disrupted, costs go up, and costs go up all over the world, it doesn't matter if you were Biden or you were the Europeans, or was it the Chinese, the British, the Japanese, all experiencing generational levels of inflation. In general, global growth from 6% in 2021 to 3% in 2022, expecting less than 2% in 2023, is a global recession. The implications of this around the world will be very serious, especially considering current levels of inflation. Rich countries have the money to continue to make sure that their working classes, their middle classes, are taken care of, but the real problem is for developing countries that don't have the fiscal space to be able to make those payments. to the rest of the populations; they will implement policies that will only force the most indebted to borrow in dollars, in many cases at higher interest rates that they will not be able to pay, leading to their collapse. The social instability, the political instability stemming from these economic challenges across much of the developing world, is at higher levels in 2023 than we've seen in decades.
Number three: Weapons of Mass Disruption. The United States, in 1989 when the wall fell, was the main exporter of democracy in the world, not always with successful results, often hypocritically, but even so, that is how the wall fell, that is how the Soviet Union was defeated . In 2023, just 30 years later, the United States has become the main exporter of democracy-destroying tools. This is not the intent of the US government, or even the tech companies that own these algorithms, it is an unintended consequence of the AI business model and capabilities. But we are seeing exploitation of these tools by malicious people. With video deepfakes and other tools being used both politically and economically to bring about changes in their behavior, both in the market and in politics, they will pose great dangers to representative democracy as well as the smooth functioning of the free market. That's why Brazil had its January 8th events much like the United States did on January 6th: without Instagram, without Facebook, without all these algorithms that drive all these conspiracy theories, there are no tens of thousands of Brazilians. who believe their election was stolen from them and are willing to throw away their future to occupy these buildings. We are going to see a lot more of this, Brazil is not about to fall apart, like the United States, but all over the world democracies are becoming more vulnerable because these tools are being exported and nobody can stop them. .
Number two: maximum Xi. Xi Jinping is now the undisputed leader of China, he got rid of term limits, he can be president for life. Moreover, in the Communist Party, the entire hierarchy was surrounded, only by partisans. It has no checks and balances and, as a consequence, can make mistakes. These mistakes can be big, they can have big implications for how the world really works. This is not how China was governed 10 years ago, there was a lot of differentiation between the hardliners, in the military, and people who wanted more pragmatic economic outcomes (technocrats, the Shanghai Clan, Beijing, you name it), but today they are with Xi or you are out. We saw that with former President Hu Jintao's treatment, the forced removal in front of the entire Communist Party leadership was an extraordinary demonstration of the unique power that Xi Jinping was willing to wield, and everyone in that room understood that it was only by the grace of God, or Xi, come on. We saw this with the sudden shift from zero COVID to maximum COVID, made by a sudden decision by the Chinese president at the end of the year. This level of uncertainty is not just about changing the course of COVID, it also involves dealing with technology companies, engagement in the global economy, and even fundamental national security issues. Now, the good news is that the United States and China are not in a cold war, they don't want a cold war. Indeed, after the G20 in Bali, Xi Jinping and President Biden put a floor under their relationship to ensure it did not continue to deteriorate in ways that would be detrimental to both countries, but many companies around the world see Maximo Xi and they bother with it. As a result, they themselves are taking decisions to begin to further disengage from the Chinese economy, undoing globalization, decreasing the efficiency of the global market and creating challenges for the global economy.
And number one: Rogue Russia.Over the course of a year, Russia went from being a global power, establishing itself as the most important friend, without global boundaries, with the Chinese Xi Jinping, to becoming a pariah state, isolated from the entire group of advanced industrial economies , economically isolated. from Europe, its most important trading partners, and face staggering losses on the battlefield in Ukraine. Putin has no way of reversing this under any circumstances, he cannot reach the status quo before February 23, before deciding to invade independent Ukraine. Instead, NATO is expanding, with thousands of troops deployed, Ukraine has become one of the most powerful military states on the European continent. Europeans have turned away from their energy supply from Russia and will never return to it, and from a political perspective, Russians have been viewed as war criminals by the United States and all of its critical allies around the world. Russia is not going anywhere: Putin will not be forced out of office in the foreseeable future, and as a consequence, the question is what will he do? Because the reason Putin loses is because he is fighting not just in Ukraine but in NATO. This is essentially a proxy war where the Americans and all their allies are doing everything they can to provide training, intelligence and military support to ensure Ukraine can fight back, retake its territory and bleed the Russians after their illegal war. . invasion. The Russians have so far taken this war to Ukraine, but it's hard to imagine that it will stop there. Remember, Russia has 6,000 nuclear weapons, more than anyone in the world, so they feel they have the biggest impediment to preventing a third world war, which means asymmetric attacks like cyber, like fiber, like proxy attacks, like pipeline attacks, like terrorism, in NATO states, as well as what the Iranians have done in the Middle East in recent years, leads to a consolidation of allies: we've seen the Abraham Accords between Israel and the Gulf states, you're seeing NATO gets much stronger, but it also means much more danger for these countries in the future. The potential for mutually assured destruction due to accidents and miscalculations on and around the battlefield will be greater in 2023 as a result of this war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.