It was a close call at times, but we made it through 2012. Now we’re set to encounter a new set of risks ‑ but not in the world’s advanced industrialized democracies, which are much more resilient than feared. This year, with the global recession on the wane, attention shifts back to emerging markets, the economies that are usually the ones that pose the most political risk. You can read the whole report from my political risk firm, Eurasia Group, here, but an executive summary of this year’s top 10 risks, in video and text, is below:
10.) South Africa: Africa overall looks like it will continue its recent growth. But South Africa, one of the continent’s most complex and important economies, is floundering. Its dominant political party, the African National Congress, is resorting to populism to maintain its base among the urban and rural poor. That means more state intervention, more labor unrest and more assertive unions. We’re not predicting a fundamental political crisis, but the country is moving along a path that offers little reason for optimism.
9.) India: We’ve all read the predictions that India is poised to become the world’s next infinite-growth country. Not so fast. Despite initial optimism, the 2009 election hasn’t freed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reform the country as anticipated, with the tough choices continually being kicked to the next parliamentary session. (Americans should find this familiar.) Corruption continues to reign, and as we’ve seen in the rape protests of the past few weeks, there are fundamental cultural issues that India has yet to resolve. As general elections draw closer, the government’s ability to execute robust economic policies will decline even further.
8.) Iran: When is the United States or Israel going to bomb Iran? That’s the question that followed us through all of 2012. But a war-wary President Barack Obama and a more-diplomatic-than-you-think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mean that the risk of military strikes this year is less than most observers believe. Nevertheless, there is still a significant risk: We’re likely to see a sharp escalation in the shadow war between Iran and Israel and the United States, a cycle of mutual killings, cyber-attacks and proxy battles that has been ongoing for several years. As new sanctions are put in place against Iran, as we predict they will, efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program will escalate. That’ll force Iran to escalate its side of the shadow war.
7.) East Asian geopolitics: For the past decade, the main risks in this region have been North Korea’s nuclear provocations and tensions around the status of Taiwan. Now new risks have taken their place. China has veered away from its “charm offensive” approach to Southeast Asia, and the United States is stepping into the void. Tensions between the two powers could put decades of economic growth at risk, as I’ve written about in past columns.