Opinion

Ian Bremmer

2014’s top 10 political risks

Ian Bremmer
Jan 7, 2014 19:30 UTC

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the world’s biggest risks have been economic. From a euro zone meltdown, to a Chinese hard landing, to the U.S. debt crisis, analysts have spent the past five years worrying about how to stave off financial implosion.

That’s over. In 2014, big-picture economics are relatively more stable. But geopolitics are very much in play. The impact of the G-Zero world — one that increasingly lacks global leadership and coordination — is on display.

So what are this year’s top 10 political risks? I’ll describe them, in video and text, below.

 

10.) Turkey

Among emerging markets, Turkey is particularly vulnerable in 2014. The country faces spillover effects from Syria’s civil war, a re-emergence of the Kurdish insurgency, and heightened political uncertainty in the wake of public outcry against Prime Minister Erdogan. Erdogan is lashing out against the opposition, both inside and outside his party — and elections loom.

9.) The capricious Kremlin

President Putin remains the single most powerful individual in the world, with a commanding hold on power in one of the world’s most important countries. But his popularity has waned significantly, and after a decade of rising expectations, Russia’s economy is stagnating (and too oil-dependent: see risk #5). This makes Russia under Putin far less predictable — at home and abroad — but Putin is no less willing or able to implement his preferred policies. Expect the unexpected from Putin in 2014.

Emerging, maturing, protesting markets

Ian Bremmer
Jun 27, 2013 19:28 UTC

At the beginning of this year, Eurasia Group, the political risk firm I lead, released its top 10 risks of 2013. We forgot to put Pepsi-guzzling whistleblowers on the list, but we did give our top slot to increasing turmoil in “emerging markets.” In a global economy that has become more reliant on countries whose economies are vulnerable to political shocks, emerging markets are our new economic fulcrums. What is causing this growing uncertainty in emerging markets? How much stress can they take without upsetting the balance for everyone else.

The protests in countries like Brazil and Turkey are not Arab Spring-style uprisings: they’re the anger and frustration of newly empowered middle and lower-middle classes, the same consumers who were the catalysts and beneficiaries of this growth in the first place. In emerging markets, politics have at least as big an impact on market outcomes as the underlying economics — that’s why these kinds of protests can strike seemingly out of the blue, and bring business-as-usual to a halt. Compare the impact of protests (and leaders’ responses) in Brazil and Turkey to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a developed country like the United States, the political system is consolidated in a manner that forces fringe movements to choose one of two paths: go mainstream or lose steam. In emerging markets that have experienced dramatic and rapid changes, governments can’t keep up with citizens’ evolving demands. Protests are far more likely to swell, with severe economic ramifications.

Why are the protests in Turkey and Brazil happening? There are immediate triggers. In Brazil, it was a small raise in bus fares; in Turkey, it was the imminent demolition of sycamore trees in Gezi Park. But these triggers are the narrow manifestations of larger, systemic grievances playing out on a country level, and trends in the global economy at large. So what are the larger factors that make even model emerging markets more ripe for unrest?

Erdogan’s popularity contest

Ian Bremmer
Jun 6, 2013 19:46 UTC

In the past week thousands of people have mobilized across Turkey, protesting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to consolidate power and impose his agenda. Erdogan’s heavy-handed response — he sent riot police in to disperse the largely peaceful protesters in Istanbul — led to widespread condemnation,  and even bigger protests.

The facile interpretation of what’s happening in Turkey is that it’s the next stage of the Arab Spring, when the rage of a region spreads even to its most stable, democratic outlier. But that’s not the case here. There are real differences between what’s happening in Turkey and what happened in the Arab Spring — and they’re a testament to how successful Turkey has been as a nation, and how successful it will continue to be.

Arab Spring protests in a country like Egypt were an outcry against the political system as a whole. In Turkey, the anger is directed at one man, whose ouster would not topple the political system more broadly — and Erdogan still holds the key to mitigating the conflict if he can take a more conciliatory stance (though for him, that might be easier said than done.)

The top 10 grudges in the G-20

Ian Bremmer
Mar 7, 2013 20:14 UTC

The G-20 is no happy family. Comprised of 19 countries and the European Union, once the urgency of the financial crisis waned, so too did the level of collaboration among members. Unlike the cozier G-7 — filled with likeminded nations — the G-20 is a better representation of the true global balance of power … and the tensions therein. So where are the deepest fault lines in the G-20? 

Below is a ranking* of the 10 worst bilateral relationships in the G20. Russia is in four of the worst, while China is in three (although Russia and China’s relationship is fine). Several countries are also in two of the worst relationships: the United States (with the two belligerents mentioned above), Japan, the UK and the EU. 

1.   China–Japan

China and Japan have a historically troubled relationship, which has reached its most contentious point in decades as their dispute over territorial claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has escalated, leading to renewed geopolitical tensions and possible confrontation. When the world’s second- and third-largest economies are butting heads, it carries huge global ramifications.

Turkey ascendant, Palestine in tow. Whither Israel and the U.S.?

Ian Bremmer
Sep 21, 2011 14:46 UTC

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

If President Obama thinks he’s having a tough month, he’s got nothing on Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu. In Tel Aviv, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are protesting the cost of living. In New York, the Palestinians are readying a statehood resolution at the United Nations. In Ankara, the Turkish government has expelled the Israeli ambassador from the country. And in Cairo, an Egyptian crowd is taking the job on themselves, attacking the Israeli embassy.

Of all of these events, though, Turkey is the biggest worry. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has steadily escalated an anti-Israel tack for over a year now, most recently by accusing Israel of behaving like a “spoiled child.” More directly, Erdogan has also proclaimed that the Turkish navy will stop the planned start of gas drilling explorations off the Cyprus coast by an Israel-Cypriot consortium. That’s tantamount to threatening armed conflict. Why is Turkey so ascendant in Middle East politics, to Israel’s dismay? There are three very good reasons:

1. The U.S. is playing less of a role in the Middle East.

Under President Obama, the U.S. has become a “taker” not a “maker” of foreign policy there. Simply put, this Administration has spent less time on the Middle East peace question than any other since the creation of the Israeli state. With all the issues facing Obama at home — joblessness, a tanking economy and his own re-election, to name a few — and all the more pressing international issues, like winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and dealing with the euro zone and China — Israel has taken a political backseat. As NATO allies like Turkey fill the void and create their own regional strategies, Israel, being in the most unnatural geopolitical position there, has had the hardest time establishing its own power center.

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