8 August 2018

The Top Ten Geopolitical Threats for the Remainder of 2018

As we look ahead to the final months of what has already been a year filled with political and economic uncertainty, it is clear that the level of geopolitical risk around the world remains too high for comfort.  While much of the world’s attention has been focused on the state of the international economy and the growing threat of a global trade war, geopolitical risk levels have also been trending upwards.  These geopolitical risk levels are rising, in large part, due to the fact that many of the world’s leading powers are directly involved in many of the disputes and flashpoints that are raising the overall threat to global security and stability. 

Over the next few months, these are the ten leading geopolitical threats that could have a major impact security and stability in many areas of the world: 

  • A US-China trade war: Not only an economic issue, the threat of a full-blown trade war between the United States and China could drive a major wedge between the world’s two-most-powerful countries, making this one of the most important geopolitical issues of the modern world.  Furthermore, this dispute could lead to higher levels of political and security tensions between the two superpowers in areas such as the Korean Peninsula or the South China Sea.
  • Russian election meddling: As the scandals concerning Russian election meddling in the United States and elsewhere intensify, most experts believe that Russia will continue with its attempts to manipulate elections and weaken democracy in the coming months.  Potential targets include the upcoming mid-term elections in the United States, as well as national elections in Sweden and Bosnia later this year.
  • Iran in a corner: The United States’ decision to come down hard on Iran and impose new sanctions on that country are likely to have a devastating impact on Iran’s fragile economy.  Meanwhile, Iranian interests are being challenged in places such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen, while Saudi Arabia and its allies are gearing up for a potential conflict with Iran, all with the backing of the United States.
  • Trump’s legal concerns: The Mueller investigation into alleged ties between the Trump election campaign in 2016 and the Russian government is just one of a series of legal challenges facing the president of the world’s most powerful country.  While President Trump has retained the support of most Republican voters, these legal woes could weaken his presidency and pave the way for an even higher degree of instability in Washington.
  • Britain’s divided politics: Britain’s conservative government led by Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered from a number of high-profile defections in recent months and these divisions have hampered its ability to negotiate its impending withdrawal from the European Union.  In fact, these divisions could result in her government collapsing in the near-future, triggering early elections that could prove to be highly chaotic for the UK and Europe.
  • North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs: Recent findings by the United Nations and the United States have indicated that North Korea has continued to move forward with its nuclear and missile programs, and this has led to fears that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un negotiated in bad faith with the leaders of the US, South Korea and China in recent months.  Concrete evidence of this deal breaking will dramatically raise the threat of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
  • Venezuelan collapse: The economic collapse of Venezuela is nearly complete as that country’s inflation rate is forecast to reach 1,000,000% by the end of this year, resulting in the continued exodus of people from that country.  Meanwhile, the country’s hapless left-wing President Nicolas Maduro is likely to use the recent alleged assassination attempt against him to launch a new crackdown on the political opposition in Venezuela.
  • Israel’s border troubles: Israel is likely to face a higher degree of unrest along most of its external borders in the coming months.  To the northeast, Syrian government forces are gaining control of the area next to the Golan Heights, while Hezbollah is likely to be more active in southern Lebanon.  To the southwest, the potential for more violence in Gaza is very high, while Egypt continues to struggle to deal with militant groups based in the Sinai Peninsula, despite assistance from Israel.
  • Congo on the brink: Congo-Kinshasa is already one of the world’s most unstable countries, but the threat of a major increase in violence and unrest is rising sharply as President Joseph Kabila tries to hold on to power despite international calls for him to step down.  Meanwhile, regions such as Kasai and northeastern Congo remain beset by violence that has driven millions of people from their homes.
  • China-India border tensions: So far, this summer has passed mostly peacefully along the disputed border between China and India, but the potential for new clashes along any number of flashpoints along this border will remain high until the winter snows arrive.  Such clashes would undermine efforts to strengthen bilateral ties between two countries that together account for 37% of the world’s population.

An escalation of instability or unrest caused by any one of these ten geopolitical threats could lead to a severe reduction in global stability, and many of these threats have the potential to cause major disruptions to the global economy as well.  As nationalist and protectionist rhetoric continues to rise in many areas of the world, the potential for geopolitical risk levels to rise even higher is clearly in place.  Moreover, the ten geopolitical threats listed above are just a small sample of what are hundreds of existing or potential flashpoints that could erupt into violence or unrest in the coming months.  As the number of such threats proliferates, the potential for major powers being dragged into direct conflict will also rise.  As such, the need to understand the geopolitical threats facing the world is greater than ever before, as their impact may be felt around the world.