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A Closer Look At The Eurasia Group's Risk Analysis For 2019


2018 was a turbulent year, both here in the U.S. and across the world. So what's in store for 2019? The forecast for the coming year released today by the political risk consultancy the Eurasia Group says the geopolitical environment is the most dangerous it has been in decades. Our co-host Rachel Martin asked its president Ian Bremmer, what is so frightening about this particular moment?

IAN BREMMER: What's scary is that just about everything that could be trending badly in the world of geopolitics is. And that's true both if you look internally at the increasing lack of legitimacy of political institutions and leaders across pretty much all of the world's advanced industrial democracies and, at the same time, the geopolitics - the relationships. Whether it's U.S.-Russia, U.S.-China, within the Middle East - those relations are all trending worse, too. So your resilience - your ability to respond to shocks when they occur is absolutely at the lowest level since we started the firm 21 years ago. And yet, and yet...

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: And yet - yes, give me the and yet (laughter).

BREMMER: And yet, the global economy is doing pretty well. And the likelihood of anything actually blowing up this year is still comparatively low. If you're just taking a 12-month perspective, 2019 is probably going to feel pretty good. But for you and I living in the world or raising kids, we're thinking about the future. This actually feels pretty scary.

MARTIN: So that explains why a lot of these sections, when talking about the rise of populism or the instability in America's political system - that you begin those sections with the words not urgent. So these are things that could get real bad, but we're not there yet.

BREMMER: Exactly. Think about all of the major challenges that exist out there today. Whether it's the U.S.-China relationship or the sustainability of Europe, the rise of populism and nationalism, none of these things are urgent. It feels like talking about climate change 30 or 40 years ago, you know, where we knew - the science was there. But it wasn't urgent so there was no need to respond to it that way. That's kind of the way the whole geopolitical order feels today.

MARTIN: We're already in a trade war with China. How do you see that threat evolving in 2019? Even if you don't see it as necessarily urgent, how's it going to change in the next 12 months?

BREMMER: I think that the likelihood of a trade war exploding is very low. President Trump clearly sees China and Xi Jinping the way he sees North Korea and Kim Jong Un - a tough nut to crack, but one that he's on top of. And he wants to get to a deal. So his willingness to accept something that is considerably less than his cabinet would accept, for example, I think is quite high. But there are so many areas where the world's two largest economies are going to be going at each other. And that's a real problem. It's a problem for the global economy over time. And it's a problem for all of those countries that aren't the U.S. and China and have to decide, how the hell do you balance these things? How do you choose?

MARTIN: Russia - where do you rank Russia in the list of global threats?

BREMMER: Well, Russia plays out in a few of these. The big one is on the cyber side, especially because the Trump White House is now much more significantly talking about using offensive capabilities to more actively deter. And it's not going to work. And especially with the investigations coming out where the Russians are going to have a lot of their relations with the United States in ways that Putin doesn't like made public, the potential that the Russians then use cyber to really come after the U.S. in a way that is damaging and dangerous is going up. So I do think that Russia is one of the higher-risk factors generally in the world this year.

MARTIN: How do you perceive the political instability here in the U.S.? I mean, we've touched on it. But when you've got a president under multiple federal investigations - we're expecting the special counsel Robert Mueller's report out this year - how does this fit into a global analysis of risk?

BREMMER: You know, after two years of President Trump, the single biggest takeaway that we should have is how strong American institutions are - how little he's been able to actually break, how constrained he is, how much he's kind of like a guy. I mean, he's the president, but the president's a guy. And he's not God. He's not Putin. He's not Xi Jinping. He's not even Erdogan. But I do think that it's very clear, when the investigations are coming down - and they're getting closer to Trump personally, to Trump's family and to Trump's wealth, Trump's organization - that Trump's modus operandi is to hit back, is to escalate. And his willingness to use the powers of the presidency, both legal and perhaps less so, perhaps more questionably - I think that is going to play out in 2019 to a degree. And the potential for that to end up in the courts and even become a constitutional crisis where an independent judiciary has to rule to constrain the president's asserted powers - I believe that, if that does indeed happen, that the president is very likely to be constrained. And the judiciary will indeed stand as a far stronger institution than an individual president.

MARTIN: I was surprised to see where Saudi Arabia ranks in the list of threats. And considering the destabilizing effect of the war in Yemen - the Saudi-led and U.S.-supported war in Yemen and the rise of Mohammed bin Salman with autocratic tendencies in the Saudi regime, I was surprised it didn't fall higher on your list of threats. It was kind of a smaller addendum.

BREMMER: Yeah. It's a red herring. It's indeed where we put those things that people talk about as risks that we truly believe will not play out. And I think two reasons for that. One is because Mohammed bin Salman is going nowhere. The recent cabinet shuffle has definitely, you know, put more oversight around him. But they're also all loyalists. They're close to the family. There's not a question that Mohammed bin Salman is suddenly going to be out. Also, we are seeing progress. There's a cease-fire in the port of Hudaydah in Yemen right now, which reduces the danger for the world's worst humanitarian crisis. That deal was structured by Mohammed bin Salman.

MARTIN: Ian Bremmer is the president of the Eurasia Group. We've been talking about their 2019 report on global risk. Ian, thanks so much.

BREMMER: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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