Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, has been delivering his insightful Top Risks Report for 15 years. The primary objective? To systematically outline how we should approach the world’s most significant threats and opportunities in any given year.
Bremmer’s Top Risks report stands in stark contrast to the clickbait and anger-inducing algorithmic news dominating social platforms. Rather than succumbing to sensationalism, the report serves as a rallying point for professionals and the wider public to focus on what truly matters for global success. It navigates the realm of reality, steering away from ideology and personal biases.
As we navigate the complexities of 2024, Bremmer says we find ourselves “in the teeth of a geopolitical recession, facing major wars and confrontations with no prospects for an effective response, containment, or useful diplomacy.” Here, Bremmer presents his top 10 risks demanding our attention and preparation in the year 2024.
IAN BREMMER: This is the beginning of the year. There's everything out there. There's so much disinformation, there's so much that needs to be filtered. People don't know what matters, what doesn't. And we're trying to create an organizing principle that allows you to make sense of it, a roadmap for the year, if you will.
I'm Ian Bremmer. I'm a political scientist and president of Eurasia Group. We've been writing this Top Risk Report for, I wanna say 15 or 16 years now, and a couple of reasons for it. The first is really to set out, in a disciplined way, how we're thinking about the biggest concerns and some opportunities in the coming year in a way that we can then come back and see how we did and have everyone, our own analysts and the public at large, you know, sort of hold us accountable. And it improves our thinking over time to do that, but also because it allows us to talk about the issues as we see them that are important for people to engage in. It's the opposite of responding to the headlines. It's the opposite of the clickbait and the anger-inducing, outrage-inducing algorithmic news that we all spend way too much time with on a day-to-day basis. And we're trying to create an organizing principle that allows you to make sense of it, a roadmap for the year, if you will. For this year, I go back to our report back in 2012 when we talked about a 'G-Zero World,' when we first talked about this idea that the balance of power in the world had shifted dramatically away from the institutions and the architecture that was meant to provide some governance and leadership. And that that reality meant that we were no longer going to have the United States acting as the global policeman or the architect of global trade, or the cheerleader for global values- and that no other country or group of countries were going to be able or willing to fill that void. So this was a period that was coming- of geopolitical recession- and it would lead to a lot of conflict. It would lead to a power vacuum, it would lead to the erosion of a lot of the institutions that we had sort of almost taken for granted as as we came of age. Now that was 12 years ago. It takes a while for these mechanisms to really play out over the course of a global order. That's really what I was thinking of as we were writing the 2024 top risks, is we are now in the teeth of the G-Zero, we're in the teeth of a geopolitical recession, and there are major wars and confrontation with no prospects for an effective response, for containment, for useful diplomacy. And indeed, the adversaries in these conflicts don't even share the same basic set of understanding of what they're fighting over, the same basic facts. They say, you know, you're entitled to your own opinion. You're not entitled to your own facts. Well, that whoever said that wasn't looking at the geopolitical order in 2024, everyone thinks they're entitled to their own facts, and that makes it much, much harder to effectively address these risks over the course of the year.
The Number 10 risk is 'Risky business.' It is about culture wars from both left and right, cancel culture from left and right, making it much more difficult for companies that have exposure to the U.S. market to do effective business in both red and blue environments; red and blue states, red and blue constituencies. It, it's if you're a corporation, you don't want to spend a lot of time thinking about your political orientation. You wanna work with clients and with customers and with employees across the political spectrum. You just wanna hire the best people you can find and you want to sell into the customer networks that are most interested in buying your product, whatever it is. We are in a political environment in the United States where that is becoming increasingly hard to do. Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation or the investor of a major portfolio, or you're the the president of an American university, it's just really hard to satisfy these varied constituents. And that is going to get harder, not easier, especially in in election year in 2024.
The Number 9 risk is 'El Nino is back.' El Nino is a regular occurrence, but now its regularity is occurring against the backdrop of climate change and global warming, which makes it more dangerous. The stresses that come, especially in countries and regions that cannot afford to respond on the back of massive fiscal outlays and debt with higher interest payments, it makes it really difficult to deal with a sudden unexpected climate stress. And El Nino in particular is likely to hit countries in Latin America, in Southern Sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Indo-Pacific, many of whom are gonna have a really hard economic time and therefore political time dealing with those expenses, dealing with that crisis response. And what governments need to do is understand that this is not about crisis response. This is about a changing normal. And so therefore there needs to be money set aside, infrastructure capacity built. And as we saw in the COP28 Summit in, in the Emirates, there needs to be a loss in damages fund, which finally the world's countries have agreed to, but they've put virtually no money into it. It, it's not just a matter of, "Yeah, we agree, we need one," it has to actually have resources behind it. A little bit like we discussed with water stress in 2023, where you know, people continue to say, "Well, you've got a major drought or you've got massive flooding and we need to respond to that," like after the fact, in that place, this is something that is going to be an increasing global phenomenon that is part of our global risk environment, has to be addressed as such. The
Number 8 risk is 'No room for error.' And this fundamentally talks about the global inflation shock that began in 2021. There was some optimism in 2023 that it was coming down significantly and indeed in many countries faster than had been expected as the world was coming out of the COVID lockdowns. 2024 is about that inflation being persistent in part responding to really challenging geopolitical environment, in part responding to greater dislocations in the marketplace from subsidies and industrial policy and nationalism that makes globalization at its max at its peak efficiency, harder to operationalize. And also just that central bankers have very little margin for making mistakes. So their ability to come down in interest rates as fast as the markets are expecting at the beginning of 2024 seems very, very unlikely. Market stocks right now in the United States are priced for perfection. Pretty much everything has to go right in order to meet that soft landing. We don't expect a recession in the United States, but we do expect underperformance. That means that it's going to be a challenge for Biden in 2024 who's kind of counting on, "This is gonna be a good economic story," it's one of the reasons that he has to pivot towards talking about democracy, we'll get to that in a bit. In the United Kingdom, it means the Labor Party is much more likely to get an absolute majority in taking out Sunak and the conservatives. But this is also a problem for countries that aren't going to have elections. For example, Tinubu, President Tinubu in Nigeria, who's an economic reformer by orientation, but is gonna have just less room to get that done, given these economic challenges. Lula's gonna have a much harder 2024 than he did 2023 for the same reasons in Brazil.
Risk Number 7 is 'The fight for critical minerals.' And we are seeing as the world transitions away from fossil fuels to post-carbon energy and infrastructure and the related supply chain, that there are huge opportunities for the countries that have invested in those technologies like China, heavily, as well as have availability of these critical minerals across the Global South. And that creates political opportunities for disruption that are going to play out over the course of this year. A couple ways it will have an impact: One is that as the Chinese are facing a hard time from the U.S. and its allies on export controls for semiconductors and cloud computing where they don't have the technology, the response will be licensing regimes and export controls around those technologies that the Chinese dominate, particularly those that involve electric vehicles, batteries, and that supply chain where the Chinese are really a global superpower. Secondly, if you are a Sub-Saharan African or a Latin American country with lots and lots of critical minerals that everybody wants access to, you are putting policies in place that are requiring a lot more domestic investment to help your development of new technologies. Getting up the value chain, which makes a lot of sense for you, but also increases the expense of getting this stuff out of the ground. And, and that's something that we're going to see for critical minerals across the board, whether it's lithium or it's graphite, you know, or it's uranium for that matter. And then of course, you also have the developed countries who are looking at core carbon border adjustment mechanisms- and that's going to hurt developing countries who have a hard time stripping carbon out of their supply chains and exports. But the Europeans in particular saying, "No, no, no, we wanna move faster and faster towards this transition." Well, easier for them to do. They're wealthy, they can afford those compromises. Very hard to do if you're a country like India, if you're a country like Brazil. So all of that is playing out in 2024.
Risk Number 6 is 'No China recovery.' A big piece of this is directly political. The fact that Xi Jinping has consolidated an enormous amount of power, and his personal inclination is to focus on national security and political stability at the expense of economic growth. And that means that as China is facing significant structural slowdown in their economy, his response is incremental. It is at the margins, it is not big, dynamic fundamental reform. And so absent a massive financial crash, which we're not expecting in China 2024, that means that the animal spirits in driving Chinese consumption sentiment is not going to rebound particularly much. It means that real estate is gonna look very, very weak in 2024 in China. It means that we're gonna continue to have low external demand for Chinese goods. None of that is going to see a breakthrough. And remember, you know, after the 2008 Financial Crisis, it was China's willingness to put massive amounts of money into shovel-ready products; that was a big part of the global rebound. We're seeing nothing like that in 2024 coming out of COVID. And while that should mean lower energy prices and commodity prices overall, it also means harder to see a big global economic rebound.
The Number 5 risk is 'The axis of rogues.' And since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where President Putin is seen as a war criminal by the G7, by the developed countries around the world, Russia has become a rogue state. 6,000 nuclear warheads, serious cyber capabilities, and of course massive natural resources that people around the world really need. And yet, is a country whose assets have been frozen by the U.S. and Japan and Europe, 11 rounds of sanctions and more coming, their oligarchs can't travel anymore. They're not, you know, they're not welcomed into any of the major global summits, diplomatic relations have been cut off. So who are Russia's friends? And when you look at that militarily, I mean, China works pretty closely with Russia, as does India economically, but supporting the military efforts of Russia, you're talking about North Korea and Iran, two other rogue states who have also been maximally cut off economically, diplomatically, and, and from a security perspective by the West. So three rogue states with Russia, the most powerful rogue state we've ever seen in history, all three of them increasingly working together. North Korea provided an enormous amount of artillery and ammunition to the Russians, the Iranians providing a drone industry that they're setting up on the ground in Russia and in return the Russians providing intelligence, sensitive technologies, and economic goods. I don't need to, you know, say very much about the fact that when you have three countries like that, all of whom benefit from chaos, working together, all of whom are trying to undermine stability in the international order that we have, that things can go wrong much more easily. So that's the big piece of this risk. But there's another piece that's kind of interesting. We also talked about America's dangerous friends, and no one mentions this, but the fact is that there are three countries out there that are actually quite important allies and friends of the United States that are led by leaders that aren't particularly trusted, and who are increasingly risk-acceptant and they're driving risk globally. I'm talking specifically about Bibi Netanyahu in Israel, who knows that once the war is over, he probably goes to jail. Number two is Ukraine's President Zelensky. As he's getting less support from the United States and others around the world, he's getting increasingly desperate. So his alignment with NATO is going down. And then also William Lai, who is not president, he's vice president of Taiwan, but he's running for election just in a few days. And if he wins, he's much more oriented towards autonomy and even independence than anyone recently in Taiwan; will drive greater tension between the United States and China. It's absolutely worth talking about those three friends of the United States as a risk factor in 2024.
Risk Number 4 is 'Ungoverned AI.' And I wanna be clear that I am an AI-optimist. I believe that this is unprecedented opportunity to unlock human capital all over the world, drive productivity, drive efficiency, potentially even create a new wave of globalization. That's a very big deal, but everyone's focused on that. We've got the money, we've got the talent, we've got the companies. What they're not focusing on are the negative externalities that come from a technology that is moving much, much faster than our ability to govern it. And in 2024, we see that both the politics which have been very ambitious, but are also trying to share urgency with things like a U.S. election and a couple of major wars, and U.S.-China tensions and global climate, it's gonna be hard to maintain that urgency absent major crisis. There's a level of inertia that is aligned with that, and the attention is likely to drift after all of the flurry of new institutions that were created in 2023. There's defection that many of the stakeholders on the private sector who are very happy to be involved in governance when it's not impinging on their business models. But as it starts to affect things that are closer to shareholder value, they start saying, "Not so fast," they start either throwing sand in the gears or saying we're out of the process. And then finally, most importantly, technological speed- that AI is advancing three times faster than Moore's Law, which doubled every 18 months. GPT-5, which will come out in the coming months, makes 4 look like a child's toy. And the reason these things are important is because these tools will be in the hands of a very large number of governments and institutions and individuals. It's not like nuclear weapons where you can limit the proliferation of the most advanced models- that's not going to happen. And some of those people are going to be tinkerers that aren't going to be careful in how they deploy them. Some of those will be corporations that have business models that don't care about the secondary. And third, the tertiary effects on populations. Some of them will be bad actors, criminals, and terrorists. So there's how one can deploy AI for bad, particularly with malware and coding leading to cyber attacks that are far greater than anything we've seen before. Also the creation of new weapons. Then you also have AI being used for disinformation at a far greater level and scope than anything we've seen before at a time when many societies, especially the United States are very vulnerable to that disinformation. And we don't have any regulatory governance environment on the near horizon in 2024 that would address effectively either of those two challenges.
Risk Number 3 is 'Partitioned Ukraine.' And that does not mean that we want to see a partitioned Ukraine. I personally, fully believe that Ukraine should be able to retake all of their territory, it is unjust, that they will not be able to, but that is the reality- and the Top Risk Report deals in reality, not in preferences. And this year the ability for the Ukrainians to get the military support that they would need to retake the 18% of their territory that Russia still illegally occupies seems virtually impossible to imagine. And indeed, the trajectory of the war between Russia and Ukraine is changing. We've already passed peak NATO and a peak transatlantic alliance. The United States has become much more politicized on this issue and will become much more when president, former President Trump gets the Republican nomination. We are seeing countries inside Europe with a much harder time providing economic support, Germany because of difficulties in their budgeting environment. Some countries like Hungary and Italy saying, "Why? Why are we taking on these costs? It's not as relevant to us." All of that is gonna make it much harder, and that will make President Zelensky much more vulnerable, much more desperate at a time when Putin feels like all he needs to do is wait for the U.S. 2024 election and for everyone else to just get tired. Putin's strength here is his patience, his ability to ensure that the Russian people can outlast and take the pain that democracies would not. And I wanna also say that this does not mean that Russia's gonna win. Russia will still be a rogue state. They'll be dealing with an expanded NATO with a lot more territory that is NATO, like Finland, than they had before they invaded Ukraine either in 2014 or then in 2022. Their assets will still be frozen, the sanctions will still be on. So that's, that conflict is still going to be there, but Russia will be able to essentially split Ukraine in two. And what we'll be debating is exactly where those lines of partition are and how much core Ukraine will still be vulnerable to further Russian attack. The only way to avoid the latter is if the West can ensure that Ukraine has hard and fast security guarantees, meaning relatively short-term coming into NATO and EU integration- and there is still a window for that in 2024, but that window is fast-narrowing.
'Middle East on the brink' is Risk Number 2; not a risk that the world or Eurasia group was expecting back in 2023. This was a world of the Abraham Accords with Israeli normalization of relations breakthroughs with other countries. This was a world of the Gulf Cooperation Council coming together as opposed to the big fight and the blockade on Qatar by the Saudis and the Emiratis. This is a world where the Chinese were brokering diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Everything seemed to be working for the Middle East except nobody cared about the Palestinians. And that blew up very dramatically on October 7th. Helped along by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was more focused on his own personal survival, avoiding jail, judicial reform, and supporting a very hard line coalition partner that wanted to expand territorial access in the West Bank illegally taking land away from the Palestinians and therefore taking attention away from Gaza and border security. All of that led to the worst violence that the world has seen against Jews since the Holocaust just three months ago. But in 2024, it is very hard to imagine that the war will be contained to Gaza- and there are many ways that it can escalate. For example, through the northern front with Hezbollah, the Israelis seeing themselves isolated all over the world, and even a majority of Democrats in the U.S. more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. The Israeli war cabin is saying, "This is our opportunity. We have to make sure that we degrade not just Hamas, but also an organization like Hezbollah and push them back from the border in accordance with security council resolutions that have never been enacted to date." Also, the Houthis in Yemen who continue to engage in attacks against shipping and against the United States, despite America's efforts to deter them, likely to lead to the Americans attacking their bases in Yemen itself, which will expand the war. Then you have Iranian proxies, Shia militants in Syria, in Iraq, who are engaging in more attacks against the United States and allies as we see American servicemen and women getting killed, the Americans will respond. And then finally, the millions upon millions upon millions of Muslims in the region and around the world, including in the U.S. and Europe, who are becoming radicalized as a consequence of this violence. And some of them will turn to violence of themselves. Some of them will be lone wolf attacks, some of them will join terrorist organizations. All of those are avenues of escalation of this war beyond Gaza. Now, the worst that could happen would be a direct war between the United States and Iran, and thankfully we are several steps of escalation away from that. That would mean $150, $200 oil global recession, Trump clearly wins the election, but we are not going to stay at just Gaza. And somewhere in-between those two extremes is where we are likely to be testing Middle East instability over the course of the coming months.
The top risk for 2024 is 'The United States versus itself.' Another major confrontation, in some ways very akin to what we're seeing between Russia and Ukraine, what we're seeing between Israel and Hamas because you have two antagonists that see each other as existential adversaries, and who are not sharing basic understanding of facts and what they're fighting over. And there's no possibility of diplomacy bringing the two groups together. that is playing out, Very unfortunately in my own country, the United States right now; the U.S. is the only advanced democracy in the world that is incapable of ensuring a free and fair, peaceful transition of power through an election, which is fundamental to any well-functioning democracy. But it's not where the Americans are right now. If you look at the level of trust that Americans have for all of its major political institutions, they are decreasing year after year and reaching unsustainable territory happening in the middle of an election with two deeply unpopular leaders, one of whom has said that he is not prepared to accept the free and fair outcomes of an election. Now in any well-functioning democracy, that would be the number one issue being discussed. But the United States is not a well-functioning democracy. So a couple things are happening here. The first is that when Trump gets the nomination for the Republican party, it's not a hundred percent insured, but it's very close, and that's gonna happen in the next few months, he will become significantly more powerful, immediately. All of the Republicans in leadership will declare loyalty to him. He'll have the Republican media, right-wing media. He'll also have a lot of money to be able to run that campaign. And that means that his policies like in cutting off Ukraine, like in threatening and belligerence towards the Iranians, like in how he's going to close the border, treatment of Muslims, all of this will suddenly become not just ideas that are floated by a presidential candidate, but the policies of the Republican party, of half of the U.S. political spectrum. And that will lead to a lot of risk internationally. That's number one. Number two, there's so much more at stake for these leaders in this election. If Biden loses, he and many of his closest advisors believe they will face legal jeopardy themselves because Trump will work to politicize the IRS, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and use them against his opponents, which also will have a, a chilling effect, a neo-McCarthyite chilling effect on the airing, the voicing of opposition policies and support for a large strain of the American population; where if Biden wins, Trump faces jail and and that means that if he thinks it's gonna be close, if he thinks he could lose, he will do everything in his power to rally his supporters to interfere with that election outcome, to undermine it. And that also means, especially with the presence of chaos actors that oppose the United States around the world, that the U.S. election is itself an incredibly attractive, soft homeland security target that is hard for the Americans to defend. And when I speak to leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, they tell me they're more worried about that than they are about China or Russia or other major foreign policy national security threats to the United States. All of that together makes it very clear that the United States versus itself is the number one risk in our report for 2024.
There are a lot of things that give me cause for optimism. I talked already about AI and the fact that even though it's listed as a risk, I think that the economic upside, in very short order, is very, very positive. Unlike so many other new technologies that are overwhelmingly a threat to entrenched powerful actors, so when you talk about transition energy, you pose an existential threat to the coal miners and to the oil producers and to all of the industries that rely on them and are connected to them. When you talk about artificial intelligence, this is a set of technologies that can be used by every incumbent to improve their efficiency and productivity. So you're gonna see much more upside and much more investment from every corner in every sector. I'm very excited about that. I've never been so excited about a technological development in my life as I am what we're seeing in artificial intelligence right now. That's number one. Number two, we mentioned the U.S. election as existentially problematic on the geopolitical order right now, but there are lots and lots of other elections around the world today. Lots of other democracies that are holding elections in 2024, and almost all of them look to be quite stable: Mexico, where AMLO is very likely to be able to ensure that his pick Claudia Scheinbaum wins and she's like AMLO in who she appeals to, but she's much more business savvy, she's much more technocratic. She understands the economy better and she's also a former climate scientist. So that's a big win for an economy doing well. Modi in India, most populist democracy in the world, 75% approval, he's gonna win easily. He'll get another five-year term and he'll be able to conclude, this is his last term-it's what he says privately- he'll be able to conclude a lot of major economic reforms that really matter. Not only is that good for growth, India is unique in leading the Global South, but also reaching out to the West, wanting to act as a bridge between these two major parts of the world. Imagine if India instead was run by South Africa's ANC, which would be much more anti West, much more pro-China, the geopolitics would feel like two competing blocks, that's not what we have right now. The bricks are not oppositional to the G7. There's a lot of overlap. India's a very big part of that, that's underappreciated. You've got the European Union, a lot of unpopular leaders inside Europe dealing with populist upsurge, whether it's France or Germany or the Netherlands or others. But the European Union parliamentary elections will lead and return the same basic party formation as we've had for the last five years. Stability there in the most important supranational governance in the world. I could point to Indonesia too. Russia's a problematic election; it's not democratic, it's gonna be Putin, Putin, or Putin. So it'll be Putin, but it's not like there's a lot of instability there. Right? Okay. Finally, the most important geopolitical relationship in the world: the U.S. and China. And for the last three years I've spoken about that relationship as one of managed decline, but the focus has been decline. It's been very chippy. It's been very oppositional. This year the focus will be management, and there is an effort by both the Americans and Chinese to not allow the U.S.-China relationship to fall into crisis for different reasons. In the case of the U.S. it's because it's an election year. They're dealing with the Middle East, they're dealing with Russia, Ukraine, Biden does not want another major problem to deal with as he heads into November. For China, it's because their economy, as we've discussed, significantly underperforming. And this is a horrible time for Xi Jinping to have to deal with a big fight with either the Americans or the American's allies. So he's being more cautious, and so they're putting a lot of effort into creating a lot of high-level engagement, which we didn't have over the last three years between diplomatic figures, economic figures, and most importantly, military and security figures between the two countries. Doesn't mean we won't be fighting, after the Taiwan election, I'm sure there's going to be tension, South China Sea as well, technology as well. But the engagement we will have between the Americans and Chinese to try to manage and contain that fight is far, far higher than we've had in previous years. And that is a pretty big silver lining for 2024.
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