It’s a new year, full of hope, excitement, expectation and… existential dread. Because danger lurks round every corner, dear friends.
However, if we’re all going to die in a flaming fireball in the coming 12 months, it would at least be nice to know roughly where to look to see it emerge over the horizon, and TIME magazine have us covered, naming their top 10 risks in the world for 2018.
But, before we begin, if you think it’s all Trump, Trump, Trump well, yes, he is in there - however, TIME are quick to point out that he is something of a red herring. In their words, “A besieged Trump administration has little ability to enact destabilising, or any other kind of, policies” - an idea we alluded to in a different piece recently.
China has steadily positioned itself as the biggest challenger to the US in terms of dominating the world economic landscape over the last decade, and 2018 could be the year it finally asserts its influence fully - something the US is unlikely to take kindly to. While America is crippled by the ineffectiveness of the Trump administration, China has “developed the world’s most effective global trade and investment strategy” and extended its influence around the world “by promising non-interference in the political and economic lives of other countries, which are now more likely to align with and imitate China”. With America feeling a threat to its previously unchallenged hegemony, TIME predicts that “US-China conflict, particularly on trade, will become more likely in 2018”.
How much should you worry about this? 1/10. There’s undoubtedly going to be a tussle, but it’s unlikely to develop into anything too massive - this year, at least.
For example, a new 9/11 - a seismic one-off event that could change the shape of geopolitical relations - perhaps literally in the case of North Korea, one of the potential flashpoints picked out by TIME alongside “competition and conflict in cyberspace”, “battlefield slip-ups in Syria”, “growing US-Russia tension” and “dispersal of ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq”. The latter of these, of course, is the most likely cause of an actual new 9/11.
How much should you worry about this? 1/10 for two reasons, firstly you are hugely statistically unlikely to ever suffer from a terrorist attack and second, if there is a nuclear war, well, we’re all dead anyway, so don’t worry about it.
I choose to never take Trump seriously over nukes. If I'm right then I've saved myself loads of unnecessary worry. If I'm wrong, we're all fucked but I've saved myself loads of unnecessary worry.— Rob Manuel (@robmanuel) January 3, 2018
3. A Tech Cold War
The future of economic dominance is almost certainly going to rest on who is the first to master artificial intelligence and supercomputing. According to TIME, “Governments in Africa, India, Brazil, and even in Europe must decide whom to trust and whose products and standards to embrace” while “fragmentation of the tech commons creates both market and security risks, particularly as domestic companies battle global viruses”.
How much should you worry about this? 1/10. If Siri is anything to go by, we’re a way off mastering AI just yet. However, you should 10/10 worry about AI rendering us obselete and finishing us all off when they do eventually master it.
4. All eyes on Mexico
And no, it’s not because the wall’s going to be built. According to TIME, “2018 will be a defining year for Mexico as NAFTA renegotiation comes to a head and voters choose a new president”, with TIME warning that “public anger at government is running high”. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is in line to come to power if it continues, which could lead to a “fundamental break with investor-friendly economic policies”. Further south, TIME also mentions another ‘red herring’ in worries over Venezuela, as they note that “President Maduro proves surprisingly resilient”.
How much should you worry about this? 2/10. Well, even if it all kicks off, it probably won’t happen until the elections on 1 July, so you can enjoy the first half of the year at least.
Donald Trump seems seriously keen to reverse the progress previously made in Iran, probably for the simple reason of it being his predecessor Barack Obama who made that very progress. TIME predicts that: “Trump will support Saudi Arabia and work to contain Iran in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. The US will more frequently sanction Iran for ballistic missile tests, perceived support for terrorism, and human rights violations. Iran will push back.” Naturally, if the nuclear deal fails, then that threat will resurface.
How much should you worry about this? 7/10 This is a real potential flashpoint, given Trump’s messaging thus far, and the current unrest in the country only muddies the waters further.
6. Institutions eroding
The maintenance of democracy and peaceful, functioning society relies on base level of trust in governments, political parties, courts, the media, and financial institutions. The 2008 crash saw the latter of these lose credibility in particular, while Trump in the US and the likes of Michael Gove in the UK (“people in this country have had enough of experts”) have gone after the others. As TIME puts it: “In 2018, the populism apparent in the Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump will create a toxic, anti-establishment populism in developing countries, as well.”
How much should you worry about this? 9/10 The presence of a free press and independent court system is utterly crucial to the functioning of democracy, and you don’t need to look very far across the world, or back through history, to see how easily it can disappear, and what the consequences are.
Trump has obviously attempted to steer America in the way of ‘putting itself first’. Brexit can be read as an attempt for the UK to do the same, while other anti-establishment movements across the world have reacted against the march of globalisation that the world has witnessed in the 20th and 21st Centuries. TIME says: “Protectionism 2.0 creates barriers in the digital economy and innovation-intensive industries, not just manufacturing and agriculture. New barriers are less visible: Instead of import tariffs and quotas, today’s tools of choice include ‘behind-the-border’ measures such as bailouts, subsidies and ‘buy local’ requirements.”
How much should you worry about this? 1/10. Hard to see how this is going to lead to immediate conflict, while unchecked globalisation carries its own risks.
8. Britain fighting with itself
You don’t need us to tell us that, despite David Cameron’s famous promise that a vote for him was a vote for stability, the country is a divided mess. It’s divided over whether Brexit should happen at all, it’s divided about what Brexit should be if it does happen, while both major parties are divided along similar lines. If May is forced out, she could be replaced by an even more right-wing Tory figure, while another election could see Britain flip completely the other way and move to the left under Jeremy Corbyn. Meanwhile, the surrounding uncertainty will hit the economy either way. On a related note, TIME is not remotely concerned about the Eurozone, confidently predicting that it will, with or without the UK, “shrug off political risk in 2018”.
How much should you worry about this? 5/10. On the one hand, it is the UK and you live in it, so you should worry about it. On the other hand, if you believe that Britain has lost its global significance, or you have faith that Britain’s institutions are so well-established that they can survive any political movement, then don’t worry too much.
9. Identity politics in Southern Asia
TIME notes that populism is rising in parts of Southeast Asia, most prominently in Indonesia and Malaysia, while “resentment of ethnic Chinese, who hold a disproportionate share of wealth in several countries, has made a strong recent comeback, particularly in Indonesia”. They note that “Persecution of Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya has triggered a humanitarian crisis”, while in India, “Prime Minister Modi may use nationalism to consolidate support ahead of the 2019 election, giving cover to radicalised elements of society who want to target Muslims and lower-caste Hindus.”
How much should you worry about this? 2/10. If there are problems in India, the poster child of democracy in Asia, then this could give rise to a ripple effect across the region. However, it’s been one of the most stable post-war countries, and you’d hope it would be resilient enough to withstand any issues.
10. Africa’s security
With the rest of the world’s big players either distracted, or retreating into protectionism, there is a risk of problems in Africa in 2018. TIME predicts that “negative spillover from Africa’s unstable periphery (Mali, South Sudan, Somalia) will spill over into core countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia)” with the principle threats coming from “militancy and terrorism”.
How much should you worry about this? 4/10. Let’s all hope the quest for peace and prosperity in Africa is not forgotten by the rest of the world in 2018.
(Main image: Rex/Jens Johnsson, other images: Rex)