What's Next for Global Risk?

Hi from Morocco's Bay of Tangier, Readers,


In his 1555 book, Les Propheties, French visionary Nostradamus allegedly predicted that 2018 would mark the start of World War Three between two superpowers, which would last 27 years. Hmmm… Could that be between the US and China, with its looming trade war? Or between the US and Russia, with the apparent return of the Cold War? Let’s see. This has already been a tough year. We have the usual suspects still hanging over us – from lone wolf terrorism to Middle Eastern conflict, cyber attacks to climate change and refugee crises, among others. These are factors that pose a threat to stability in the international system – that’s global risk in a nutshell. But what else might be next for global risk? Here are a few suggestions, based on a joint project with my NYU MA International Relations students and geopolitical crowdsourced consultancy Wikistrat where I am a lead analyst:  

1) Wait A Minute, What Is The New World Order? 

Well, a shift has certainly happened. No one can deny US President Donald Trump’s unilateral rhetoric emphasizing how the US is not responsible for the world anymore. Nor can we ignore China’s repeated declarations of its global ambition; France’s growing influence via soft power; Russia’s dominant hybrid warfare; and so on. The international system appears to be headed in a more multipolar direction, after 25 years of US hegemony post-Cold War. Then again, the US is still setting the global tone on key issues, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal one minute; leading strikes on Syria over chemical weapons the next; and now even setting up historic talks with North Korea, while all other states reposition themselves accordingly. We just don’t know what today’s world order is exactly and the truth is we will not know for awhile – this uncertainty is itself a source of global instability.

2) The Rise of Regional Cold Wars

We keep speculating about the return of the Cold War between Russia and the US and a new one involving China and the US. But perhaps our more immediate concern should be the rise of regional cold wars. For instance, in the Middle East, historic rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran continue their proxy wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as they strengthen their regional alliances. But the rhetoric has become more aggressive lately – Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman has even warned of “potential war” with its rival within the next 10-15 years, a threat which Iran has quickly dismissed. In South Asia, India and China are leveraging investment projects to compete in Nepal; engaging in a diplomatic battle over meddling in the crisis-hit Maldives; and still recovering from the 2017 military standoff in the China-India border dispute. Who will win these regional cold wars and where else will new ones appear?

3) Many Extremist Ideologies Are Gaining Globally

Yes, ISIS has taken a hit militarily in Syria and Iraq since 2017. But the Islamist extremist group is still winning the ideological war as it spreads its message online globally – the ISIS-inspired knife attack in Paris on May 12 is a stark reminder. But there are also other extremist ideologies being spread online, creating more extremist recruits and inciting more violence globally. For instance, in India, Hindu extremists are targeting Muslim and Christian minorities. In parts of Europe and the US, far right extremists are violent in the name of xenophobia. In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Buddhist extremists are still focused on Muslim minorities. Governments and tech firms are trying to stop the use of social media by such groups but with mixed results. Is there a counter-narrative that can out-brand these different strands of extremism? Not really. For now, we can only expect extremist ideologies to keep spreading worldwide, inciting more violence.

4) The Looming War On Tech

Technology’s huge global impact on our politics, economy and society cannot be denied. Is the net effect positive or negative? We still don’t know. Technology has done some good – empowering us to bring down corrupt governments, speak out against sexual predators and has also saved lives by revolutionizing healthcare. But technology has also facilitated extremist violence, led to suicides and bullying, and is expected to create massive unemployment that governments may not yet be prepared for. Equally concerning is the race between countries like the US, China and Russia for the best tech on the battlefield – specifically artificial intelligence (AI); in fact, one report suggests AI could increase the risk of nuclear war. Where are we headed? Governments will keep calling on tech firms and their products to be regulated in some way; some citizens affected by automation unemployment might even fight back. The war on tech is looming. How will tech firms respond?

Prof Aziz

Tangier: lovely view from the Cyfy Africa conference at our hotel, the Farah Tanger. More photos from my trip at https://www.instagram.com/the_global_kid/ #workingholiday #tangier #cyfy #morocco