Making Political Risk More Politically Relevant

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

Alicia N. Ellis, PhD, Arizona State University

Ukraine’s Independence Square in Fall 2013, taken only months before it erupted into violent protests culminating in the overthrow of the sitting government. A busy commercial and tourist hub that day, there was no sign of the war zone it would soon resemble. Photo: Alicia Ellis.

Executive Summary

This report assesses the state of the academic literature on political risk and evaluates its contribution to understanding and mitigating risk for both business and political professionals. This assessment concludes that policy-relevant research has been in some cases limited and, in most cases, ineffectively communicated. Several major problems contribute to the persistent disconnect between policy, industry, and academia. Political scientists do not approach their research questions in a communicable way, nor do they often take the necessary step of connecting their research to an end use. Risk rating organizations have become overly reliant on cross-national aggregate models. Mixed methods research has been applied inappropriately and thus, ineffectively. Systematic biases have been introduced to models at a structural level, and conceptual difficulties plague some of the most basic questions for risk analysts.

Despite these problems, opportunities do exist for bridging the gap between research and practice, and producing policy-relevant research. This article proposes some recommendations for moving forward. Research questions must be structured in new ways to reflect the needs of end consumers that include non-academic professionals. Several research agendas in need of a practical-minded researcher are put forth, including the rise of China and what it means for global trade patterns, the ‘buy local’ movement spreading across the United States, and the problem of democratic consolidation. For each problem identified, the article makes suggestions for how we might reframe the questions in a way that produces more useful research on political risk. Continue reading

US-China Trade War: Time is on the Side of the US

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Ho-fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University

The US-China trade war has unfolded for nearly a year now. After some false hope of a quick deal, China’s backpedaling in May from earlier promises to stop requiring a technology transfer from US firms in China, and to do more to protect intellectual property, obliterated such hope. Trump’s reaction of raising new tariffs on Chinese goods, followed by China’s retaliation in kind, led to an escalation.

Bipartisan Support of Trade War with China

This escalation of the trade war, interestingly, has not unleashed criticism of President Trump in the US. Sources from the US negotiation team and those from its Chinese counterparts both verified China’s last-minute withdrawal of earlier commitments. There is little doubt that Beijing rather than Trump is to be blamed for this re-escalation. Trump’s strong response to the Chinese backpedaling instead got rare bipartisan support. Congress Democrats are on the same side with the President, judging by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweet, “Hang tough on China, President @realDonaldTrump. Don’t back down. Strength is the only way to win with China.”[1]

Figure 1. China’s External Financial Position. (Source: World Bank)

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China’s $60 Trillion Estimate Of Oil and Gas In The South China Sea: Strategic Implications

U.S. hydrocarbon estimates imply a maximum of $8 trillion worth of oil and gas in the region, explaining part of the strategic divergence of the two superpowers.

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 2018

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

China’s estimates of proved, probable and undiscovered oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea imply as much as 10 times the value of hydrocarbons compared with U.S. estimates, a differential that has likely contributed to destabilizing U.S. and Chinese interactions in the region. While China estimates a total of approximately 293 to 344 billion barrels of oil (BBL) and 30 to 72 trillion cubic meters (TCM) of natural gas, the U.S. only estimates 16 to 33 BBL and 7 to 14 TCM. Considering that the inflation-adjusted value of oil vacillated between approximately $50 and $100 per barrel (in 2017 prices) since the mid-1970s, U.S. estimates imply a hydrocarbon value in the South China Sea between $3 and $8 trillion, while Chinese estimates imply a value between $25 and $60 trillion. In addition to other factors, China’s greater dependence on oil imports and higher estimates of hydrocarbons in the South China Sea have driven it to invest more military resources in the region. An overly economistic approach by the Obama administration probably led the U.S. to allow China’s expansion in the South China Sea too easily.

Photo taken on June 13, 2015 shows the Xingwang deep-sea semi-submersible drilling platform at Liwan3-2 gasfield in the South China Sea. China’s largest offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC Ltd. announced on July 3, 2015 that its Xingwang deep-sea semi-submersible drilling platform started drilling at 1,300 meters underwater in Liwan 3-2 gas field in the South China Sea. Credit: Xinhua/Zhao Liang via Getty Images.

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Effects of terrorist veterans returning to the West from foreign wars

Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment recently found that most terrorists originating in the West (Europe, Australia, or the US) conduct their terrorism in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. These terrorists are defined as “foreign fighters”. When these foreign fighter veterans return to the West, they are more likely to complete attacks, which are more likely to be lethal (American Political Science Review, volume 107, no. 1, Feb 2013, “Should I stay or should I go? Explaining variation in Western Jihadists’ choice between domestic and foreign fighting.”)

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, we can expect countervailing effects on terrorism in the West. On the one hand, there presumably will be less reason to conduct terrorism, as terrorists use these wars as justification for their actions. On the other hand, foreign fighter veterans will be returning to the West, increasing the quantity, militancy, and experience of the pool of potential domestic terrorists. New justifications for terrorism — for example Western intervention in Mali and Syria — can always be found by those so inclined.