Investors need to buckle up because this is the most dangerous time since the end of World War II, former top diplomat says

With geopolitical tensions soaring and a U.S. election looming that could redefine its role in the world, investors should brace for the extremely perilous environment they are in, said a veteran U.S. diplomat.

Richard Haass, who was a top official in the State Department and is now senior counselor at Centerview Partners, was asked on Bloomberg TV on Friday what investors should keep top of mind.

“You need to have a seat belt and keep it fastened,” Haass replied.

He said both Democrats and Republicans are competing over how protectionist they can be when it comes to China, which could have inflationary consequences. They are also looking to tighten the U.S.-Mexico border, which could add to inflation as well if it restricts the supply of workers.

Haass said he’s also worried about time between the U.S. election and the presidential inauguration, especially if there’s another close contest that stirs up political violence.

“A lot of people around the world could get unnerved. A lot of foes around the world might see that as a moment of opportunity,” he warned.

Then after Inauguration Day, a key question will we be if the U.S. government is functional or dysfunctional, he said. And if former President Donald Trump is elected again, another question would be whether he tries to dismantle key pieces of the world order that have served U.S. interests for more than 75 years, Haass added.

Trump has been particularly hostile toward NATO members he views as not spending enough. In February, he said he’d encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to allies that are “delinquent.” Days later, he doubled down, saying “if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect.”

“So if you’re an investor, there’s a degree of uncertainty, this combination of geopolitics in the world against the backdrop of an America that’s no longer certain or united as to its role,” Haass said. “This is actually the most dangerous moment, I would argue, not just since the end of the Cold War but in many ways since the end of World War II.”

To be sure, he also pointed to some positive signs, including the strengthened alliance between the U.S. and Japan, improved ties between Japan and South Korea, the emergence of India’s economy, and the West’s support for Ukraine against Russia, though that recently wavered until the U.S. House passed a new aid package after months of delays.

But he cautioned that the world isn’t self-organizing, and the U.S. plays a large role that U.S. investors must consider.

“The rule of law here at home, a stable world—this provides the context for everything American business does,” Haass said, noting that CEOs should support pro-democracy policies at home and “pro-internationalist” abroad.

His warnings echo those of top economist Mohamed El-Erian, who wrote in a Financial Times op-ed on Friday that there’s a major disconnect between investors and security experts about how they view the risks from the Iran-Israel conflict, which could still deliver a major shock to global growth and financial markets.

The conflict has “durably raised the geopolitical temperature in the region,” but financial markets have brushed that aside, as the recent tit-for-tat hasn’t yet resulted in major casualties of physical damage, he said.

“Given that this is a region that is vulnerable to errors of judgment, insufficient understanding of adversaries, and implementation accidents, that could well prove too complacent a reaction,” El-Erian said.

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