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Six things to keep you awake at night

Think the global economic recovery is upon us? Here's what could postpone joy.

The tales of carnage are horrific, to be sure: 30 people were killed in a 48 hour period last week in Cuidad Juarez alone, a city located directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. So far, the impact on the United States and beyond has been minimal. But there also isn’t much sign that the army is winning, either, and that raises a disturbing question: What if Calderon loses?

The CIA’s worst nightmare during the Cold War (outside of an administration which forced transparency on it, of course) was the radicalization or collapse of Mexico. The template then was communism, but narco-capitalism doesn’t look much better.

The prospect of a wholesale collapse that sends millions upon millions of Mexican refugees fleeing across the northern border so far seems remote. But Mexico’s army has its own problems with corruption, and a sizable number of Mexicans regard Calderon’s razor thin 2006 electoral victory over a leftist rival as illegitimate. With Mexico’s economy reeling and the traditional safety valve of illegal immigration to America dwindling, the potential for serious trouble exists.

Meanwhile, Mexico ranks with Saudi Arabia and Canada as the three suppliers of oil the United States could not do without. Should things come unglued there and Pemex shut down even temporarily, the shock on oil markets could be profound, again, sending its waves throughout the global economy. Domestically in the U.S., any trouble involving Mexico invariably will cause a bipartisan demand for more security on the southern border and possibly demands for Obama to revisit his campaign promise to “renegotiate NAFTA.”

Risk 3: Russian nationalism

At stake: European recovery, natural gas prices, pipeline politics, Iranian containment.

Russia’s economic collapse, reliant as it was on the 2008 global oil price bubble, cannot be overestimated. The economy shrank 10 percent from June 2008 to June 2009, and its unwillingness to guarantee foreign investors a fair shake in court has sent many of them — the latest being Sweden’s IKEA — heading for the door.