CATCH A WAVE: INDEPENDENCE EDITION

CATCH A WAVE: INDEPENDENCE EDITION

Over the past century, three major waves of independence have given rise to many of the 195 countries that exist today.


The first came in the period around World War One, when the collapse of the Ottoman, Habsburg, German, and Russian empires spawned new nation states in Central and Eastern Europe.

The second broke in the years after World War Two, when dozens of African and Asian countries won their independence — in some cases after a fierce fight — from the dying British and French empires.

The most recent wave arrived in 1991, as the dissolution of the USSR spawned 15 new former Soviet Republics. (To our Latin American readers, we aren’t disregarding you — it’s just that the collapse of the Spanish and Portuguese empires happened more than a century ago.)

Where and how will the next wave hit? Here at Signal, we think there’s a strong case to be made that cities may give rise to the next big independence push.

Here’s why:

  • Urban areas are already home to more than half the world’s population and produce 80 percent of global GDP — a figure that will grow as millions more people join the burgeoning ranks of the world’s city-dwellers in coming decades.
  • The urban-rural divide is growing more prominent in global politics: think London versus the English countryside, which were sharply opposed to each other over Brexit, or pro-immigrant US sanctuary cities versus rural voters who tend to look more skeptically on immigration.
  • Cities are increasingly on the front lines of dealing with transnational issues like climate change, health, migration, and terrorism, and have begun to cooperate more with each other along all of these lines.
  • Cities’ dynamic economies and more manageable size also means they’re arguably better-positioned to capture the benefits — and manage the downsides — of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.

The widening urban-rural divide could eventually push cities to seek a greater degree of independence, but national governments will resist giving up too much ground. We’re curious what you think: What would it take for global cities to become city-states? What are some other potential waves of independence that you can think of? Let us know here. ​

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

COVID-19 was a global catastrophe that blindsided the world's wealthiest nations, and it's far from over. But as disasters go, it was hardly unprecedented. Humanity has a long history of failing to prepare for the worst, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to famines to shipwrecks to airplane crashes to financial depressions. But how do we get better at preventing such calamities from happening, and how many seemingly unavoidable "natural" disasters are actually caused by humans? On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks about all that and more with Stanford historian Niall Ferguson, who is just out with the perfect book for the topic, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe." Plus, a look at how one young Ugandan activist was literally cropped out of the global climate fight.

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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