WE BUILT THIS CITY-STATE

A couple of weeks ago in our Independence Day edition of Signal, we offered a few reasons why we think cities might be the next wave of geopolitical entities to seek independence: they’re home to a growing share of the world’s people and economic activity; they’re increasingly on the front lines of major global challenges like climate change; and they’re increasingly at odds, politically, economically, and culturally, with their rural hinterlands. The more nation-states struggle to reconcile these tensions, the greater the chance that city-states will eventually emerge to take their place.


Interesting idea, but it’ll never happen, according to several readers who wrote in. Skeptics see two interrelated problems: resources and security. Geographically constrained cities have little hope of acting independently of national governments if the latter can restrict their supplies of food, water, and other essential supplies. And national governments would be unwilling to voluntarily give up the tax revenue and economic power that cities generate. National governments have armies, and cities don’t. You do the math.

All good points, but I can’t help but wondering whether technology will erode national governments’ advantages in coming years. Many security experts think that the future of military power lies less in expensive fighter jets and guided missile cruisers, and more in artificial intelligence and on the cyber battlefield. Military-grade cyber weapons are already widely available online, thanks to leaks of high-powered US hacking tools. And some observers are concerned that non-state actors may eventually be able to create powerful new weapons by combining readily accessible civilian technologies, like commercial drones and image recognition, in clever ways. How might a country’s calculus about letting a big city slip away change if that city had access to lethal swarms of AI-powered drones, or if its government could credibly threaten a crippling cyber strike against a faraway nuclear power plant? The question might sound far-fetched today, but will it still seem that way a decade from now?​​​

In the end it wasn't even close. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party won a stunning victory in the UK's snap elections yesterday, taking at least 364 seats out of 650, delivering the Tories their largest majority since 1987.

Johnson read the public mood correctly. After three years of anguish and political uncertainty over the terms of the UK's exit from the European Union, he ran on a simple platform: "Get Brexit Done." In a typically raffish late-campaign move, he even drove a bulldozer through a fake wall of "deadlock." Despite lingering questions about his honesty and his character, Johnson's party gained at least 49 seats (one seat still hasn't been declared yet).

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This holiday season, how concerned should I be about smart toys and their vulnerability to hacking?

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Once a widely heralded human rights champion who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for advancing democracy in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has now taken up a different cause: defending her country from accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Yesterday was the court's final day of hearings over that country's military-led crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, which left thousands dead and forced more than 740,000 people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Here's what you need to know about the proceedings.

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