WE BUILT THIS CITY-STATE

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?​​​

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.

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32: Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote on Friday after only 32 out of 130 lawmakers supported his removal for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. Vizcarra was in peril just a week ago, but the case for impeachment lost steam after the president was backed by the military and influential opposition leaders who insist the country needs stability to fight COVID-19.

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