Chapter 4 of Technocracy: The Hard Road to World Order is titled, “The Rise of the Global City” and details the special role of cities in establishing a global Technocracy. This article is evidence of that. ⁃ TN Editor
When Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that the United States was pulling out of the Paris Agreement—the pact between 195 nations (nearly all the world’s nations) to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions—the mayors of Paris, France, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, responded with an op-ed in The New York Times. In it, they announced that “an unprecedented alliance is emerging” among more than 7,400 cities worldwide to honor and uphold the goals of this agreement irrespective of their own country’s level of commitment. They vowed to do this not only for the citizens of their cities, but also for the citizens of “every other city in the world.”
Most people don’t think of cities when thinking about international relations or international law. After all, cities are local governments and their leaders are concerned with local, not global, issues and challenges. Right?
Cities’ structural powerlessness in international relations
In a formal sense, cities remain structurally powerless—that is, without an official seat at the table or a platform in the current international political framework, which is built on the foundational idea that nation-states are the sole actors and policy-makers at the international level. This state-centric framework was constructed by and for states following the atrocities of World War II, when the winners of the war came together and, following a series of negotiations, created the United Nations (UN).
Nations, and only nations, are permitted to fill the key positions in the UN. While a small role is granted to non-governmental organizations, that can be consulted on matters pertaining to their expertise, this same privilege is not afforded to cities, which are not mentioned even once in the UN Charter.
Cities are also formally powerless under international law. With rare exception, international law treats nations as the makers, shapers, and subjects of its contents, and as the only entities with both legal rights and duties. International human rights law, which treats humans (rather than countries) as its subject, is one of the only exceptions, and even there, states are the primary vehicle through which such rights are expected to be realized and enforced.
In short, nation-states exclusively created and exclusively manage the core institutions comprising the existing international political and legal framework.
Cities’ rising power at the international level
Yet, despite the fact that cities were effectively written out of the existing political world order, cities are leapfrogging over their federal governments to participate independently at the international level.
National governments increasingly are seen as unresponsive at best, or dysfunctional at worst, in addressing some of the most dire threats and challenges facing humanity, of which the majority live in cities. Cities are stepping into the breach in ways that promise to reshape the international political order.
Cities are rising in influence and power on the global stage for three primary reasons. First, the world’s global cities are increasingly driving world affairs—politically, socially, culturally, and especially, economically. Cities are the world’s engines of productivity, innovation, talent, and economic output, producing nearly 80 percent of total global GDP. And an increasing number of global cities, such as London, Tokyo, and New York boast economies larger than some G-20 nations. The recent formation of the Urban 20 (U20 – see featured image), a diplomatic initiative of global cities intended to mirror the G20, is a powerful expression of the role and influence global cities are staking out in the new world order. When these cities talk, nations (and the international institutions that represent them) are starting to listen.
Second, cities are where our current and projected global challenges are most present. Whether it is climate change, the refugee crisis, rising global inequality, shortages in affordable housing, terrorism, or health pandemics, cities are where our most pressing global and national problems are occurring. Cities are the ones experiencing and tackling these problems, and cities are making the case that they should be key actors in shaping the solutions.
Third, cities are where the human population is converging. Well over half the world’s population, including the majority of migrants and refugees, currently live in cities, and this number is expected to reach nearly 70 percent by 2050, with most of that growth occurring in Asia and Africa. With numbers come power, and thus it is no surprise that exploding urban population is making cities more central and relevant than ever.