June 9, 2017 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads - Cities Are Looking Beyond National Governments


President Trump’s decision last week to remove the United States from the Paris climate accord has produced many reactions. But perhaps none was as significant as the decision by major American cities to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in order to uphold the goals of the Paris agreement. Mayors of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and dozens of other cities all affirmed a commitment to what had originally been an agreement among nations. As I wrote in a piece published this week by the Financial Times,

A decade ago these words and promises would have rung hollow. No longer. Globalization has removed the barriers to worldwide communication and co-ordination. The economic and civic influence held by sub-national leaders has increased — especially for mayors around the world. Both changes have come at the expense of national governments having sole authority over cross-border interactions.

Why is this happening now? Part of the pushback from cities toward national governments is an attempt to recalibrate existing imbalances. Urban economies and populations have grown significantly in recent years. Due to rigid electoral systems, however, this new economic and cultural might has not yet been matched in political power at the national level. Cities banding together to pressure their national governments is one way to amplify their political voices that individually would have gone unheard in the capital.

Yet another part of the pushback from cities is not about what has already happened. It is instead about what is happening next. Cities are looking to the future and seeing more common interests forming with other cities around the world, and more divergent interests emerging with their own national governments. As cities’ interests become larger and more global, the arena in which cities need to exercise power is also becoming larger and more global. In some cases, city leaders do not even want to influence their national government; they want to bypass it altogether. As I write in a piece published this week by POLITICO,

Like corporations and national governments, cities now have a vested interest in what their counterparts elsewhere are doing. The question of our time is not whether cities will defend and promote their values and interests globally. They already do. Instead, the question is whether local leaders will do so pretty much as it has been done before, in a piecemeal, transactional manner, or whether they will instead develop meaningful, coordinated global strategies.

None of this means the demise of the nation-state is imminent. Even the most globalized of cities will continue to exist within a national framework for now. Yet urbanization and globalization will undoubtedly reshape the world’s political order in big ways over the next few decades. Going forward, city leaders will likely be even quicker to look to their counterparts abroad to advance local interests. Meanwhile, national governments will likely be increasingly wary of passing policies that aggravate their urban centers for fear of provoking a coordinated and potent pushback.  

As you read the articles selected for This Week’s Reads, keep in mind that the more frenetic events that capture our day-to-day attention are also playing out against the larger, slower backdrop of a changing global political structure. Now, when thinking about the news of the day, we need to consider not only how nations will react, but also how cities and other sub-state actors will react as well.

In fact, we've already begun thinking this way. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in partnership with the Financial Times, just wrapped up its 2017 Chicago Forum on Global Cities, during which we sought answers to the critical questions facing cities in the world today. If you missed the Forum, make sure to watch many of our recorded discussions on our website.

America First Doesn’t Mean America Alone 

H. R. McMaster and Gary D. Cohn/Wall Street Journal

President Trump’s first trip abroad was a success and a big shift in US foreign policy, argue the president’s national security and economic advisers in the Wall Street Journal. The message to all nations was clear, they say: “Where our interests align, we are open to working together to solve problems and explore opportunities.” This marks a historic change – one the two advisers readily acknowledge – in which American values (such as the freedoms of speech and assembly, democratic representation, and human rights) are significantly downplayed in US foreign policy decision-making. This op-ed is a revealing look into how the Trump administration sees the world, and for that, worth reading. You can also read some more of my thoughts on this op-ed and on the president’s trip in the previous edition of This Week’s Reads.

Trump’s Radical Departure from Postwar Foreign Policy

​Fareed Zakaria/The Washington Post

“We now have a Trump Doctrine,” writes Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. Referring to the McMaster/Cohn op-ed and to other recent statements, Zakaria outlines the administration’s embrace of what can be called the “elemental nature of international affairs.” It is a brutal, zero-sum, Hobbesian view of how the world works. Only the world no longer works that way, Zakaria argues. The last few decades have seen a weakening of this raw kind of nation-to-nation interaction. Instead, gaining strength in recent years has been a US-led “liberal — meaning free — international order.” Today, in part due to his Hobbesian view, President Trump has put the future stability of the more recent international order into question. The future may well see the order slowly erode or violently shatter. Or, Zakaria writes, the liberal international order could yet grow stronger – with or without the United States at its center.

To Die for Estonia?

Charles Krauthammer/The Washington Post

Is it really a big deal that President Trump did not explicitly reaffirm US commitment to Article 5 when addressing NATO in May? Yes, argues Charles Krauthammer in a sharp column in the Washington Post. The deterrence provided by NATO’s Article 5 should not be trifled with, he says, precisely because the idea underlying collective deterrence is delicate and seemingly unbelievable. Taking every opportunity to say that the United States will defend all of its allies, even far away Estonia, for example, is essential to the agreement’s believability and effectiveness as a deterrent. That the president did not make this explicit commitment in May invites “instability, miscalculation, provocation, and worse,” Krauthammer concludes. 

India, Once a Coal Goliath, Is Fast Turning Green

​Geeta Anand/The New York Times

India, with its 1.3 billion people, is developing. Its economy is growing, and so too are its energy demands. Coal, with all of its associated greenhouse gas emission, has been essential to meeting this demand in recent years. Today, however, solar energy is booming in India to such an extent that a future reliant on ever more coal is in doubt. “Experts now say that India not only has no need of any new coal-fired plants for at least a decade . . . ,” writes Geeta Anand in the New York Times, “but that after that it could rely on renewable sources for all its additional power needs.” It is a remarkable and detailed account of how renewable energy sources are quickly becoming competitive – and competitive across the world – with more traditional sources of power.

Theresa May Limps Towards the Election Finishing Line

George Parker and Roula Khalaf/Financial Times

In April, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election in a bid to win electoral support ahead of her country’s exit from the European Union. A clear victory for the prime minister and her Conservative Party was, at that time, largely expected. On Thursday, her challengers in the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, proved to be remarkably strong. So, what happened? This long essay in the Financial Times, published just before the election, is a revealing look at how May and the Conservatives lost ground in the days leading up to June 8 and what Britain’s political future may hold after that date.

Europe Reckons With Its Depleted Armies

Julian E. Barnes, Anton Troianovski, and Robert Wall/Wall Street Journal

“Europe lacks the capabilities to defend itself,” the authors of this well-researched piece write in the Wall Street Journal. Even down to the level of everyday necessities, militaries in Europe are increasingly finding themselves coming up short. For example, Belgium recently had to borrow a thousand armor sets from the U.S. Army to outfit its troops. At the bigger end of budget items, the British Royal Navy now has fewer than twenty destroyers and frigates, the authors write. As recently as the 1980s it had more than fifty. The examples collected here are telling, and the conclusion is clear. The many US leaders who have called for European capitals to increase their defense spending in recent years, including President Trump in May, have a valid point.

Megyn Kelly Saw an Aggressive, Peeved Vladimir Putin. That Behavior Could Hurt Him.

David Ignatius/The Washington Post

“Putin grew increasingly aggressive, sarcastic, and peeved” during his recent interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. Writing from St. Petersburg, Russia, Ignatius explains that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “tough-guy, strongman style” has become a chief obstacle to making his country more advanced and prosperous. Corruption is rampant and institutions remain underdeveloped, and Putin has few good options to address either. What Putin is doing instead is falling far short. The recent St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which coincided with Kelly’s interview, was “designed as a lavish rebranding exercise for the new Russia.” Yet, Ignatius writes, “Russians I talked with here and in Moscow were frank that Russia still has a very long distance to travel.”

Growing Threats to the U.S. at Sea

James Stavridis/Wall Street Journal

During the Cold War, great powers seemed to forever be playing a kind of “Hunt for Red October,” writes the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in the Wall Street Journal. In the years after the Cold War, however, the high tide of big power sea conflict fell back. Ships were mothballed, and the “oceans looked to be a vast American lake for decades to come,” Stavridis writes. Yet today the tide is turning once again. Threats are increasing as Russia and China build up their navies. In response, the U.S. Navy needs more and more advanced ships. It also needs to work with allies and partners, he writes, “to stitch all of these forces together more strategically.”

Trump’s Tangle with Europe Leads the Continent to Find Partners Elsewhere

Michael Birnbaum/The Washington Post

The pushback to President Trump’s decision on the Paris climate agreement has come not only from below, from cities and states, but also from other countries. “The pullout left the United States a global outlier and, many European leaders and experts said, a severely diminished force in the world,” writes Michael Birnbaum in the Washington Post. The article is a detailed account of growing sentiment in Europe that is at odds with what the White House is undertaking. Nor is climate change viewed by European leaders as a one-off issue. “Now, many European officials say, they are steeling themselves for years of conflict with Trump,” Birnbaum writes.

Immigrants Keep an Iowa Meatpacking Town Alive and Growing

Patricia Cohen/The New York Times

Storm Lake, Iowa, is as American as any other small town in the United States. It is weathering global competition, agricultural automation, falling real wages, and an aging population. However, it has also absorbed a flood of immigrants from Asia, Central America, and Africa. Less than half of Storm Lake’s population is non-Hispanic white. “Walk through the halls of the public schools,” Patricia Cohen writes in the New York Times, “and you can hear as many as 18 languages.” The report is a fascinating case study about how both the American economy and its population are changing as a result of globalization and migration.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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