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Cities in the international system Winchester, David J.


Municipal actions aimed at promoting local economic development through trade may in certain cases have become sufficiently developed to warrant consideration of municipal governments as actors in the international system. This paper analyzes that possibility by describing the direction of ongoing changes in the international system and assessing the potential for political conflict between city and state. Because the nascent quality of the hypothesized conflict precludes a direct hypothesis-testing methodology, the aim is rather to juxtapose the conflicting logics of the state system and the evolving global economic system to which civic governments must simultaneously conform. Recent work in urban geography and economics has hypothesized that geographical and economic linkages have created international systems of cities which articulate the expansion of the capitalist-dominated world economic system. This paper shows how changes in the global economy are affecting the nature and role of cities within these international subsystems. The analysis posits that the changing international economic environment may be altering the relationship between cities and the states in which they are imbedded. While it is not suggested that a formal devolution of power to municipalities is likely, it is suggested that structural requirements for economic development may be pushing national governments in the direction of removing themselves somewhat from the sphere of international economic relations. The case of the Vancouver municipal government's increasingly proactive stance in the development of commercial links with China is used to illustrate the contention that the power of municipal governments to determine the features of many international relationships is beginning to increase.

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