The Rise of Subnational Diplomacy Discussed at Meridian

Tony Pipa, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Center for Sustainable Development, Ambassador Nina Hachigian, U.S. Special Representative for Subnational Diplomacy, T.H. Kate Gallego, Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, and H.E. Jorge Argüello, Ambassador of Argentina to the U.S., speak on panel at “Strengthening Foreign Policy through Subnational Diplomacy” on January 17, 2023 at Meridian House in Washington, DC. Photo by Kris Tripplaar.

Subnational diplomacy is taking center stage as the U.S. Department of State appointed a Special Representative for Subnational Diplomacy and is hosting the Cities Summit of the Americas in April. The program, done in partnership with the Brookings Institution, was moderated by Tony Pipa, Senior Fellow at the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution, brought together: The Honorable Nina Hachigian, Special Representative for Subnational Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State, His Excellency Jorge Argüello, Ambassador of Argentina to the U.S., and The Honorable Kate Gallego, Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona.

Here are some top takeaways from the discussion:

1. What to expect from the new State Department Office for Subnational Diplomacy

Ambassador Hachigian outlined three major goals of the new office: to serve as a conduit for states and cities to obtain the “tangible benefits of foreign policy”; encourage U.S. local leaders to engage internationally; and to encourage the State Department to engage subnational actors across the U.S. and around the world. Since very few U.S. cities and states have offices dedicated to international engagement, the Office for Subnational Diplomacy will provide many of the resources necessary to ensure that U.S. local leaders are able to engage on an international level. This includes advice on protocol and engagement, as well as focus on activating (or re-activating) fellowships, outreach through the Office of Foreign Missions, and State department alumni to supply additional international capacity. Fortunately, the new Office has been received enthusiastically by mayors, governors, and their existing representative networks, as well as other parts of the State Department and Administration.

2. Global interaction in the best interests of cities and states/Dollars and cents of global engagement

As the economy becomes increasingly globalized, cities and states that are looking through an international lens stand to benefit the most. In Phoenix, foreign direct investment has diversified the economy and brought skilled positions and job training to the city. In Argentina, foreign direct investment in provinces has offered such great opportunities for the country that Argentina is actively seeking to direct foreign investment to the country through governors’ offices. Ambassador Argüello discussed the Embassy of Argentina's “Federal Agenda Program,” a program in which the embassy works with the country's 23 provinces, in addition to the city of Buenos Aires, to attract foreign investment opportunities.  As Ambassador Argüello put it, each province's natural resources and regulatory environment represent a unique investment opportunity for the private sector.However, cities and states are not the only ones that benefit from this global interaction. Ambassador Hachigian emphasized this while discussing the soft power potential that subnational leaders offer to their countries.


3. Cooperation on global issues requires local action and leadership

Cities and states are taking the lead on global issues. Many are implementing measures to combat human trafficking and reduce the devastating impacts of climate change. Others are taking charge of refugee resettlement efforts and/or coping with political instability. In the case of climate policy, Mayor Gallego pointed out that, while many national governments are not meeting their commitments on climate, many cities are. One clear example of these efforts is C-40, the network of more than 100 cities seeking to confront climate change, which has built momentum on climate adaptation and mitigation that is driving improvements in cityscapes and infrastructure. This example, along with many others, reflects an idea that Ambassador Hachigian shared with the panel: “Cities are innovation labs for addressing our shared challenges.”

4. Sharing knowledge across contexts

“There are a lot of stereotypes that mayors think a lot about potholes. And, in our case, they are true! And we’re doing that at the international level!” Municipal leaders are confronting many of the same domestic issues and as much innovation is created and invested in locally, some of the best transmission of ideas that are truly innovative can take place at the subnational level. For example, Mayor Gallego cited Phoenix’s “cool pavement” program’- a program that seeks to lower the temperature of paved roads by 10 degrees Fahrenheit - as an example given that the program may be adapted to the Argentine context based on engagement at the recent C-40 World Mayors Summit in Buenos Aires. “Being able to talk to the local government folks in Argentina makes me better at my job, so it’s been a win for… the people of Phoenix, but certainly for me as mayor,” said Mayor Gallego.

5. Subnational diplomacy of the past, present, and future

Panelists pointed to the important links that the Sister Cities network has created over the 60 plus years of its history, such as the relationship between Taipei and Phoenix, which has fostered a vibrant Mandarin program in the city as well as increased economic development. They reflected on the legacy that networks like these create and the importance of maintaining and honoring them even as municipal and state administrations change. Furthermore, panelists and attendees considered the positive impact that organizations like the Conference of Mayors and the National Governors Association have had on international engagement, given their ability to convene subnational leaders from around the U.S. and the world.  Now looking into the future, particularly at the Cities Summit of the Americas in April 2023 in Denver, Colorado, Ambassador Hachigian hopes to create “a lasting mechanism for international engagement at the local level”.

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