The Foreign Relations of Subnational Governments
- Samuel Lucas McMillanSamuel Lucas McMillanDepartment of Political Science, Lander University
Subnational governments are increasingly involved in foreign policy and foreign relations in activities usually labeled as paradiplomacy or constituent diplomacy. This phenomenon is due to the rising capacity of substate territories to act in world politics and has been aided by advances in transportation and telecommunications. National governments’ control of foreign policy has been permeated in many ways, particularly with globalization and “glocalization.”
Since 1945, subnational governments such as Australian states, Canadian provinces, and U.S. states have sought to influence foreign policy and foreign relations. Subnational leaders began traveling outside their national borders to recruit foreign investment and promote trade, even opening offices to represent their interests around the world. Subnational governments in Belgium, Germany, and Spain were active in world politics by the 1980s, and these activities expanded in Latin America in the 1990s. Today, there are new levels of activity within federal systems such as India and Nigeria. Subnational leaders now receive ambassadors and heads of government and can be treated like heads of state when they travel abroad to promote their interests.
Not only has paradiplomacy spread to subnational governments across the world, but the breath of issues addressed by legislatures and leaders is far beyond economic policy, connecting to intermestic issues such as border security, energy, environmental protection, human rights, and immigration. Shared national borders led to transborder associations being formed decades ago, and these have increased in number and specialization. New levels of awareness of global interdependencies means that subnational leaders today are likely to see both the opportunities and threats from globalization and then seek to represent their citizens’ interests.
Foreign policy in the 21st century is not only affected by transnational actors outside of government, such as multinational corporations and environmental groups, but also governmental actors from the local level to the national level. The extent to which subnational governments participate in foreign policy depends on variables related to autonomy and opportunity. Autonomy variables include constitutional framework, division of power, and rules as determined by legislative action or court decisions. Opportunity variables include geography, economic interdependence, kinship (ethnic and religious ties), as well as partisanship and the political ambitions of subnational leaders. Political culture is a variable that can affect autonomy and opportunity.
Paradiplomacy has influenced the expectations and roles of subnational leaders and has created varying degrees of institutionalization. Degrees of autonomy allowed for Flanders are not available for U.S. states. Whereas most subnational governments do not have formal roles in international organizations or a ministry devoted to international relations, this does occur in Quebec. Thus, federalism dynamics and intergovernmental relations are evolving and remain important to study.
In future research, scholars should more fully examine how subnational leaders’ roles evolve and the political impacts of paradiplomacy; the effects of democratization and how paradiplomacy is diffused; how national and subnational identity shapes paradiplomacy, and the effects paradiplomacy has on domestic and international law as well as political economy. The autonomy and power of subnational governments should be better conceptualized, particularly because less deference is given to national-level policy makers in foreign policy.