Subnational Diplomatic Leaders Show Why Leading Globally Matters Locally

August 21, 2023 By Ethan Puc

On October 3rd, 2022, President Biden named Ambassador Nina Hachigian to serve as America’s first Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy. This represented an emphasis on behalf of the administration to try integrating local ideas into foreign policy and focus on how U.S. development and diplomacy abroad bring numerous benefits to communities across America. Subnational diplomatic leaders such as mayors, state senators, and other local officials understand the issues facing their communities and should be at the forefront of discussing advancing broader U.S. foreign policy.

Cities across America, especially those in the Heartland such as Detroit and Dayton, are emerging as global hubs. They are often at the forefront of global affairs— attracting foreign investment and connecting American businesses to international markets, engaging in Sister City programs, and acting as centers for cultural diversity and educational exchanges. USGLC recently traveled to Dayton, Ohio and Hastings, Nebraska to underscore the importance of U.S. diplomacy for local communities and cities to be globally connected and engaged on the world stage Businesses like Cargill, that sell agricultural goods to global consumers are a key aspect of global supply chains that connect American products to worldwide markets. Schools that host educational exchanges, such as The University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center, where the Dayton Accords—which ended the Yugoslav War—were negotiated and signed, provides an opportunity for American students to be exposed to different cultures and learn how they benefit from an active and engaged U.S. global presence. Dayton is just one example of thousands of cities across the country that benefit from the global partnerships and from U.S. diplomacy and development that keeps America safe, secure, and prosperous.

Subnational diplomatic leaders are a key conduit to amplify issues that matter to American citizens at the local and state level, such as the cost of consumer goods, in addition to the national policy level with issues such as global support democracy and national security policy. Previously, this role was mainly filled by advocacy organizations and grasstops lobbying movements. These groups have found success tapping into a diverse network of local community leaders and businesses in addition to advocacy and amplification of foreign policy issues at the national level. Now that the State Department is investing resources into this, there can be a much more direct connection between these groups and the government officials that influence U.S. foreign policy.

Collaboration between subnational diplomatic leaders and policymakers would allow for the global partnerships forged by America’s cities to be more directly connected to the U.S. leadership and officials in Washington. While mayors and local leaders have been engaged in global efforts and economies, the State Department is now engaging with them on a much more direct basis and want to connect the massive apparatus that is U.S. international affairs to the numerous benefits it brings to their communities.

The United States has been at the forefront of confronting the most challenging global crises during the past few years. From combatting the COVID-19 pandemic to leading the response to Russian invasion of Ukraine to competing responsibly with China’s rising global power, these large-scale engagements can seem distant, leave the Americans disconnected from U.S. foreign policy decisions, and force some to wonder where their tax dollars are going. Dialogues between the people and the administration and its officials are a critical step in developing a foreign policy that focuses on improving the lives and economic standing of everyday Americans and this commitment by the Biden administration demonstrates that it cares about local voices on national and international issues.


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