The State Department should do much more to promote and coordinate with city and state diplomacy, starting with creating a new office dedicated to that task.
City and state governments should invest in personnel and other resources to grow their engagement on the world stage.
Academic and research institutions, community-based organizations and philanthropic organizations can all build the diplomatic capacity of city and state governments.
In March 2021, Truman Center published a report called “Transforming State: Pathways to a More Just, Equitable and Innovative Institution.” The third of three pillars of recommendations in this report, “Broadening Diplomatic Engagement Across America,” lays out a vision for a “State Department that actively seeks to partner with diverse stakeholders across the country… increasing our footprint with innovation hubs, legislators on Capitol Hill, and mayors and governors.” The first recommendation in this pillar is as follows:
With this recommendation at its core, this Task Force explored how to develop this Office and its function within the State Department, while building additional capacity for city and state governments and their communities to engage with their counterparts abroad. Organized in three sections, this report responds to three core questions:
Two co-chairs of this task force, Representative Ted Lieu and Senator Chris Murphy, have twice introduced, with bipartisan support, the City and State Diplomacy Act (H.R. 4526 and S. 3072). This legislation proposes the creation of an Office of City and State Diplomacy within the State Department, to be led by a Senate-confirmed Ambassador-at-Large. The language of the bill states:
Congress should immediately pass this legislation to make the office permanent and demonstrate bipartisan support for the city and state diplomacy. However, the power to establish such an office already resides with the Administration.
This Task Force calls for the State Department to establish an Office of City and State Diplomacy, with the mission to strengthen communication and collaboration between the State Department and city and state governments on U.S. foreign policy priorities, to expand the reach and impact of the State Department, and to develop opportunities for greater awareness of and engagement by subnational governments in global affairs.
Creating an office and identifying its leader, its staff, and its resources will launch a hub for communication, collaboration, and engagement between city and state governments and the State Department. The Office could reside in several places within the State Department or report directly to the Secretary, and should:
Alongside creating the Office as a hub for city and state diplomacy, it is equally important to integrate subnational diplomacy into national security strategies, foreign policy tradecraft, and the career paths of Foreign Service Officers.
The deep engagements many United States city and state governments have with international partners and international issues are not yet well known or understood. Many at the State Department may not yet acknowledge this as diplomacy. However, city and state governments in the U.S. are representing their localities (and, informally, the United States) in multinational policy networks and forums, reporting directly to the United Nations on global agendas, competing to host global events, working with their counterparts bilaterally and through networks, as well as working to attract foreign investment. Recognizing this work as part of the 21st century diplomatic toolkit is essential, and must be incorporated into training and continuing education. Accordingly, the State Department should:
In addition to expanding outreach to city and state governments, the State Department should create more opportunities for city and state governments to opt-in to international engagement.
For many states, cities, and subnational governments, this is dependent on both capacity and alignment with their priorities. Opening new channels will be essential to ensuring the broadest participation across the United States. The State Department should:
The State Department should establish an Office of State and Local Diplomacy (OSLD) that is led by an Ambassador-at-Large for State and Local Diplomacy ... The OSLD would serve as the connective tissue between state and local officials, Americans across urban and rural communities, and U.S. foreign policy. Mayors and governors are first responders to national security priorities like climate change, countering extremism, trade and investment, and COVID-19 pandemic recovery and response. State and local actors often have the flexibility to launch innovative pilots that, if proven successful, can be scaled to other cities and influence federal policy.
In the United States, city and state governments comprise tens of thousands of governing entities with differing sizes and configurations of elected and appointed officials and their authorities. While all subnational governments in the U.S. have a stake in global challenges, including climate change and pandemics like COVID-19, not all may benefit from a dedicated individual or team focused on international engagement. A model for city and state diplomacy that works for Los Angeles or New York may not make sense for Des Moines or even the states of Indiana and Tennessee.
Yet all of these subnational governments have been engaged in international affairs. Despite their differences, they have realized benefits for their communities by engaging with the world.
This engagement makes communities stronger and more resilient. Accordingly, city and state governments should:
As the United States works to end the global democratic recession, cities offer powerful examples of democracies delivering results to people in real time—a lesson for national governments to shorten the distance between policy and impact.
Organizations that serve a community include: faith-based organizations; local chapters of global organizations like the World Affairs Councils of America, United Nations Association of the USA, and Truman National Security Project; affinity and community diplomacy groups like the Global Ties Network and Sister Cities International; alumni of the Peace Corps; service clubs like Kiwanis or Rotary; and local chambers of commerce.
These membership-driven, community-based organizations (CBOs) should offer their support to city and state governments, including their ideas and contacts to promote international cooperation. Pathways to do so include:
This Task Force recommends that philanthropic organizations:
The United States faces overlapping global challenges that can only be solved by working with allies and partners around the world.
The Truman Center for National Policy would like to acknowledge and thank our colleagues, Task Force Co-Chairs, Task Force members, and financial supporters who all generously contributed to this report.
A report of this magnitude and scope is only possible because of the breadth and depth of knowledge that so many of our co-chairs, reviewers, members, and advisors brought to the conversation. This report was principally authored by Erin Bromaghim, with Jon Temin and Eliana Reynolds. The authors would like to acknowledge Julie Egan for her expertise. We would like to thank Jenny Lin and Jessy X. Castillo for the production and design of this report. Additional published material on the topic of city and state diplomacy can be found at Truman’s living resource library.
Finally, the Center is grateful for the generous support of the Open Society Foundations. The findings and conclusions contained within this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Truman Center for National Policy or any other organization.
Positionality statements are an acknowledgement of the vantage and context from which researchers approach their work. We have chosen to include one here, to recognize our perspective as persons engaged in and with the practice of diplomacy, including diplomacy led by city and state governments. We represent a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, but acknowledge this report does not include a thorough exploration of diplomacy from the perspective of all subnational governments, and specifically rural or tribal governments. The recommendations of this Task Force are meant to be actionable, informed by our collective experience working across government, private sector and civil society. These changes will take time, but offer an opportunity to center the progress of our communities - toward greater resilience, equity, and sustainability - as a foundation for U.S. foreign policy.
Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook
Adom M. Cooper*†
Heather Wild-González Rubio*†
Robert C. Llewellyn*
Paul W. Neville†
Anthony F. Pipa
Luis A. Renta
Carrie Booth Walling*