The Truman Center was proud to host Diplomacy Across America: Strengthening the Bonds Between the State Department and U.S. Cities and States on October 26 at the University of Richmond. The event was conducted in partnership with the State Department and the Office of the Mayor of Richmond. The discussion was moderated by University of Richmond Provost Jeff Legro and featured Amb. Nina Hachigian, Special Representative for Subnational Diplomacy at the Department of State; Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney; and Truman Center President & CEO Jenna Ben-Yehuda.
The panel focused on Amb. Hachigian’s new role as the Special Representative for Subnational Diplomacy, and how the State Department plans to collaborate with cities like Richmond to bring the benefits of foreign policy to all parts of the country. Ambassador Hachigian began by defining subnational diplomacy as “international engagement by governments within nations.” She argued that the United States needs a “foreign policy for the middle class,” in which cities and states have substantial influence. Subnational networks help to foster economic and cultural growth by attracting foreign direct investment, she said, which deepens the United States’ international cooperation. Hachigian outlined her three main goals: 1) bringing the benefits of foreign policy to the local level; 2) encouraging cities and states to do more on the international stage; 3) streamlining communication between national and subnational diplomatic actors. She made the case that subnational cooperation has become more urgent in recent years as a result of increasing transnational challenges; for example, mayors and governors have been pivotal in responding to coronavirus, natural disasters, and cyberattacks. Subnational diplomacy, Hachigian contends, is a way to both strengthen national security and bolster international cooperation among America’s diverse communities.
Mayor Stoney discussed Richmond’s growing international role, and how the city can collaborate with the new Special Representative and her office. Stoney made the case that over the past decade, some of Richmond’s economic and social growth had come from its deepening relationships with sister cities: Richmond has over 2,400 sister cities in 134 countries. These relationships allow the city to “mature and become more cosmopolitan,” according to Stoney. He is eager to expand foreign direct investment and pointed out that state and local governments must appeal to the interests of their constituents, which often lie in building domestic infrastructure. Stoney added his voice to calls for the State Department to leverage its funding to support cities and states in developing further diplomatic capacity.
Jenna Ben-Yehuda added an outside-of-government perspective to the conversation, explaining how non-governmental organizations can be effective facilitators in subnational relationships. In creating Truman’s City & State Diplomacy Task Force, Ben-Yehuda and her Truman team looked to create a network of growth and learning through international cooperation. Subnational diplomacy, she said, is about how Americans can learn from our foreign counterparts, and vice versa. She argued that subnational diplomacy is a national security imperative, and asked “what is at stake if we don’t engage?” Ben-Yehuda detailed how Truman is creating a hub for subnational diplomacy resources and is starting to assemble a repository of city and state diplomacy happening across the country.
In addition to standing up her new office, Ambassador Hachigian identified several priorities. First, she is looking to find “creative ways to give capacity” to American cities and states, potentially through Foreign Service Officers serving tours in the US outside of Washington, which has been done in the past. She is also eager to encourage conversations about cities’ role in combating climate change. Lastly, rising authoritarianism is reinvigorating conversations about subnational diplomacy as a mechanism for defending democracy, and the United States needs to be part of that conversation.
Anyone interested in shaping the formation of the Office of Subnational Diplomacy should contact the office at email@example.com. Further resources can be found on Truman Center’s website, including Broadening Diplomatic Engagement Across America: Report of the Truman Center City & State Task Force.