Subnational Diplomacy is the Antidote to Trump’s Foreign Policy. So What’s the Action Plan for its Leaders?
WASHINGTON — In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Paris pull out and other moves that signal his unwillingness to cooperate with foreign allies, leaders across the United States and abroad have quickly created new channels for cooperation and action. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has led efforts to, in the words of key official Derek Burney, "work the American system as never before." An unprecedented grass-roots level network of U.S. businesses, lawmakers, and other officials has been brought together to contain and work around Trump’s protectionism — safeguarding Canadian trade interests, 70 percent of which depends on the United States. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has consolidated his leadership role in organizing subnational efforts to counter Trump. At the U.S. Conference of Mayors this week, Bloomberg announced a $200 million American Cities Initiative that will coordinate mayors’ advocacy of issues threatened by Washington — which he hopes will shore up U.S. global influence through the turbulent years ahead. The trend toward subnational diplomacy that began over a decade ago appears increasingly inevitable. Given this accelerating trend, it is imperative that leaders begin to work now to define their scope of responsibilities, and the principles and values that will guide their work over the coming four years.
This is a conclusion The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) has been advancing with our leadership initiatives in recent years, and it is a call being echoed across the nation by similarly situated nongovernmental organizations that straddle leadership across the local, national, and international levels. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, recently released Chicago’s Global Strategy, a task force report that calls for a city-wide global engagement strategy. Chicago is the gateway to America’s heartland — much of which voted for Trump — and must coordinate international engagement and consolidate global ties to ensure the region remains competitive, the report argues. “With global cities on the front lines of the world’s most vexing problems . . . coupled with the political paralysis crippling many national governments — leading global cities will invest in and enact a focused strategy for international engagement,” said Ivo Daalder, president of the Council on Global Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to NATO. As U.S. leaders come together to organize the global engagement of their regions and sectors, efforts will prove most effective if closely coordinated, guided by an articulated shared set of principles with the values that inform the end goal clearly defined.
Indeed, subnational leaders must first conceive themselves as such. This term includes not only the governors, state legislators, county officials, and mayors who have recently made headlines for announcing leadership positions that aim to challenge Trump. It includes corporate leaders whose portfolios span regions and whose budgets and management scope implicate millions in the global economy. It includes nongovernmental organization leaders who steward missions that impact thousands, if not more. Those who do not yet see themselves as subnational leaders must be empowered to exercise the influence they possess. These leaders in turn will then benefit from open and transparent dialogue about the values and principles that guide their global engagement. While those values might best be discussed through a series of convening sessions, it is fair to assert that they will adhere to the principles that have long united the liberal international order: democratic leadership styles, a commitment to the free market in terms of trade and of ideas, the rule of law, and the inclusive rights of the individuals from diverse and underrepresented groups.
With these values in mind, subnational leaders must then convene to discuss and plan a series of action steps that will enhance their efficacy and allow them to coordinate efforts over the coming years. These conversations must take place across the United States at the local level, informed by discussion of what policy arenas and levels of action are possible within the political framework laid out by the Constitution between Washington and the states. Those dialogues at the local level will lead to action that is most effective if closely coordinated and informed by national and global leadership perspectives. In recent years, GMF has trained subnational leaders using its “8 Elements of Global Engagement” leadership development curriculum, which trains leaders to advance a global engagement strategy across eight key areas: elected leadership, business and labor, nongovernmental organizations, K-12 education, higher education, social and civic inclusion, arts and culture, and media. A greater numbers of leaders across jurisdictions must be trained to understand these new core competencies, with channels established to quickly disseminate crucial leadership lessons learned that empower leaders to meet ever-evolving and changing global challenges.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.