Duran on Tavares, 'Paradiplomacy: Cities and States as Global Players'

Rodrigo Tavares
Manuel J. Duran

Rodrigo Tavares. Paradiplomacy: Cities and States as Global Players. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 286 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-19-046212-3; $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-046211-6.

Reviewed by Manuel J. Duran (University of Antwerp) Published on H-Diplo (October, 2017) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=47699

Rodrigo Tavares is one of those rare diplomatic scholars who combine the scientific rigor of an academic and the earnest experience of a foreign policy practitioner. Tavares was a research fellow at the United Nations University in Belgium and Ethiopia and a senior research fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government; he also served as head of the office of foreign affairs of Sao Paulo’s state government from 2011 through 2014. He is in this respect a privileged eyewitness to the ever-growing global phenomenon of paradiplomacy.

Tavares provocatively says that nation-states are no longer the only, and not even the most important, global players in international relations and global affairs. Most regions, states, and cities are practicing foreign policies on a worldwide level. Their diplomacies have evolved from modest investment attraction and trade promotion of the early days to full-blown and mature foreign policies and external relations. Some of them are leveling or even surpassing the nation-state when it comes to exerting power and influence. In his introductory chapter, Tavares presents a telling table of a top 30 ranking of the largest economies in the world, ranked by gross domestic product, twelve of which are of a sub-state nature. These include California, which comes before Italy; Texas, Tokyo, and the New York metropolitan area on places 13, 14, and 15; and the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Shandong on places 21, 22, and 23, before the Netherlands and Turkey. The simultaneous processes of domestic decentralization and the transnational character of an increasing number of issues, such as environmental changes, migration, and socioeconomic interdependence, have enabled sub-state governments, whether they are of a regional or of a municipal nature, to seize large segments of policy competences and political power in the international domain. This power shift urges scholars to reconsider the basic assumptions of international relations, foreign policy, and diplomacy. The rise of these sub-state relations led to the concept of paradiplomacy, which entered the scene in the early 1990s. Tavares’s book is a strong addition to the scholarship of paradiplomacy, which has been dominated by authors from a European or a North American vantage point.

Tavares’s book has the great merit of offering a concise and integrated portrait of paradiplomacy. Paradiplomacy: Cities and States as Global Players offers a compelling insight in the diplomatic practices and discourses of sub-state entities and cities. From an analytical point of view, this inclusion of city diplomacy in the paradiplomacy equation is one of the three main strengths of his study. Indeed, most of the literature on the subject considers paradiplomacy to be the diplomatic activities of sub-state political entities on a governance level between that of the state and that of local authorities. Archetypical examples of this sort of sub-state political entity are German and Austrian Länder, French and Italian regions, Spanish autonomous communities, the states of the United States, Belgian regions, and so on. The external activities of local authorities for their part are mostly studied through the lens of city diplomacy. Combining both levels of analysis, in other words, looking at the diplomatic activities of regional as well as local authorities, frees paradiplomacy from its sometimes too rigid confinements. Indeed, paradiplomacy has often been studied through a number of unifocal lenses, each one presenting paradiplomacy as a particular aspect or even a by-product of nationalist politics, federalism, regionalism, multi-level governance, or functionalist governance systems.

The second strength of Tavares’s book is the way in which he presents paradiplomacy not as “a precise concept, but rather as a multi-layered term, which comprehends at least four phenomena: ceremonial paradiplomacy, single-themed paradiplomacy, global paradiplomacy, and sovereign paradiplomacy” (p. 29). Ceremonial diplomacy mainly deals with image building and public relations and can be seen at work in the practice of city twinning and the signing of bilateral city agreements or even multilateral partnerships. Ceremonial diplomacy often marks the establishment of joint initiatives in trade, innovation, education, environmental protection, and so on. Single-themed paradiplomacy often originates when sub-state governments are coming together by their wish to discuss transborder issues or by their desire to promote foreign trade and attract foreign direct investment. Particularly transborder cooperation has over the years proven to be a very fruitful way to practice paradiplomacy, sometimes even on a highly institutionalized level, as with the various strands of EU transborder and cross-border programs and projects. A number of sub-state governments have a policy portfolio that largely surpasses the ceremonial or the single-issue domains of transborder and economic paradiplomacy, and may therefore be labeled “global paradiplomacy.” The external activities of these sub-state entities, mostly in China, Germany, Canada, Brazil, or France, tend to encompass a wide range of areas, from environment to culture and language, and from trade to health and transportation. Sovereign paradiplomacy is the fourth type identified by Tavares. Sovereign paradiplomacy happens when a certain sub-state entity uses its diplomatic and foreign policy instruments and messages to gain a greater political autonomy, sometimes even downright independence. A number of paradigmatic examples come to the fore: Quebec in Canada, Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain, Flanders and Wallonia in Belgium, Scotland in the United Kingdom, Tatarstan in the Russian Federation, Transnistria in Moldova, and Puntland and Somaliland in Somalia.

This differentiation between different types of paradiplomacy leaves more room to look at paradiplomacy as a historically evolving practice, comprising a permanently shifting set of reasons, goals, modes, instruments, foci, and partners. Tavares identifies seven main reasons for sub-state governments to engage in paradiplomacy: to seize global opportunities, particularly in the field of economic development; to provide citizen services, mainly on a transborder level; to strengthen local competences and local programs on healthcare, education, etc.; to promote domestic decentralization, as well as address local claims; to promote personal interests of local political leaders, including the prospect of electoral gains; to strengthen cultural distinctiveness and nationalism; or to overcome political and geographic isolationism, as was the case with Beijing favoring its provinces’ diplomatic activities after the Tiananmen crisis.

The impressive richness of empirical data is the third major strength of this book. Here we can see the practitioner at work, with a keen eye for detail and a predisposition to synthesize vast amounts of data. This particular standpoint has enabled Tavares to analyze the various aspects of the institutional framework of paradiplomacy, both the legal framework and the different parts of the governing body, being the representational offices (the so-called sub-state embassies), the staff, the agencies, and the ministries, each of them composed of smaller units or teams dedicated to specific tasks, such as development cooperation, investment and trade, communication, and protocol and events. Here, the author also shows particular knowledge of—as well as experience in—the day-to-day practice of paradiplomacy. This is even more poignant in the chapter dealing with the concrete external policies of sub-state governments. These policies include trade and investment, environment and sustainable development, tourism, culture and sports, economic development, industry, infrastructure and agriculture, communication and branding, credit and loans, lobbying, and large events. A number of practitioners’ lessons on how to organize trade missions or on how to contribute to the implementation of sustainable development goals complement the analysis of the concrete sites of paradiplomacy. To further develop this train of thought, Tavares presents an impressive number of case studies from around the world, from Bavaria and the Azores via New York City and Guangzhou to Flanders and Buenos Aires.

Each of these sub-state entities’ external policies clearly illustrate that paradiplomacy has turned into a mature and global phenomenon, through which regions, states, and cities are trying to face global threats and seize global opportunities. Still, many sub-state governments have fragile paradiplomacy structures and instruments, in that they often lack financial and personnel resources to properly implement major policy projects and programs. Moreover, there still exists a substantial reluctance within traditional diplomatic circles to truly engage with sub-state governments in diplomatic matters. “It is,” concludes Tavares, therefore “necessary for the leading subnational governments to better articulate their voice in national and international forums and press for more political space as subnational diplomacy is emerging as a force to be reckoned with” (p. 240).

By writing this book, Tavares has made an important contribution in uncovering the diplomatic activities of states, regions, cities, and other sub-state governments. Paradiplomacy is a valuable contribution to the study of paradiplomacy, especially due to its practical and pragmatic approach. 

Citation: Manuel J. Duran. Review of Tavares, Rodrigo, Paradiplomacy: Cities and States as Global Players. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. October, 2017. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=47699

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.