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U.S. State Department Statement on "Subnational Engagement as a 21st Century Foreign Policy Tool"

Speaker: Reta Jo Lewis
Published February 7, 2012

Reta Jo Lewis, Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, gave these remarks on "Subnational Engagement as a 21st Century Foreign Policy Tool" at the 7th Annual Peacekeeping, Reconstruction, & Stabilization Conference in Alexandria, VA on February 7, 2012.

Good morning. Thank you, President Doug Brooks, for that kind introduction and for the work you are doing to champion the role of the private sector in international stabilization through the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA).

I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the 7th Annual Peacekeeping, Reconstruction, and Stabilization Conference and to meet with this group of talented and dynamic individuals who are committed to stability and security in post conflict nations.

I would like to commend the "whole of government" approach to this event, and to recognize my colleagues from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) here with us today.

I look forward to discussing with you the logical partnership of the development community and the U.S. Department of State to foster and leverage connections at the state and local level to assist nations making the transition from conflict to stability.

Today, the world faces a unique set of challenges—economic, environmental, social, and political—that will require collaborative innovation and determination of our world's best minds.

A lot has happened in the last 15 months, from revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, to renewed fears over economic default in Europe. These changes have only reinforced the Obama Administration's conviction for the need to seize this moment, to meet these challenges, and to lay the foundation for sustained global leadership.

Global partnerships which put aside individual philosophies and focus on solutions are essential to solving these global challenges and to building a more stable and secure world.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said, and as the United States has long maintained, our foreign policy relationships will always be nation-to-nation. But the scope of what defines nation-to-nation conversations are shifting in the modern, more global, and more flattened economy—deeming city-to-city, and state-to-state dialogues just as critical to the larger context of executing, implementing, and achieving a nation's overarching diplomatic goals.

Building peer-to-peer relationships between state and local elected officials has a tremendous effect on foreign policy that often goes unrecognized. Still, building these relationships and encouraging this engagement at the subnational level has limitless potential.

Peer-to-peer relationships provide state and local leaders around the globe with an intimate glance into the American way of life, and more importantly, into our democratic institutions and system of governance. Even at a more basic but equally important level, these interactions develop trust—an attribute essential to developing strong bilateral ties.

Secretary Clinton has made it a priority to engage our subnational leaders and utilize them as an extraordinary source of innovation, talent, resources, and knowledge. After all, it is the states and cities that are the engines of growth at the ground level where the transition from policy to practice becomes most visible.

Secretary Clinton has stated time and time again that 21st century global challenges require us to work with new partners to collaborate and innovate globally. At the Department of State, this has meant making a transition to 21st Century Statecraft and engaging all the elements of our national power and leveraging all forms of our strength.

Two years ago, Secretary Clinton created the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs (S/SRGIA) emphasizing the need to utilize local leaders as a key component in the much needed widespread and deep-rooted efforts to take on our world's greatest challenges—a key part of that charge is empowering subnational leaders to lead their states and communities to a stable and secure future.

So, just as Secretary Clinton engages in a conversation with the Foreign Minister of South Africa on issues of greenhouse pollutions, so too does our office host pivotal conversations on the matter, with the Mayor of Durban and the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal.

My job is to realize Secretary Clinton's vision by connecting what the federal government does best with what state and local governments are doing and can do, and what our successful private sector is doing and can do.

The federal government has a number of existing programs and initiatives to support this work.

As state fragility and its impact spread, the State Department recognized the need to be more agile and focused in its approach to conflict.

Released by Secretary Clinton in 2010, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is a sweeping assessment of how the Department of State and USAID can be more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world of rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation. At its core, the QDDR provides a blueprint for elevating American "civilian power" to better advance our national interests and to be a better partner to the U.S. military.

In November 2011, the QDDR elevated the former Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization into the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in order to help make conflict prevention and response a core mission of the State Department.

The CSO Bureau promotes conflict prevention and response across the State Department. One of its key pillars is partnerships with a wide range of groups, from U.S. agencies to foreign governments to local NGOs and multilateral institutions in countries where we work. Its expeditionary diplomats work at the subnational level to prevent conflict and lay the groundwork for long-term peace.

The CSO Bureau aims to bring coherent, high-impact engagements to places of strategic significance with a focus less on reconstruction and more on prevention, as well as analysis, collaboration, and evaluation.

The CSO Bureau strives to make the U.S. effort more focused, analytically rigorous, and operationally flexible.

Rather than ask: What can the United States do?" we will ask: "What is most needed?" And then: "How can the United States be most helpful and direct its resources at those priorities?"

The CSO Bureau can answer these questions by developing and driving a coherent four-step engagement process, which my office is working to support.

  • We must start with an inclusive, joint, independent analysis, driven by local voices.
  • Second, that analysis should lead to a strategy that identifies two or three priorities.
  • Third, resources – funding and personnel – should be applied to these priorities, consistent with U.S. interests and capacity.
  • And finally, the process must include ongoing, transparent measurement, evaluation, and adaptation.

We must partner with those who will make us most effective from across the U.S. Government, host countries, multilateral institutions, and local organizations. That includes the private sector, particularly those who can engage local voices.

CSO is adapting our Civilian Response Corps to become a more agile and flexible team of conflict-focused, expeditionary diplomats that can deploy quickly to provide analysis and expertise that informs and organizesconflict prevention and stabilization efforts. Wewill continue to also draw on experts from U.S. partner agencies and collaboration with NGOs, IOs and private sector organizations.

CSO works on the principle that local voices must drive U.S. responses to conflict. In many countries, they work at the subnational level to build governance and mitigate conflict.

  • In South Sudan, teams of CSO expeditionary diplomats deployed across the country both before and after its vote for independence from Sudan, reporting on and mediating conflict and building U.S. ties to subnational governments, tribal authorities, and others.
  • In the Kyrgyz Republic, CSO worked to establish an outpost that helped the United States engage with ethnic groups in the country's isolated southern region after a coup and ethnic violence.
  • CSO has conducted bottom-up conflict assessments in more than two dozen countries, interviewing hundreds of individuals from all walks of life in each place.

As you can see, the work of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations echoes exactly what we are trying to accomplish with state and local officials and the organizations that represent them around the world.

Organizations such as the National Democratic and International Republican Institutes have a robust history of engaging local actors in order to build strong and responsive democratic institutions.

The National Democratic Institute works with legislators, council members and attorney generals in over 125 countries and territories to promote openness and accountability in government by building political and civic organizations, safeguarding elections, and promoting citizen participation. For example, NDI is managing outstanding citizen programs to aid in the reconstruction and development of Haiti; to aid aspiring women leaders in Ukraine to meet the challenges they face; and to assist political and civic leaders work to restore democracy in Honduras.

Similarly, recognizing that democracy greatly lessens the likelihood of conflict between nations, the International Republican Institute advances freedom and democracy worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, democratic governance, and the rule of law. In Africa, IRI continues to support the consolidation of democratic gains in transitioning African states and focuses on promoting democratic governance with government, civil society and citizens to find common solutions to problems facing municipalities. IRI assists countries throughout Asia that have undergone transition to democracy, as well as those taking steps toward democracy by providing expertise to locally elected officials, political parties and civil society.

The work of USAID has also become increasingly focused on subnational engagement—particularly in nations experiencing decentralization.

Key to its work is partnering with local leaders and elected officials to ensure successful strategies for community development whether it be for delivery of essential services in South Sudan or for responsive and effective local governance in Haiti.

For USAID, this means working in partnership with all key actors—the state, local elected authorities, civil society, and the private sector—to find solutions to local development issues.

The work of these bodies illustrates the power and effectiveness of engaging local elected officials and empowering marginalized groups, particularly women.

These organizations are making investments in the future power brokers and policy innovators of the developing world and post-conflict nations.

They are planting the seeds of democracy, transparency, accountability, and rule of law.

They are exposing these state and local leaders to the tools they will need to build a strong, stable, and secure future for their respective communities.

Again, it is my mission to connect these federal approaches to Secretary Clinton's state and local engagement strategy.

Since the creation of the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs two years ago, we have been working on these very same issues with state and local officials, and the organizations that represent them, in order to promote partnerships between U.S. state and local officials and their foreign counterparts to share best practices, and find common solutions to global challenges.

These engagements serve as invaluable dialogues that promote capacity building of state and local officials around the world while also broadening and deepening U.S. bilateral relationships.

While our work to date has focused primarily on emerging economies in Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere, we plan to broaden the scope of our work to post conflict nations and communities.

These communities could see tremendous benefit from the leadership development, training, and perspectives on governance from their U.S. state and local leaders as they restructure their institutions, rebuild their communities, and revitalize their societies.

Through our past and existing engagements with state and local level officials and organizations, a variety of exchanges, programming, and partnerships have emerged which could serve as easily transferable models for similar activities in post-conflict nations. On ad day-to-basis, we work closely with state treasurers, secretaries of states, and city mangers, as well as the International City/County Management Association and the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program.

I would like to share with you several examples of our most successful models:

  • In South Africa, the National League of Cities (NLC) has been developing partnerships to support capacity building of local officials. I traveled to Durban to participate in the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) National Conference and to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between SALGA and the National League of Cities, the oldest and largest U.S. organization dedicated to strengthening and promoting cities. The MOU promotes subnational collaboration between the two municipal organizations and is geared around governance, sustainability, social housing, municipal finance, and economic and community development. SALGA representatives are scheduled to visit Washington, D.C. this spring to participate in capacity building activities at the NLC's Congress of Cities Conference.
  • As a part of the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, and in cooperation with the Department of State Bureau of African Affairs, my office arranged meetings for two Niger Delta governors and their delegations, culminating in avisit with Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell in Harrisburg. The discussions resulted in a 2011 summer visitors exchange partnership between Pennsylvania's PennDOT and Rivers State to assist them in improving transportation and infrastructure capacity building.
  • During President Obama's March 2011 state visit to Brazil, President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff noted the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to foster enhanced cooperation and exchange of best practices in advance of Brazil's hosting a series of major international sporting events, including the 2014 FIFA Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. In furtherance of the MOU, my office has hosted several visits to the United States by Brazilian state and local leaders. We are also working with our Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs to promote the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality. As a result, John Eaves, Chairman, Fulton County, GA Board of Commissioners, partnered with Brazilian leaders to share best practices, resources and information to promote equality of all racial and ethnic groups in advance of the 2016 Olympic Games. I just returned from a ten-day visit to Brazil where I met with state and local leaders throughout the county to discuss these issues.

American leadership must be as dynamic as the challenges we face. We must be ready to adapt and innovate, and that means leveraging new partners, as done in the models I have described to you today, to work on specific issues such as sustainability, governance, and the economic and political empowerment of underprivileged groups.

In furtherance of President Obama's and Secretary Clinton's emphasis on the importance of subnational engagement, we have been catalyzing our states and our cities to engage with governors and mayors all over the world—advancing the probability and potency of public-private partnerships.

Not only does this offer stronger, and more personalized cultural exchanges—a new contour of 21st century statecraft and diplomacy of the Obama Administration—but it also allows those civic leaders around the world to share ideas about local governance and learn from each other. The greater understanding among localities about how cities are managed, or how business is done, creates new relationships between civic leaders and their citizens, while encouraging new linkages among the private sector in a way never seen before on the world stage.

Conversations that end up pointing how to best deliver goods and services in the new global environment, how to manage housing challenges, how best to battle crime, and how to evenly distribute social benefits—not only give smaller cities motivation to adapt and improve their processes, but they simultaneously give thought to which private entities are best equipped to help in the delivery of these social efforts. Which means that subnational engagements, while on its surface may seem to be a facet of political partnering, also help spur business growth.

But let me be clear. These efforts, while principal pillars of 21st century American diplomacy—are not just about imposing the will of one country onto another; nor is it about boasting particular nations and their cities, as the pioneers of global best practices in urban management.

It is about initiating subnational conversations that will establish a dialogue to transfer knowledge among parts of the world already well versed in managing rapidly expanding demands for services in post conflict societies. Moreover, this peer-to-peer engagement on a city level will offer inclusive growth for nations recovering from conflict, because cities will actively pursue other areas of the world whose resources and demographics mirror theirs, in order to apply best practices in a way that most effectively meets the nuanced cultural demands of a particular region of the world.

Moreover, these points of communication aid private businesses to better compete for bids and contracts in new markets, from the very point of inception, because if we are increasing dialogue about the regional needs of communities, we are also boosting the dialogue about what financial institutions, building contractors, agricultural providers, and other required private entities, are best suited to meet regional public needs.

So again, codifying subnational relationships not only promotes a deeper cultural exchange among nations – better advancing principals of the openness, freedom, transparency and fairness in economic growth; but also opens the door on new bids for development that your organizations can take advantage.

In a 21st century world, there are no shortages of great partnerships, nor a shortage of great ideas when we shore up our collective will to address the challenges we face.

By combining our strengths, governments and philanthropies, we can more than double our impact, to this subnational end. And the multiplier effect continues if we add businesses, NGOs, universities and entrepreneurs. That's the power of partnership at its best – allowing us to achieve so much more together than we could apart.

That's why we can all take a page out of Secretary Clinton's playbook, and start engaging your state and local officials right away, creating new opportunity. You can make the difference. I look forward to working with you to engage state and local leaders to prevent conflict and lay the groundwork for peace.

  • First, you can be a convener, bringing together people from across regions and sectors to work together on issues of common interest. Partner with your state and local officials to take advantage of the opportunities around the world in identifying how your businesses or organization can be of help to community needs.
  • Second, you can be a catalyst – launching new projects, actively seeking new solutions, providing vital training and technical assistance to facilitate additional projects to those without training. And asking for and expecting best practices from all your interactions with governments foreign and domestic.
  • Third, you can be a collaborator, working closely with partners to plan and implement projects – avoiding duplication, learning from each other, maximizing our impact by looking for best practices.

All of you here today are familiar with proactively finding new ways to collaborate to build a better future for post conflict societies—but today I am specifically here to ask you to collaborate with the State Department on this new generation of partnerships. One that reflects a global economy, a flatter world, and cities on the rise.

I encourage you to work with U.S. state and local leaders and their foreign counterparts to expand current partnerships and to embark on new ones. We are eager to explore your ideas and approaches to strengthening our partnerships with state and local officials in pursuit of stability and security globally.

I thank you for understanding what we must do and how the inclusion of subnational leaders can assist in building stable and secure societies while broadening and deepening U.S. bilateral relationships.

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