Stewart M. Patrick, James H. Binger senior fellow in global governance and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at CFR, discusses foreign policy at the local level.
Learn more about CFR’s State and Local Officials initiative.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations’ State and Local Conference Call series. I’m Irina Faskianos, Vice President for the National Program and Outreach at CFR. As you may know, the CFR State and Local Officials initiative serves as an authoritative independent resource informed for bipartisan discussion on pressing international issues which affect priorities and agendas of state and local government. As a reminder, the conversation between our speaker, Stewart Patrick and me, is on the record. The question and answer portion is not for attribution so we can encourage frank and candid discussion. So, we hope that you will use this information and share it with your colleagues, but not attributed to any of the questioners who are people who might make comments. We’re delighted to have Stewart Patrick with us today to talk about the evolving role of the state and local government in foreign policy. Dr. Patrick is the James H. Binger senior fellow in global governance and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program at CFR. His areas of expertise include bilateral cooperation on global issues, U.S. policy toward international associations and the challenge it poses by fragile imposed conflicts with states. He’s the author of The Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America with the World, which I recommend to all of you. And he writes a blog, “The Internationalist,” which you can also access and sign up for on cfr.org. Prior to coming to CFR, he serves in a number of policy and research roles, including the Secretary of State’s policy planning staff from 2002 to 2005. You can access his bio online at CFR.org for a more thorough description. Stewart, thanks very much for being with us today. I really appreciate your taking the time to do this. And we will start with a conversation between the two of us, but I encourage you all to get involved with questions. You can dial in any time. Just press “star one” on your keypad and we’ll turn over to you, and we’re looking for questions and comments from your perspective as well so we can share best practice and whatnot. So, Stewart, again, thank you very much for being with us. Let me kick off and ask you: We’re obviously seeing a lot more activism from individual states and localities, both in the United States and abroad. Can you talk about what areas, where this is most important, this activity? And what is the historical precedent for it?
PATRICK: Sure. Absolutely. Thank you so much, Irina, and also let me join her in thanking all of you for joining us and look forward to hearing your comments since you are at the frontlines of some of the activism that we’re going to be talking about today. I’m totally intrigued by the fact that states and localities and municipalities are going global and some of this stuff is relatively, at least there has been precedence for it, right? I mean, obviously those state governors and also mayors have frequently gone on trade missions abroad and are trying to bring commerce and investment from foreign companies into their jurisdictions. And they’re increasingly playing a global role. But I think probably the most dramatic one that’s being played out recently is climate, and I think here we see a lot of activism amongst states and cities. I mean, with respect to climate change, obviously that definitely become much more active since the United States pulled out of the Paris agreement. But even before then you had particularly California leading the way; you had, in 2013, Jerry Brown signing an agreement with Quebec to begin curbing carbon emission, which was we thought was going to be the first step in sort of a continent- or region- wide cap and trade program. Later on, Ontario has joined that. And in 2015, for instance, he also went to Germany and met with the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, which is one of the land in Germany, to establish that this, what was called, “the Under 2 Coalition,” trying to keep average surface temperatures or temperatures in the world under two degrees Celsius. Two years later, there’s 170 jurisdictions across the six continents that represent 39 percent of GDP. So, this is a major move, but you’ve also seen similar moves, the winter spent on climate on the urban front, too. One of the only certain notable outcomes of the Rio 2012 conference on climate change was basically Mike Bloomberg, then New York City Mayor, created something called the “City 40 Coalition of Mayors,” which now has now a lot more than 40 members, but it’s really been one of the driving forces before the Paris agreement to learn about those gases. Beyond climate and trade, you’re starting, though, to see some frontier issues, and we can get into this a little bit more later. But and, from both Republican and Democratic governors and also mayors on issues like migration. Sometimes it’s cracking down more on migration than the federal government; sometimes it’s making the United States more welcoming and it gets into the sanctuary cities aspect of things. You’re starting to see issues of human rights, too, as well, where you obviously get divestment campaigns and that sort of stuff, but then also it’s other frontier issues, which include data privacy issues. So, it’s really remarkable to see how the National Governors Association, for instance, has adapted to this and they’ve actually created something they call, “NGA Global,” which as many of you may be members, many of the participants may know about. But also, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is also adapting to this. Now, in terms of precedence for it, it’s interesting. Historically, I’ve been so used to the fact that there’s - you mentioned I did this book tour - we’re so used to this notion of sovereign state being the only entity that really has sort of international legitimacy as a foreign policy actor, right? It’s a sort of status under international law. What’s interesting here is that somebody say, “Hey. Are we headed toward, what some people call, a new medievalism,” right? And when you go back before the state system that came into being in the 17th Century and Europe and, if you look back at that time, in addition to nation states like France, you also have a long side of them in the Hanseatic League around the Baltic and you had city states as well for instance, in Italy. I don’t think we’re headed back there yet, but it’s clear that increasingly the sort of sovereign states and the United Nations are sharing states, like I said, which I would say with these sub-national actors.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Stewart. The UN released the report of climate change indicating the urgent need to address rising temperatures. I mean, how do local governments and states need to deal with it? And what are they doing?
PATRICK: Well, I mean, I think what you’re seeing really is a huge move to try to suggest - just on the climate front. I think you’re seeing states being active and seeing what they can do other than simply following the lead of the federal government. Again, immediately after the president pulled out of the Paris agreement in the Rose Garden speech, I guess it must have been in June of 2017, you had an immediate declaration of, not just governors, a number of governors and a number of mayors, but also a number of corporations that were saying, “We’re still in.” And the idea hers is that, the reality is that so much of the actual combating of gas emissions is going to increasingly happen within urban environments, for instance, because cities are obviously where the majority of the world’s population lives now and it’s 55 percent and it’s going to be headed up to 70 or 75 percent by mid-century. And so, also ones that are, frankly, particularly on the coast, coping with increased, slow to even sunny day flooding sometimes when you’ve got the wind and a high tide, as in Miami, for instance, or north of Virginia, the home of the largest US naval base and actually the largest naval base in the world, which is in danger of succumbing to flooding and might have to be abandoned according to the Department of Defense. You’re getting folks saying, “Look, we’re still in.” And it’s interesting. At the moment, there’s a really interesting juxtaposition when President Trump pulled the U.S. out of, or said, “It’s a long term process. Takes several years,” but said the United States is going to leave the Paris Climate Accord. Jerry Brown was immediately on a plane to Beijing where he was received almost as a head of state by Xi Jinping, as befits perhaps the governor of the world as far as economy. And trying to push forward green technology, it’s a number of things in the climate space that can be done. I don’t think obviously from the perspective of somebody who respects global warning, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the federal government is going in a different direction, but it certainly compensates to some degree.
FASKIANOS: So, what advantages do some national actors bring on the international space? What can they do that national governments can’t?
PATRICK: Well, it’s interesting. And, again, I’ll use this example of California and perhaps because I’m actually calling from Palo Alto. But when you think about the US/Chinese relationship, for instance. It’s an enormously complex agenda, in which any administration, whether it’s the Trump Administration or the Obama Administration before it, has to balance an enormous variety of elements and factors in terms of how it actually engages with that country. So, if you just think about the U.S.-Chinese diplomatic relations, this portfolio of interest are just hugely controversial and there’s all these flash points, right, over Taiwan, over trade, over Tibet, North Korea, the South China Sea, nuclear weapons, even currency manipulation, human rights, etc. Now, when the US government actually engages, when Mike Pompeo engages with the counterpart to China, there is going to have to be a discussion of a number of those different agendas. There’s no way that California or any state in the United States can compete with the US government as an independent sovereign actor, but it can help fill a policy vacuum in some of these particular or foresee as policy vacuum in some of these particular areas. So, we can persuade China, for instance, and other governments that a “no” from Washington doesn’t need to be the entire story or even the final word. And so, we can afford, in a sense, to pick and choose. The other thing that’s occurred in terms of what’s helping cause some of this activism is that there are both supply and demand aspects of things. What those mayors and governors can do is, as I said, to try to suggest that to sometimes confuse foreign partners that we have that the Trump Administration’s policies are not the entire last word on some of these things. Now, no one has suggested that all of this is necessarily a function of Donald Trump, however, I think that what he’s done is in some ways accelerate a process that was already under way, because we had seen it growing in previous administrations. I think the fact that Donald Trump is injected, the president has injected a certain amount of uncertainty into old orthodoxies, whether one thinks that’s a good idea in terms of the directions he’s taking, then I’d say, or it’s a bad idea. It has created a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty amongst partners abroad. And so, I think sometimes they’re looking to states and cities and their leaders for either a sense of whether or not American policy is more than simply what’s coming out of Washington right now.
FASKIANOS: Well, this might be a terrific opportunity to pursue job creation in states and other areas of cooperation for these relations with cities around the world.
PATRICK: Right. In fact, I mean, what’s interesting is look, there’s no question that there’s a reason for, if you think about what’s causing this activism, right? To some degree, it’s the sense that obviously mayors and governors represent certain constituents, elected constituents. So, if they want to do well by their constituencies, they want to make sure there are jobs. They want to make sure that there are employment prospects and they want to pursue the values that they were elected to uphold. And I think there’s also a sense that national governments around the world, the United States is not unique, is that they’re hamstrung, that they’re grid locked and they can’t really necessarily deliver, and particularly at a time of populism and popular discontent of the political right and the left. I think there’s a sense that at least governors and mayors, they connect to a higher popularity than certainly national level politicians, whether they’re on Capitol Hill or in the White House. And part of the reason is that they actually have a workman-like attitude or workman-like reputation of actually getting things done. And the cliché for mayors is that they’re fixing potholes. And also, particularly with respect to cities, a lot of cities in the United States are increasingly global cities and they are, by nature, going to be outward looking. And I think, in this regard of Los Angeles is probably the . prototypical example of that. I mean, Los Angeles has 200 languages spoken in its public schools, by itself, it would be the world’s 16th largest economy. It is, in fact, a world city. So, by virtue of just its identity, it’s going to be outward looking. And so, it has dialogues going on with something like 120 different countries around the world, which is just really remarkable, and it has over 100 consulates in Los Angeles itself. So, it’s innovative and it’s future-oriented and it’s obviously the home of some of the greatest cultural power in the world. But at the same time, there’s been this supply of activism on the part of cities and states. It’s also been, as I mentioned, a demand, and you saw this actually with the debate over NAFTA, the demand from abroad at a time when there’s a huge amount of anxiety in both Canada and Mexico about the United States potentially ripping up NAFTA or walking away from NAFTA. There was a lot of lobbying, quiet lobbying, and not so quiet lobbying from Ottawa and also from Mexico City with governors of border states, manufacturing states, exporting states, and obviously agriculture exporting states. So, there are sort of these sub-national dynamics going on that are trying to persuade the federal government and certainly members of Congress that ripping up this agreement, or at least walking away without anything, would be a bad thing. Obviously at the end of the day, the Trump Administration did agree to renegotiate a NAFTA agreement that had some changes, but also, I think, many of the desires of those state governors.
FASKIANOS: So, there’s obviously attention here when we’re seeing many Americans embracing or thinking isolationism is good, but knowing that the world, we are connected, and that this is an economy - I mean, we’re interlinked. So, how do you make the case then that it’s important to do business and that kind of thing with the rest of the world at the state and local level where we see that the federal level is being - we should really close down our borders and really focus on making American great again?
PATRICK: Let me just simply start by saying - I wouldn’t want to suggest that all states and local activism is necessarily antithetical to Donald Trump’s agenda. I think that when you look at, for instance, the summit initiative and take-on with respect to migration. In some states, Arizona being one in particular, that at least in the recent past, those states have shown a great desire to sort of have more restrictive aspects of making sure that it’s illegals are apprehended and repatriated and denying to illegal aliens and their dependents some of the social services and social welfare benefits normally they would have. Other states obviously economy, others have tried to go in this obvious direction; this is also for cities where, New York, for instance, there’s been a desire to, in a sense, give citizenship status or at least New York citizenship status to people who, regardless of whether or not they have they’re actually documented, regardless of their immigration status. So, you’re seeing in some ways contradictory signals. I think what you’re seeing, by and large, is that if the constituencies at the sub-national level are trying to take matters into their own hands, whether they believe, where they tend to be in a sense more of a protectionist or a nationalist immigration restrictionist mindset or whether or not they seem to be more integrationist and a little bit more cosmopolitan in their outlook. And that’s to be expected, because, of course, political leaders in Utah are not going to have exactly the same views as political leaders necessarily in the State of Washington. I mean, there’s some overlap, but obviously the electorates in those places are different. I think, in general, though, you get, particularly at the state level, you really get a lot of pragmatism. And to answer your question about internationalism, it’s no surprise that the president’s protectionist rhetoric and trade war with China and steel and aluminum tariffs and potential restrictions on automobiles from Europe, etc., it’s no surprise that those are highly unpopular with the vast majority of state governors, Republican or Democratic. I think, for members of the National Governors Association, there was virtually nobody who was in favor of a full-on trade war that the president has embarked on, and I think that is just simply their pragmatism. Yes, they understand that in some cases there’s going to be losers, and particularly some industries, without question, but I think they also recognize that obviously they have exporters who want to export to this country and producers who will be hurt and employee prospects overall will go down and then goods are going to be more expensive for their consumers, if the United States gets involved in a protracted trade war. So, I think part of the challenge or the question here is: whether or not people can be persuaded, political constituents of state leaders and also urban leaders, can be persuaded that the United States has a strong stake in a fully functioning largely open international system? Or on the other hand, should we be in a more fragmented system in which nations have greater trade barriers and much stronger walls around them?
FASKIANOS: Can you talk a little bit, Stewart, about the new NAFTA deal? Or the USMCA as it’s now called? And how you see it as affecting different areas around the country?
PATRICK: Yeah. What’s interesting is the president has billed it as a sort of revolutionary change to the old NAFTA. I would have to say that it’s much more modest - there aren’t significant offenses, but it’s an incremental change to the old NAFTA. I think there are a couple of interesting provisions to it. One of them is the notion of - that has to do with rules of origin, which means that it basically creates a situation where the locally produced content, at least the north continent, wide produced content of cars in the United States has to be sort of 75 percent rather than 62.5 percent. And what that’s going to do is create a situation where, and I think that’s pegged toward - it will hurt less U.S. car makers, I think, than it will hurt foreign car makers, but it basically says, in some ways, a number of American automakers will be relatively happy with that, because it will inflate them to some degree from pressure from abroad. I think more worrisome is the question of the trade war with China where you’ve already seen Ford announce huge lay-offs, in part because of a sense that their sales, at least in Asia, are going to be going down significantly. Another wrinkle is that it increases US dairy manufacturer’s access to particularly the Canadian market, and I think that’s very important. One thing that was not changed, which the president had thought about changing on national sovereignty grounds, was this notion of getting rid of binding dispute resolution mechanism and I think there that was something that the Canadians insisted on, because they didn’t want to have it just come down to bilateral negotiations, given the US market leverage in case there was a disagreement, and I think that was a huge victory on the part of the Canadians. But I think, frankly, a lot of governors are happy with that, too, because it provides some predictability into US, Canadian, and Mexican trade relations.
FASKIANOS: Great. We covered areas of climate and diplomacy. Can you talk a little bit about defense and counterterrorism measures? That would be great.
PATRICK: Sure. Yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, what’s interesting is that, and this sort of gets into the question of: What is the balance between - what do states have versus the federal government when it comes to, in a sense, “conducting” foreign policy? On the surface, you would think, “Well, these states have very little ability to conduct foreign policy, because Articles I and II of the US Constitution basically give the federal government dramatic powers and prerogatives with respect to foreign policy.” For instance, they give the Executive legislative powers to conduct - well, actually misconduct diplomacy, negotiate and ratify treaties, provide for national defense, declare war, and they also give the power to regulate foreign trade, control borders, and migration, and then, of course, with respect to Congress, to appropriate funds for these. So, and then, if state laws or much less municipal statues clash with those, the supremacy clause gives the federal government basically primacy over state laws when they conflict. Now, it’s true that the states retain certain prerogatives under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which basically gives states certain reserved powers. So, there’s a certain level of sovereignty that states retain and they’ve, to some degree, pushed that leeway and I think that they’re continuing to push the leeway. The way that the Supreme Court has described it is that the framers or the founders of US government basically, I mean, of the Constitution, basically split the atom of sovereignty, so you have U.S. state sovereignty, but then you have the sovereignty of the federal government so it helps stay whole. What’s interesting is historically the notion of states rights has really been a rallying cry on the part of conservatives and part of it was related to, early on, related to civil rights, but it’s sort of more general than that. So, you’ve often had a desire for really reformulating federalists to get it down to the state level and to allow states rights in a way to fight against what was seen as sort of an overbearing national government. What’s interesting now is that, particularly in this time of high and political polarization, is that the rallying kind of cry of states rights is being taken up by progressives and the left. And so, you have this weird switch. So, when some of these issues coming before the Supreme Court, it’s going to be really interesting to find out whether or not, particularly a conservative majority Supreme Court, is actually going to side with states because they’re making states rights claims, or it’s going to side with the federal government because what our government is trying to do is, in a sense, more conservative, if you will. With respect to national defense, there is a role, in a sense, for states with respect to homeland security and, to some degree, sort of election security and you’ve seen that increasingly be a part of what states are trying to do. And there’s also, when you get into cyber, things get particularly tricky, because those states and cities are trying to come up with ways of sort of defending themselves against cyber attacks from abroad and so far, that’s been defensive, but there’s been some talk of, “Well, shouldn’t we have some sort of offensive capabilities, sort of go after the perpetrators no matter where they are?” And so, this is probably the part that really gets into national defense. We can imagine a major effort from an outside player, another country, for instance, or a nefarious actor outside, to try to shut down some grid in New York, for instance. What happens if their response is to launch a massive cyber attack? It’s either orchestrated by the State of New York or by the mayor of New York. It sounds a little bit like science fiction, but one could imagine sort of getting into that realm. And, again, it would really challenge this notion that the United States is a unitary state that only responds to attacks through federal government sources. But I would think that of all of the foreign policy apparatus and all the foreign policy behavior of the state, the one that is probably the least challenged is the one having to do with national defense, because the United States, the federal government, has sovereignty and still retains the monopoly on the use of legitimate force. And so, that is probably the thing that the federal government will jealously hold most closely.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. So, I think another question I was interested in having you take on is the ramifications of these trends, for the coherence of US foreign policy as well as the resolution’s global challenges. Are these trends - how will these trends go? And are you concerned?
PATRICK: Right. I mean, it’s a fascinating question because basically we’ve traditionally thought about US foreign policy in terms of the notion of being an interred state. That is, a government that is capable of developing common strategies or coherent strategies about how it’s going to engage on particular problems and with particular parts of the world. And what happens when you have a situation where suddenly you’ve got competitors that have emerged and might be threatening. What’s going on? And I think that there are dangers in this. I mean, there are risks that I think we need to take seriously. Some of this stuff is going to end up in the courts, right? The courts will say, “Hey, wait a minute. We can’t have you having, say, or is it legitimate for states to have their own climate pacts that look a lot like treaties and have a lot of language like “should’s” and “shall’s” in them, right? Even though they’re billed as simply Memoranda of Understanding between, say, California and Germany, or between Washington State and British Columbia? Is that legitimate? And what about if it goes counter to - it might reflect a will of the constituencies within those states, but it might run counter to what the United States is trying to do overall.” And had that few cases before the Supreme Court and normally they’ve struck down the state efforts to try to do things on the grounds that it could hamstring the United States. For instance, if a state wants to sanction or go after companies in their jurisdiction that are doing business, say, with Myanmar, for instance, on human rights grounds, should that stand? Or should it be struck down because it actually infringes upon the power of the federal government and its sort of regulatory options? So, a lot of things are going to be handled in the court. My thinking is that really what we should move to, as much as possible, is to have politicians get out in front of this and start thinking through some of these things, because the courts aren’t necessarily always the ones that are best positioned to share with the balance between the prerogatives of, or at least how - they don’t necessarily best positioned to figure out how best to create coherence in US foreign policy. I tend to be a little bit more optimistic about some of these trends. I do think there are dangers at a time of high polarization when simply it could be - it’s not necessarily going to be a complimentary end and self-reinforcing, but it could conceivably work across purposes. On the other hand, in the same way that the justice branch I described, the 50 U.S. states, given their sovereignty as sort of laboratories of democracy, in which they could try to come up with different innovations, based on their own circumstances, and in a way, it’s letting 50 flowers bloom, right? To some degree, I think when it comes to trying to handle global challenges, particularly global challenges that are extraordinarily difficult and present Herculean challenges that require so many different actors to come onboard. I tend to be a little bit more optimistic thinking that having these different entities, the laboratories, all use the local values of constituencies there, but there’s no question that in some cases there will end up being a need for the courts to weigh in and decide whether something has gone too far. And I think that the federal government, frankly, is not right now particularly well organized to actually deal with some of those potential challenges, the tensions.
FASKIANOS: And, as you think through your directing the International Institutions and Global Governance program here at CFR and thinking about those institutions and their relevance and the state of the world. Where are you in your thinking of what needs to happen in this new era that we seem to be in?
PATRICK: Let me start at the domestic level and then maybe go to the international level a bit. I think that there need to be some institutional changes. It’s pretty clear right now that the U.S., as I mentioned, isn’t very well organized to respond to increased state and urban activism in foreign policy, probably because - and I think part of it is that we’re at a minimum of what needs to happen is there needs to be a greater information flow between the two levels. One of the things that I’ve been thinking is there should be, at least within the State Department, sort of a liaison office that would be akin to sort of sub-national actors, states and cities, and you could even have two offices. But it would be akin in a way to a legislative bureau in the State Department. The State Department has a bureau now that basically handles a liaison with its many departments with Capitol Hill. And one could easily imagine having something similar, essentially a liaison function with, say, all the governors’ offices, and could have sort of a standing relationship with the National Governors Association, because governors in a sense will be coming through DC frequently or could be coming through DC on their way to having trade missions or other types of interactions with foreign governments. And they’re not necessarily trained diplomats; they’re very accomplished politicians, but they may not be as aware of all of the pitfalls that could happen and the potential for unknowingly as opposed to consciously undermining what the federal government is trying to do, but they should be aware that certain initiatives are brewing or that certain initiatives are at a delicate stage and that their activities, hopefully, will compliment rather than undermine those. So, I think that would be a very important thing. Another thing, which could be useful, would be to have U.S. diplomats available to provide briefings to state governors as they do legislators. A lot of what the State Department does actually, basically organize and babysit CODELS, Congressional delegations going to particular countries. Certainly when I was in Afghanistan and it seemed like half of the desk officers were basically spending their time informing Congressional delegations and helping them, assisting them going there. You can easily imagine them doing the same thing to other parts of US government, but just in this case, state and municipal government. They were actually doing things and giving them briefings. And I think that US diplomats also need a lot more training in this stuff. In the same way that U.S. government officials get training, U.S. diplomats get training in how to deal with international organizations, for instance. There needs to be some training in how do I actually relate to these folks? There is a program in the State Department, I believe, that actually occasionally puts some U.S. Foreign Service officers for a brief amount of time basically in the United States in different parts of the United States, in the southwest. I met a guy who was stationed in New Mexico, sort of a Foreign Service officer there as sort of a liaison. One could imagine some sort of a liaison relationship with that. So, I think in the same way that if states and cities are going to go global, in some ways I think that the State Department and other apparatus of U.S. foreign policy and national security policy needs to, in a weird way, go local, just to make sure that - and I think one could come up with creative ways of doing that, even if they were sort of more informal, just creating networks that permit that to happen. At a minimum have diplomats show up at National Governors Association meeting and then at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meetings.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I have been remiss and I’ve gone over our allotted time. Stewart, thank you very much for today’s discussion and to those who had questions. If you want to follow-up offline, please do so. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage you to follow Stewart Patrick on Twitter @StewartMPatrick, and we would love your ideas on how we can be a resource for you. Want to make sure we can provide to just you and the work that you’re doing in your local communities, so thank you again for joining us.
PATRICK: Thank you very much. It was great.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.