Paradiplomacy is international relations conducted by subnational, regional or local governments. With globalisation, non-central governments play an increasingly influential international role, and can develop their own foreign policy.[1][2] Regions, federal states, provinces and cities seek their way to promote trade, investments, cooperation and partnership in a long list of subjects and account for a significant part of today's cross-borders contacts. This trend raises new interesting questions concerning public international law and opens a debate on the future of the state system that has provided the grounds for the international political order in the last centuries.

Although the term paradiplomacy was casually employed in the 1980s, it was introduced into the academic debate by the Canadian scholar Panayotis Soldatos. The American author Ivo Duchacek further developed the concept and became one of its main theoreticians. Other current denominations for paradiplomacy and related concepts are: multilayered diplomacy, substate diplomacy, decentralized cooperation and intermestic affairs. This latter concept expresses a growing trend to the internationalization of domestic ("intermestic") issues, which takes local and regional concerns to the centre stage of international affairs.

The intention of local governments is thus to promote development by exploring complementarity with partners facing similar problems, with a view to joining forces to arrive at solutions more easily. In addition, they explore opportunities alongside international organizations that offer assistance programs for local development projects.[3]

History of decentralized international cooperationEdit

In its "decentralized" dimension, international cooperation is a phenomenon that emerged following the Second World War, when local governments in Europe – especially those in France, which were active coordinators of this new form of interaction – signed twinning agreements, principally with German local governments, in order to promote peaceful coexistence and the reconstruction of Europe.[4] At that time, the twinning agreements had a strong cultural and political character while decentralized cooperation had the overarching aim of maintaining peace in the postwar period. However, from the 1970s, the interdependence created by globalization in different fields combined with the evolution of the concept of cooperation (from an assistance-driven to a developmental approach) to elevate the nature of the agreements to another level. At that point, local governments, as they acquired greater autonomy, recognized the importance of international issues in their day-to-day processes and saw decentralized cooperation as a means of overcoming their regional limitations, whether economic, technological, social, or others.[5] From then on, the international participation of local governments has been increasingly evident in practice.


Paradiplomacy may be performed both in support of and in complementarity to the central state conducted diplomacy, or come in conflict or compete with it. Duchacek points out a distinction between: a) cross-border regional microdiplomacy, b) transregional microdiplomacy and c) global paradiplomacy, to describe: a) contacts between non-central units situated across borders in different states, b) contacts between non-central units without a common border but situated in neighboring states and c) contacts between units belonging to states without common borders. A comprising view of the phenomenon should also consider contacts in a wide range of multilateral associations of local authorities.

Non-central governments may formally develop official international relations by: a) sending delegations in official visits; b) signing agreements, memoranda of understanding and other instruments; c) participating in international "local" fora; d) establishing permanent representative offices or delegations abroad.

Local governments seek international cooperation for economic, cultural or political reasons. In the economic field, it is known that most central governments cannot properly assist local communities in all their needs. They may lack expertise and cadres to fully understand local realities and to deal with their complexities. Local governments tend to think that central authorities do not show sufficient interest in helping them and find themselves perfectly able to pursue their own interest.

In the cultural field, some regions may seek to promote themselves internationally as an autonomous cultural entity. This is the case of the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Some regions may seek to cooperate with their diasporas worldwide and try to gain the support of their nationals abroad in attaining their diplomatic goals.

As to the political aspects, local governments may join efforts internationally to pressure their central governments into a desired course of action. This strategy is exemplified in the case of eight memoranda of understanding signed, in the years 1980, between three American states and three Canadian provinces to control and combat acid rain, as the Reagan Administration and the American Congress could not reach a consensus on the matter. The cross-borders paradiplomatic efforts eventually led Washington to amend the Clean Air Act in 1990 and to sign with Canada, in 1991, the US/Canada Air Quality Agreement in which both countries agree on a timetable to reduce acid emissions.

A particular kind of local political activism is called "protodiplomacy", through which a local government may seek international support for their emancipation or independence plans. This is typically the case of the Canadian province of Québec in the seventies, under the Parti Québécois.

Non-central governments may be allowed to negotiate and sign agreements with foreign non-central authorities or even with the government of a foreign state. Conditions can vary largely from a limited capacity to negotiate with the assistance of their central authorities to a most complete autonomy based on sovereign constitutional prerogatives. This can not be the object of the international law. Only the internal law of the states is to determine which internal powers are entitled to do so and to which extent. In some states, the outward relations of their non-central governments is a constitutional matter directly related to the issue of legal competence.

City diplomacyEdit

In recent years the term 'city diplomacy' has gained increased usage and acceptance, particularly as a strand of paradiplomacy and public diplomacy. It is formally used in the workings of the United Cities and Local Governments and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and recognised by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. NGOs may be viewed as paradiplomats who have valuable but limited usefulness and only need to work together with professional diplomats.[6] A March 2014 debate in the British House of Lords acknowledged the evolution of town twinning into city diplomacy, particularly around trade and tourism, but also in culture and post-conflict reconciliation.[7] São Paulo has aggressively pursued ‘city-diplomacy’ and has not only become the first subnational government in the Southern Hemisphere to sign direct bilateral agreements with the United States and Britain. It has also been crowned Latin American State of the Future 2018–19.[8]


Federative countries ordinarily set apart in their constitutions, when it comes to the internal division of powers, matters that are exclusive of the central authority. "National defense", "currency" and "external relations" are typically the case. However, as cross-border contacts become an imperative for sub-national communities, diplomacy is increasingly becoming a decentralized prerogative. Some states do formally recognize the stakes their political and administrative units have in foreign affairs and have, accordingly, set the required legal basis at a constitutional level. Legal provisions on this matter are present in the constitution of the following federations:

Paradiplomacy by countryEdit


Since 1994, an amendment to the Constitución de la Republica allows the provinces of Argentina (articles 124 and 125) to establish treaties and agreements with foreign nations to the effect of the administration of justice, economic interest or common utility works.[9] Those treaties are "partial" (non-political) and must not contravene national law, affect the nation's public credit nor go against the external policies of the Argentine nation. It must also be approved by the National Congress.


The Constitution of Austria restricts the states' capacity to establish formal external ties to cross-border issues. Article 16 of the reformed text [1] (28. June 2002) allows the Länder (states) to conclude treaties with neighboring states or with its constituent states in matters of their constitutional competence. The governor of the Land must inform the federal government from whom he must obtain authorization before engaging in international negotiations. If the federal government fails to respond within eight weeks, the request will be deemed to have been approved. The approval, whether express or tacit, obliges the Federal President to the agreed text, which must be countersigned by a federal authority. However, upon request of the federal government, the Länder must denounce the treaty. If the Land does not dully complies with its obligation, the federal government overtakes the responsibility. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of Article 16 regulate further the competencies of the Länder and of the federal state in the implementation of treaties.

Bosnia and HerzegovinaEdit

1995 Dayton Agreement which ended the Bosnian War formally acknowledged the high degree of subsidiarily decentralised powers for two composite entities, including the right to establish special parallel relations with neighboring countries consistent with sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1997 Republika Srpska and what was then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) signed the Agreement on Special Parallel Relations which after the 2006 independence of Montenegro led to development of Republika Srpska–Serbia relations. While not provided in the Dayton Agreement, since 2009 Republika Srpska opened a number of representative offices in Moscow, Stuttgart, Jerusalem, Thessaloniki, Washington D.C., Brussels, and Vienna. The policy was criticized by the Bosniak political representatives as a further proof of efforts in direction of proposed secession of Republika Srpska.


A Belgium 1993 constitutional revision granted Regions and Communities the right to develop international co-operation, including the celebration of treaties, in matters of their exclusive competence (article 167 (3)). Cultural and educational matters are, according to article 127 (3), those fields of their exclusive competence. This faculty includes the drafting of treaties, which are ratified by the French and the Flemish Community Councils by decree (article 128 (1.1)). Article 130 (4) provides the same right to the German-speaking Community, and adds "personal issues" to its fields of competence. Since the Communities have acquired exclusive right to develop their international relations on those exclusive matters, the King cannot sign, ratify or denounce treaties on their behalf. Only the treaties concluded before 18 May 1993 may be denounced by the King. The rigidity of Belgium sphere of competences raised legal difficulties to the approval of international treaties dealing with both federal and community's issues. These treaties are known as traités mixtes, and is the object of a co-operation agreement between the federal state, the Communities and the Regions (8 Mars 1994), which provides for a complex mechanism of shared responsibilities.


Canadian provinces are among the most active sub-national units on the international stage. The total amount spent on diplomacy by the ten Canadian provinces is equal to that of the fifty American states, despite the fact Canada's population is one-ninth the size and the economy is only one-fourteenth as large. Canadian provinces are largely motivated by economic concerns stemming from the high degree of economic diversity between regions of the country and because of Canada's integration into world markets, especially the US market via NAFTA. Nine of the ten provinces trade more with the United States than with the rest of Canada. Relations with major trading partners, most especially the United States, are the most important. At the same time Quebec nationalism has motivated the French-speaking province of Quebec to pursue closer ties with France and the other members of la Francophonie. Furthermore, Canada's constitution is generally interpreted in a decentralist way, giving the provinces a great deal of responsibilities.[10]

While Québec has the strongest paradiplomatic presence, British Columbia and Saskatchewan formerly operated economic trade offices abroad; Nova Scotia operated a tourism office in Portland, Maine until 2009. Ontario formerly had representation in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas; it continues to promote the province's industries from delegations in New York City and Los Angeles[11]


The Basic Law of Germany states in its article 32(3) that "Insofar as the Länder have power to legislate, they may, with the consent of the Federal Government, conclude treaties with foreign states". The federal government must consult with the Länder, "in sufficient time", before concluding an international treaty that affects the special interest of one or more Länder. Article 59(2) requires the consent or participation of the Bundesrat (the German senate), as one of the "bodies competent in any specific case", on the approval of Treaties "which regulate the political relations of the Federation or relate to matters of Federal legislation". The German Bundesrat has been especially keen to assure the participation of the Länder in the European decision-making process.

Kingdom of DenmarkEdit

The Faroese Government has representative offices in Copenhagen, Brussels, London, Moscow and Reykjavik working closely with Danish Embassies. The office in Brussels also acts a point of liaison with the European Union.[12]

The Greenlandic Government has representative offices in Copenhagen, Brusseles, Reykjavik and Washington D. C. working closely with Danish Embassies. The office in Brussels also acts a point of liaison with the European Union.[13][14]

Russia and the Soviet UnionEdit

Russia, the world's most extensive state, shows a tradition of conveying the weight of its territorial units to foster external policy objectives. The Soviet Union is the only country ever to have subnational entities (the Ukrainian SSR and Byelorussian SSR) recognized as member states in the United Nations, which lasted from 1945 to 1991 (see: Ukraine and the UN). That situation was not to be reflected in constitutional law until the 1977 Soviet Constitution stipulated that a Union republic "has the right to enter into relations with other states, conclude treaties with them, exchange diplomatic and consular representatives, and take part in the work of international organizations" (article 80). The new text went as far as to formally declare that each Union republic "shall retain the right freely to secede from the USSR" (Article 72), which all republics ultimately exercised in 1991.

The 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation does not explicitly confer its non-central authorities the same rights, but one can see from article 72 that "coordination of the international and external economic relations of the subjects of the Russian Federation" (n) belongs to the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the subjects of the Russian Federation, and that, according to paragraph 2, this provision "shall equally apply to the republics, territories, regions, federal cities, the autonomous region and autonomous areas".


Article 54 of the Swiss Constitution states that foreign relations are a federal matter. However, the cantons shall be considered, having they a say in the preparation of decisions of foreign policy concerning their competencies or their essential interests, whenever they are affected, and participate in international negotiations as appropriate, as stated in Article 55. The cantons may also conclude treaties with foreign countries within the domain relevant to their competencies, provided they are not contrary to the law and interests of the Federation nor to the right of other cantons. They may deal directly with subordinated foreign authorities, but treaties concluded with foreign nations can only be signed by the central authorities (Article 56). Article 147 reinforces the cantons' role in Swiss foreign affairs by stating that "the cantons (...) are heard in the course of the preparation of important decrees and other projects of substantial impact, and on important international treaties". Provisions concerning mandatory and optional referenda concerning the entry of Switzerland into organizations for collective security, into supranational communities or the implementation of some international treaties (Articles 140, 141 and 141a) may also imply cantonal participation if such referendum is proposed by eight cantons.

United KingdomEdit

The Scottish Government has offices in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels,[15] Dublin, London, Paris and Washington D.C..

The Welsh Government operates trade missions, working closely with British Embassies. The office in Brussels also acts a point of liaison with the European Union.[16]

United StatesEdit

Having established that the power to make treaties and conduct external affairs belong to the president and the Congress, the first federal constitution sets an array of prohibitions to the States in Section 10 of Article I. The states shall not "enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation". However, the third paragraph of the same Section 10 opens the possibility for the States to engage in international affairs by stating that "no State shall, without the Consent of Congress, [...] enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay". A double negation ("no State shall, without the Consent of Congress") implies that they are actually allowed to "compact with a foreign Power", as long as the Congress sanctioned those acts. This control was meant to assure that international commitments contracted by the States were not against the federal law.


In strict sense, China does not engage in paradiplomacy. It is considered a phenomenon of "multilayered diplomacy".[17] In spite of the active role Chinese provincial, municipal and district leaders play on the diplomatic field, these government officials do not act on behalf of local political groups or from a merely “local” perspective. They are indeed extensions of the central government, carrying out policies outlined by the Communist Party as long as their interests are convergent with those of Beijing. This is evidenced by the fact that the internationalization of Chinese non-central governments was primarily a creative product of the international isolation of the Chinese central government caused by the 1989 Tiananmen crisis.[18] However, this does not mean that local needs and priorities are disregarded as secondary. Local particularities are to be heeded as well.

Being a unitary political system, provincial and municipal administrations are expected to pursue China's foreign policies concerning trade, investment, culture, education, tourism and sports. The existence of ethnic minorities accounts for the creation of the five provincial-level autonomous regions, which enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

There is no text of law regulating diplomatic activities carried out by local authorities. In fact, those relations are agreed upon among local governments, local permanent committees of the Communist Party and local Foreign Affairs Office (FAO) subordinated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Diplomatic initiatives at local level can be initiated and undertaken by any of those administrative bodies. Friendship associations, usually under the management of the FAOs, act to promote contacts with non-central governments abroad and organizing events on international cooperation. Twinning agreements are widely observed as a means to establish permanent links with non-central governments elsewhere.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Paquin, Stéphane (2019). "Paradiplomacy" (PDF). In Balzacq, Thierry; Charillon, Frédéric; Ramel, Frédéric (eds.). Global Diplomacy: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Vol. 1. London: Palgrave. pp. 49–61.
  2. ^ Tavares, Rodrigo (2016). Paradiplomacy: Cities and States as Global Players. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190462116.
  3. ^ Salles, Fernanda; Santos, Silvia Guiomar (2014). "La capacidad de poder de los gobiernos locales en el campo del desarrollo: un análisis de la posición de Minas Gerais a partir de 2003". Apuntes: Revista de Ciencias Sociales. 41 (74): 169–195. doi:10.21678/apuntes.74.706.
  4. ^ Massiah, Gustav (2006). Estudio de casos: prácticas, modelos e instrumentos. El enfoque francés de la cooperación descentralizada (PDF). Observatorio de Cooperación Descentralizada. Unión Europea-América Latina. pp. 324–356. Retrieved 2009-09-15.
  5. ^ Salles, Fernanda; Santos, Silvia (2014). "La capacidad de poder de los gobiernos locales en el campo del desarrollo: un análisis de la posición de Minas Gerais a partir de 2003". 41 (74): 169–195. Archived from the original on 12 July 2015. Retrieved 10 July 2015. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Burksiene V., Dvorak J., Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili G. (2020) City Diplomacy in Young Democracies: The Case of the Baltics. In: Amiri S., Sevin E. (eds) City Diplomacy. Palgrave Macmillan Series in Global Public Diplomacy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  7. ^ 'City-to-city Diplomacy – Question for Short Debate', Lords Hansard, 26 March, 2014
  8. ^ "Paradiplomacy: Globalization of Localism". Retrieved 2020-03-04.
  9. ^ "celebrar convenios internacionales en tanto no sean incompatibles con la política exterior de la Nación y no afecten las facultades delegadas al Gobierno nacional o al crédito público de la Nación; con conocimiento del Congreso nacional."
  10. ^ "Grupo de investigación: Estudios Europeos e Internacionales (ZEIS) | Grupo de investigación: Estudios Europeos e Internacionales" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  11. ^ "Quebec spending millions on diplomatic offices around the world". The Star. 2014-08-03.
  12. ^ Faroese Government offices abroad
  13. ^ Greenlandic Government offices abroad
  14. ^ Greenland Representation, Reykjavík
  15. ^ Scottish Government offices in Brussels
  16. ^ Welsh Government trade and investment offices
  17. ^ Chen, Zhimin. 2005. ‘Coastal Provinces and China’s Foreign Policy’, in Hao, Y. and Su, L. (eds.) China’s Foreign Policy Making: Societal Force and Chinese American Policy. London: Ashgate. pp. 187-208.,%20Coastal%20Provinces%20and%20China’s%20Foreign%20Policy%20Making.pdf
  18. ^ Cornago, Noé (2010). "On the Normalization of Sub-State Diplomacy". The Hague Journal of Diplomacy. 5 (1–2): 11–36. doi:10.1163/1871191x-05010102.


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External linksEdit