A collage showing a stylized New York city skyline on one side and a stylized Paris skyline on the other side. An arm reaches out from each city, shaking hands in the middle over the ocean. Above the New York side, it says


Closer connections

In October, UR played host as the U.S. Department of State began rolling out a new initiative focused on developing closer international ties at state, city, and other levels below national governments and world leaders. The panel discussion was also the debut event for the U.S.’s first-ever special representative for subnational diplomacy.

During the event in the Robins School of Business, Nina Hachigian, the new ambassador, called subnational diplomacy “foreign policy for the middle class.” Cities and states have a lot of soft power, she noted, and can serve as a ballast for strained national relationships during troubled times.

COVID-19, cyberattacks, climate change-driven weather disasters, and other transnational, global challenges “affect people in places,” she said. “Learning from mayors and governors about how they’re coping with these challenges and what they’re seeing — we really want to bring their views into the creation of our foreign policy on these tough challenges.”

The State Department’s effort to strengthen its bonds with cities and states is a welcome development, said Jenna Ben-Yehuda, president and CEO of the Truman Center for National Policy. It’s time to tap into “all of the richness American cities have to offer,” she said. “Folks face a lot of the same challenges.”

Seated just to their right was one of those mayors, Richmond’s Levar Stoney, who stressed the importance of direct foreign investment for local economies and the role of an inclusive, welcoming environment in attracting it.

The panel was moderated by political scientist Jeffrey Legro, UR’s provost and an expert in international affairs. He noted that UR students participate in civic engagement and international education.

“We’re trying to connect those two to give students a better understanding that actually what they’re seeing when they go abroad are the issues and challenges of their local community,” he said. “If you’re working on programs here locally, there’s a lot to understand and learn from by looking at international examples.”