Order the summer edition here

Ordinary diplomacy serves the state, urban diplomacy the people

CITIES: New US leaders have noted China's use of cities in its diplomacy. Is urban policy emerging as the new foreign policy?

Erik Berg
Erik Berg worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs / NORAD from 1978 to 2013. He now heads Habitat Norway.

Da Ine Eriksen Søreide was chair of the Storting's foreign affairs committee, she claimed in Dagsavisen (August 2011) that «it happens that municipal councils and county councils discuss foreign policy…. But we can not have 430 different foreign policies in this country ", she concluded. Ten years and a municipal reform later, it can be stated that this is what we are about to get: 356 Norwegian municipalities are increasingly working for their interests in global arenas.

Paraq Khanna shows in the book Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization (2016) that cities in the world bind more closely to each other. They are forging a new diplomacy which he calls "diplomacity". Others may refer to this as mayoral diplomacy or sub-national diplomacy. Khanna claims that cities, not states, are becoming drivers in a new world foreign policy system where internal and external cooperation will be crucial for economic growth. In recent decades, city authorities have taken leading roles with regard to global issues such as climate, refugees / migrants and health. Covid-19 is the new, acute challenge.

We have got new foreign policy actors. In addition to bilateral city-to-city cooperation, more than 300 new global urban networks have emerged in the last 30 years. Networks that in critical contexts have been able to expand their original one-case focus. For example. C 40, of which Oslo is a member, which now also integrates health and inequality in its climate work. And cities competing for investment, industrial establishments, jobs, knowledge and technology institutions are now united in the fight against a global pandemic. They contribute to concrete solutions and resources.

All politics are local

The fact that all policy – including foreign policy – is based on local conditions has become clearer in the last year. The Covid-19 pandemic has put cities' use of resources, expertise and capacity to the test. Since 90 per cent of cases of infection have developed in urban areas, the ability of city politicians – such as Raymond Johansen in Oslo – to innovate and be flexible has become crucial to people's lives. International cooperation provides opportunities: to achieve economic and material benefits, to share experience and knowledge and to gather collectively to influence global governments and financial institutions.

Unlike the state, it is based here on local competence and capacity. These are challenges related to health, climate, refugees, schools, business development, transport, culture and so on. City authorities cooperate more directly with business and civil society. Their diplomacy is more flexible, pragmatic and targeted, while the state often appears ritual and ceremonial. Subnational partnerships make it possible to meet local needs across national borders. When states get involved in other countries' local affairs, there is often "interference in internal affairs". The collaboration between Kirkenes and Murmansk is one example of results being achieved concretely and quickly at the local level. Chinese cities also see this: They are getting involved in the fight to expand northern Norwegian ports.

One example of new urban diplomacy is that the G-20 group in 2017 established an "Urban 20" network. FThe G-20 meeting in Saudi Arabia-Arabia this autumn, mayors and representatives of the most important cities met to formulate an urban agenda for å influence their heads of state. U-20 is unique because it means a direct channel for cities to å influence an established, influential multilateral player. All G-20 countries, except India, have their largest cities represented in the network. Most rapporteurs also do not represent their respective state-supporting parties. Other cities have also participated as observers, including Amman, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Miami and Singapore. Norway, which is not a member of the G-20, has not sent city observers to the U-20 meetings. It is the host country that invites.

 USA: «Build back»

From day one, the Biden-Harris administration signaled the need for a more proactive role for the United States in global cooperation. Trump's "America First" policy was to be replaced by Biden's "Build back agenda". The first necessary measure will, according to the research group Brookings, be to rebuild a foreign service that is now in ruins. The United States has, Brookings claims, a demoralized diplomatic corps depleted of expertise. The research group believes that there is a lack of innovative tools, up-to-date knowledge and political support to promote American interests. America's new leaders have also noted China's use of cities in its diplomacy. Especially within the worldwide "Belt and Road" initiative.

Strong forces in the foreign policy professional community in the United States, such as Brookings, are advocating for the establishment of a department for sub-national diplomacy in the State Department. One will benefit from the diplomatic experience gained by American cities in the vacuum created by President Trump in areas such as climate, immigration and trade. Cities will be stimulated to engage globally with partners in business, culture and social development. The plan is to deploy experienced diplomats in cities and states to build local expertise. Legislative processes have been ongoing since 2019: Representatives Ted Lieu (R) and Joe Wilson (D) then proposed a "City and State Diplomacy Act". A year later, Senators Chris Murphy (D) and David Perdue (R) put forward a similar proposal.

City department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

Will a similar department be realistic in Norwegian UD? After the crippling reorganization processes and covid-lockdown of recent years, new approaches and ideas are needed. Not least to open doors and guide our local authorities with regard to players in global finance, business, technology and knowledge. It is necessary to strengthen diplomatic competence. Especially in the long-term "reconstruction" processes that are now gaining momentum in many global urban networks and within the UN and the World Bank. Cities are becoming more and more important players due to population growth and economic development – new cities are being built in Africa and Asia.

Norway must increase its assistance to social urban development and strengthen knowledge of the extreme socio-economic conditions that prevail in poor urban communities worldwide.

Solberg Government's action plan for UN Sustainability targets, presented in May, will need to integrate local, national and global considerations and measures. The plan must benefit from, guide and coordinate local authorities, business, civil society and academia within a new sustainable global policy.


See The world of cities. Action for the UN's sustainability goals. (2020 / 21).

- self-advertisement -

Recent Comments:

Advertiser Content


Should you use a loan broker when applying for an unsecured loan?

Obtaining many offers is important when you are comparing conditions, and thus find the cheapest solution.

Refinancing can give you better finances

Are you struggling with high spending on consumer loans, credit cards and installment purchases? If so, you are one of many.

Siste artikler

Environment / What the Oslo Fjord needs most nowAccording to this article, the Norwegian Environment Agency's "Rescue Plan for the Oslo Fjord" talks down a real restoration of the fjord. Life on the shore and the fjord needs restoration on nature's own terms.
Self-realization / The Age of Fitness (by Jürgen Martschukat,…)Survival of the fittest – it's about staying in shape and taking care of your own productivity. You also have an app that measures heart rate, steps and sleep quality.
Middle East / The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is cutting international cooperationWhat significance does it have that the authorities have cut cultural support to a number of Norwegian actors working internationally? For example, Kirkelig Kulturverksted i Midtøsten?
Care / The Care Crisis. What Caused It and How Can We End It? (by Emma Dowling): The UK is increasingly dependent on the efforts of volunteers to provide citizens with a minimum of care while public services are suffering from budget cuts and crises.
Artist / TEXT! Art and such 1981-2020 (by Guttorm Nordø)Guttorm Nordø talks about the immediate as the only guideline for his art. One of the finest, most risk-taking and wittiest art books of 2021?
Essay / This is how Gunda sees the worldIn what way can the human narrative of oneself be challenged by, for one hour and thirty-three minutes, looking at the world through the gaze of a pig?
Middle East / It is not about peace, but about smart businessWhile other countries were preoccupied with covid-19, Arabs and Israelis could, without outside interference, concentrate on peace. And business.
Essay / I was completely out of the worldThe author Hanne Ramsdal tells here what it means to be put out of action – and come back again. A concussion leads, among other things, to the brain not being able to dampen impressions and emotions.
Prio / Silently disciplining researchMany who question the legitimacy of the US wars seem to be pressured by research and media institutions. An example here is the Institute for Peace Research (PRIO), which has had researchers who have historically been critical of any war of aggression – who have hardly belonged to the close friends of nuclear weapons.
Spain / Is Spain a terrorist state?The country receives sharp international criticism for the police and the Civil Guard's extensive use of torture, which is never prosecuted. Regime rebels are imprisoned for trifles. European accusations and objections are ignored.
Covid-19 / Vaccine coercion in the shadow of the corona crisis (by Trond Skaftnesmo)There is no real skepticism from the public sector about the coronary vaccine – vaccination is recommended, and the people are positive about the vaccine. But is the embrace of the vaccine based on an informed decision or a blind hope for a normal everyday life?
Military / The military commanders wanted to annihilate the Soviet Union and China, but Kennedy stood in the wayWe focus on American Strategic Military Thinking (SAC) from 1950 to the present. Will the economic war be supplemented by a biological war?
Bjørneboe / homesicknessIn this essay, Jens Bjørneboe's eldest daughter reflects on a lesser – known psychological side of her father.
Y-block / Arrested and put on smooth cell for Y blockFive protesters were led away yesterday, including Ellen de Vibe, former director of the Oslo Planning and Building Agency. At the same time, the Y interior ended up in containers.
Tangen / A forgiven, refined and anointed basket boyThe financial industry takes control of the Norwegian public.
Environment / Planet of The Humans (by Jeff Gibbs)For many, green energy solutions are just a new way to make money, says director Jeff Gibbs.
Mike davis / The pandemic will create a new world orderAccording to activist and historian Mike Davis, wild reservoirs, like bats, contain up to 400 types of coronavirus that are just waiting to spread to other animals and humans.
Unity / Newtopia (by Audun Amundsen)The expectation of a paradise free of modern progress became the opposite, but most of all, Newtopia is about two very different men who support and help each other when life is at its most brutal.
Anorexia / self Portrait (by Margreth Olin,…)shameless uses Lene Marie Fossen's own tortured body as a canvas for grief, pain and longing in her series of self portraits – relevant both in the documentary self Portrait and in the exhibition Gatekeeper.