Given the possibility of Trump's return to the White House, the European Union and its member states should make preparations for the storm. To better weather it, they need to focus on "subnational diplomacy" to promote municipal and other regional engagement among friendly nations. Strengthening local-level ties could help broaden ties with the U.S. beyond those formed among national governments and armed forces, making it possible to soften the impact of a leadership change in Washington.

The European Union and its member states need to draw up detailed proposals on how to shore up bilateral relations by promoting interactions among European and U.S. local governments, personal exchange programs and academic organizations.

If reelected, Trump likely would reverse much of the current administration's foreign policy, which has focused on international cooperation. Diplomatic about-faces could include attempting to withdraw from NATO, trying to weaken the United Nations and reviewing support for Ukraine -- moves that could throw the world into turmoil.

Even if Trump fails to make a comeback, the row between Democrats and Republicans will likely continue for years. The international community will face the risk of drastic changes in U.S. foreign policy every four years when the country holds a presidential election.

This poses a serious challenge to European allies that depend on Washington for their defense. In addition to subnational diplomacy, they need to accelerate two measures to broaden ties with the U.S. One is deepening defense and military relations. Military personnel know the importance of alliance. Europeans need to bolster relations with both Democrats and Republicans, developing political networks where they can exchange candid opinions with U.S. lawmakers.

Whatever the outcome of the upcoming election, European allies need to find a way to build up relations with the U.S. while shielding themselves from the vagaries of its politics. Now is the time to begin preparations for a possible Trump revival.

Subnational diplomacy

Subnational diplomacy is the act of engaging state and local actors in foreign policy and is essential if we are to solve the increasingly complex national security challenges of the 21st century. Over the last decade, subnational actors have increased their footprint on important global issues, from pandemic response to climate resilience and refugee integration. Building more connective tissue between mayors and governors across the United States and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., is critical. Sub-national actors include organizations, jurisdictions, and networks (e.g.,  a coalition of cities or state authorities). These are either formal or informal, profit or non-profit and public  or  private . For example, corporations are formal, private, and for-profit, the state and labor organizations are  formal, public, and non-profit, and communities are private, informal, and non-profit. An intermediary sector, crossing the boundaries between private and public, for profit and non-profit, includes energy cooperatives, not-for-profit energy enterprises, and the scientific community. The United States has a three-tier system of subnational government that includes states, counties and a municipal level comprising municipalities and towns/townships. Towns/townships exist in less than half of the states, are located in areas that are not incorporated as municipalities, and typically have more limited powers. Local governments are not recognized in the federal Constitution. They belong to the states and their structure varies according to their state’s constitution or legislation. In practice, there are 50 different systems of local government in the U.S.

Subnational diplomacy is a powerful, omnipresent force, but one that is rarely leveraged, or even acknowledged. Examples: Sister Cities International is an extensive network connecting American and foreign cities around the world in mutually beneficial exchange programs since 1956. C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, established in 2005 has become more active on the front lines of foreign policy issues.

In a decentralized democracy like the United States, mayors and governors have the power to set their own foreign policy agendas and are often first responders when global crises emerge. Sometimes their interests align with the federal government, sometimes they don’t.

As the Trump administration was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, for example, the governor of Hawaii departed from the president’s stance and signed the first subnational statute to support and align with the global treaty. The city of Los Angeles became a founding member of the Urban 20 (U20), a coalition formed to push G-20 leaders on progressive policies, particularly around pandemic response, compared to the Trump administration’s more insular agenda.

The state of California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, signed an agreement in 2019 to establish a Trade and Services Desk to strengthen California-Mexico trade relations.

When there is alignment on policy, subnational diplomacy has the capacity to be a diplomatic force multiplier. Subnational diplomacy can also be a laboratory for creativity and experimentation where the stakes are lower if an idea fails, but a successful idea can scale up to the national and even multilateral level quickly.

To leverage subnational diplomacy effectively, the EU and member states need to set up structures to better coordinate and engage in diplomacy with mayors and governors across the US, the way it already does with foreign counterparts around the world.

Because subnational diplomacy actors across the United States represent an untapped, relatively unknown tool in the tradecraft toolbox, the EU and member states should find ways to integrate subnational diplomacy into training efforts. This could be accomplished through a standalone module on subnational diplomacy or by integrating the concept into political, economic and public diplomacy tradecraft courses.

Leveraging subnational diplomacy to tap into greater geographic and demographic diversity across the US will make foreign policy smarter, more creative and ultimately more effective in addressing the complex global challenges of the 21st century.

US States Representative Offices in Europe


Foreign Trade Offices

  1. Europe Office (London)


International Offices

  1. Czech Republic Liaison Office
  2. France Office
  3. Germany Office
  4. Spain Office
  5. U.K. & Ireland Office


International Trade Representatives

  1. United Kingdom & Ireland


  1. State of Illinois European Office (Brussels, Belgium)


Iowa Economic Development Authority

  1. Germany – Frankfurt


Kentucky’s International Representative

  1. European Representative Office (Hamburg, Germany)


Missouri Trade & Investment Office

  1. Missouri Trade & Investment Office (London, England)

New York

Global New York

  1. State of New York Department of Economic Development (London, United Kingdom)


Pennsylvania Trade Representatives

  1. Pennsylvania Authorized Trade Representative (Prague, Czech Republic)
  2. Pennsylvania Authorized Trade Representative (Paris, France)
  3. Pennsylvania Authorized Trade Representative (Heidelberg, Germany)
  4. Pennsylvania Authorized Trade Representative (The Hague, Netherlands)
  5. Pennsylvania Authorized Trade Representative (London, United Kingdom)

South Carolina

International Support

  1. Europe (Munich, Germany)



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