Paradiplomacy: A Catalyst for the Government?

We live in a highly globalised world that is undergoing a continuous transformation. That dynamism is especially true in the case of a modern state. The necessity to keep up with the dynamism creates space for a nation-state to employ modern tools to achieve its national interests. Modern states use such tools, for instance, soft power and public diplomacy, in foreign policy. Even as the primary objectives of diplomacy, the security of the state needs to be decided and implemented by the central authority, while other objectives can be implemented by a decentralised authority. One such decentralised tool of foreign policy is paradiplomacy.

What is Paradiplomacy?

Paradiplomacy can be defined as “foreign policy capacity of sub-state entities, their participation, independent of their metropolitan state, in the international arena in pursuit of their own specific international interests”. Therefore, paradiplomacy involves states (sub-unit of a country; not to be confused with nation-states) and cities as principal actors. Paradiplomacy, in contrast to the conventional foreign policy, makes space for the subnational units to engage in international relations in order to promote their own interests. Paradiplomacy, therefore, acts as a complement to a country’s efforts in carrying out its foreign policy. While the act of paradiplomacy is carried out by many sub-state actors across the world, the phenomenon is much more evident in federal states (e.g. the US and Canada) because the state units have a greater degree of autonomy. One such instance occurred in the US after President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Immediately after the decision was announced, twelve state governors came together to form the United States Climate Alliance to implement the Paris Agreement. 400 mayors across the US have also independently endorsed the accord on their own.

Why is it Significant?

The concept of paradiplomacy is significant for many reasons. One reason is that any agreement signed by the Central/Federal government cannot be successfully implemented without the cooperation of the state governments. Making the state governments a part of such discussion can yield better results. A second argument for paradiplomacy comes from the perspective of states bordering other countries. It is imperative for the border states to have better connections with their neighbouring countries. Any dispute that arises between two nations can be fruitfully resolved by engaging the border states in the discussions because most of the time these states either have grievances with or interests in solving disputes with the neighbouring nations. Another reason is that by letting the states engage in issues that deal with ‘low policy’, which include environmental issues, investment promotion, cultural and educational exchange, and more, a sense of competition could be fostered among the said states, and eventually, this would lead to better governance.

The Indian Context

Paradiplomacy in India is chaotic and less orderly. This is because the Indian Constitution gives the Central government exclusive control over all the matters pertaining to foreign affairs. It is interesting to note that the state governments, legally, are not even allowed to participate in any international conferences. There is no mechanism that allows the states to directly engage with international players. However, since the mid-1990’s, the state governments began to play a crucial role in foreign affairs. Two events facilitated this to happen. The first is the series of economic reforms launched by the Narasimha Rao government, and the second is the beginning of an era of coalition politics in the Indian political landscape. With the regional parties playing a significant role in the formation of the Central government, they started asserting themselves more vociferously; travelling abroad, entering into agreements, and signing memoranda of understanding independently. However, all such agreements still require the approval of the Central government to proceed.

N Chandrababu Naidu, the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, travelled extensively across the world to sell the idea of Hyderabad as a technological hub and to attract foreign investments into the state. He travelled as many as six times in the nine years (1995-2004) that he was in power in the state. He succeeded in his effort as Microsoft established their office in Hyderabad and the Indian School of Business established their first-ever branch in India in Hyderabad. In 2014, after the partition of the state, upon becoming the Chief Minister once again, he visited Singapore and signed agreements to develop the new state’s capital. Gujarat is another state that has played a key role in the international arena. Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, had launched ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ which was a biennial summit with an objective of attracting foreign direct investments into the state. The summit has been a huge success since its launch, with many international dignitaries visiting the summit. It has also become a place for other Indian states to pitch themselves to various international actors. Apart from this, Narendra Modi, taking a cue from the Indian “Look East” policy, had travelled extensively to China, Japan, and Singapore to attract investments. More recently, the Gujarat government has signed a sister-city agreement for cooperation between Ahmedabad and Guangzhou city, in the Guangdong province in China. Furthermore, Telangana, another South Indian state, has also been playing a pivotal role too. Its success can be gauged from the fact that some of the world’s largest tech companies like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have their campuses in Telangana. The state had also signed sister-state agreements with New Jersey and California to extend cooperation ranging from investment promotion to tackling climate change.

While these are some of the positive developments, there are also some negatives that resulted due to the extra ‘enthusiasm’ of the states that proved deadly to India. One example is how West Bengal had stalled the Teesta river water treaty between India and Bangladesh. When the two countries had reached an agreement, it could not be signed due to stern opposition from the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Another example emerges from Tamil Nadu. When the United States moved a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) against Sri Lanka seeking accountability for the horrific excesses of the country’s forces against the minority Tamil population, the Indian government facing pressure from the Tamil Nadu government, had to support the resolution. This had pushed Sri Lanka to move closer to China.

Paradiplomacy provides a framework for sub-national actors to assert themselves better. It effectively acts as a bridge between globalisation and regionalisation. For the Indian states too, there is a vast potential that the Indian states can exploit using paradiplomacy. Indian states until now have only been concerned with the economic aspect of paradiplomacy. They can also enter into agreements in the fields of tourism promotion, cultural exchange and urban planning. They can also enter into student exchange programs on behalf of public universities in their respective states, which will act as a mechanism for the Indian students to get exposed to bigger platforms or opportunities. Indian states can leverage their potential and use paradiplomacy to catalyse economic growth. All that is needed is the political will to act.


Kartik Balaji Kundeti

A low-key individual with keen interest in Economics and Policy making. Currently pursuing Economics from SRCC, University of Delhi.

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