Can State and Local Governments Influence U.S. Foreign Policy?

State and local governments have an interest in protecting and serving local needs. Governments in some parts of the U.S. have opened trade offices in foreign cities to promote business, trade and investment ties. Finding a list of all these overseas offices representing state and local efforts is difficult. But you can get more information about state economic development offices here.


Local Concerns

State and local governments lobby the federal government on specific foreign policy issues.

Governors in the Midwest closely track global negotiations on agriculture subsidies. Governors of states with international borders have special concerns regarding immigration and other important issues. States like Florida and Texas, for instance, have specific interests in foreign policies concerning the Cuban embargo or the Mexican drug war. 

Foreign policy often reflects the interests and values of state and local governments. And when the federal government passes laws or sanctions against other countries, state and municipal governments sometimes follow suit by passing their own legislation. A clear example of this is when local laws requiring the divestment of holdings in aparthied-era South Africa were passed in support of U.S. policy.

At other times, state legislation can challenge U.S. foreign policy by weighing in on specific issues. This was the case with the Chicago City Council, which unable to have a direct say on when U.S. troops should return home, passed a resolution calling for the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

The council joined almost 70 other city governments with the hope of starting a "groundswell" that would have pressured ex-president Bush and Congress to agree on an exit strategy. 


Legal Limits

State and local governments can promote international trade, express opinions on foreign affairs, and even regulate their own interactions with other countries.

But there are significant limits on how far state and local governments can dive into foreign policy. A federal court ruling in 1998 said, "State interests, no matter how noble, do not trump the federal government's exclusive foreign affairs power."

This does not, however, prevent state and city officials from vocalizing the opinions of their constituents, and rising nationally as "moral leaders" for their (and other) communities. 

Back to "Who Makes U.S. Foreign Policy?"
Also:"U.S. Foreign Policy: Who Cares?"

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Your Citation
Porter, Keith. "Can State and Local Governments Influence U.S. Foreign Policy?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 23, 2016, Porter, Keith. (2016, February 23). Can State and Local Governments Influence U.S. Foreign Policy? Retrieved from Porter, Keith. "Can State and Local Governments Influence U.S. Foreign Policy?" ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).