Mayor de Blasio at the U.N. in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)
What would it mean for a city to have a foreign policy? And specifically what would it mean for New York City to have a foreign policy? At first sight, this question might seem somewhat absurd, or at least contentious. It is, of course, the United States government that has a State Department, a Defense Department, and embassies all around the world, not New York City. Diplomacy and international affairs are the work of the sovereign, are they not? Why would New York need to, or even be able to, do the work that Washington is already doing?
In short, the key question really is: could New York City make use of or benefit from an autonomous “metropolitan foreign policy?”
To answer, and to research and develop the policies that we will need to act, we have established the Metropolitan Society for International Affairs. We are New York City’s foreign policy think tank, and over the coming years, we will be researching and publishing on the nature of the city’s global interests, proposing new policies and programs for city government, and working with civic and commercial organizations throughout the city to integrate these global interests into local action.
We plan to make the case to all New Yorkers that in an era where national and metropolitan interests are no longer likely to be reliably contiguous, we must take it upon ourselves to develop and establish the institutional and policy structures necessary to articulate and pursue our own metropolitan interests through our own capacity.
But given that New York City has prospered so greatly for so long without this kind of autonomy, and that our proposals represent a rather large divergence from the norm, it is reasonable to explain our thinking, and suggest the path ahead.
To say that New York City is importantly distinct from the rest of the United States and uniquely influential among global cities is not to say anything particularly revolutionary, and certainly does not need to be enumerated for New Yorkers themselves. And yet, along with this obvious uniqueness, New York remains quite definitively a unambiguously American city. For most of its history, the city, its people, and its government have resolved this duality by expressing its New York-ness locally and through its culture and society, and its American-ness out into the world through the institutions of the U.S. government.
However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this solution will not continue to hold in the future as effectively as it has in the past. And while the roots of this disjuncture go back many years, recent actions of the Trump admin have made this tension far more obvious than before.
Recent federal policy decisions on climate change and immigration, to name the most prominent two, illustrate the depth of the divergence between D.C. foreign policy interests, and those of New Yorkers. Nor is the issue one of partisan politics. The D.C. foreign policy consensus advanced by the last Democratic administration saw the U.S. take a far more hawkish line on China and Russia relations than New York City interests, favoring financial and cultural exchange, might have chosen to pursue. Federal and metropolitan interests often overlap, but are not perfectly coterminous.
However, at present, the New York City government does not possess an institutional apparatus, a diplomatically-minded political class, or a cultivated sense of its international political interests among New Yorkers to act on these divergences in a systematic way.
We began the Metropolitan Society for International Affairs because we think New York City deserves all three of these things. We will research, analyze, and articulate a metropolitan foreign policy for New York City. We will work with the city government to develop a practical strategy to implement it. And we will engage with New Yorkers from all spheres of society to build a political consensus around this bold new direction in city politics.
Peter Marino is Executive Director and Research Director at the Metropolitan Society for International Affairs, and Senior Engineer at the Global Narratives Project. He is a fourth-generation New Yorker. On Twitter @nycitywonk and @themetsociety.