Sub-state diplomacy: Understanding the international opportunity structures

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Developing explanations for how sub-state governments are active internationally is central to understanding their unexpected growth as international actors. Building upon Lecours’ work [2002, Paradiplomacy: reflections on the foreign policy and international relations of regions, International Negotiation, Vol.7, pp.91–114], this article develops an expanded historical institutionalist analysis of the international agency of sub-state governments. Its original empirical contribution is utilizing this approach to examine within case variation across four contrasting policy domains in a case study of Wales. Reflecting the European Union sub-state mobilization literature, levels of constitutional powers are constrained in their capacity to account for Welsh sub-state international agency. Instead, the article highlights strong variation in the opportunity structures shaping sub-state diplomacy across policy domains. The article argues that institutional continuity and change, the prevalence of ‘path dependence’, can differ significantly between policy domains in sub-state diplomacy, argues for an expanded multi-level framework recognizing the impact of non-governmental organizations and international institutional opportunity structures and confirms historical institutionalism’s ability to enrich understanding of agency-structure relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-416
Number of pages24
JournalRegional and Federal Studies
Issue number4
Early online date16 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2017


  • sub-state diplomacy
  • constitutional autonomy
  • historical institutionalism
  • devolved UK
  • Wales


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