Theory and Practice of Paradiplomacy
Subnational governements in international affairs
Alexander S. Kuznetson
Multiplicity of non- state actors in international relations: the choice of paradiplomacy as the main research object
Globalization and regionalization are key driving forces of the modern world that significantly shape the global political, economic and cultural agendas for the development of all nations with just some exceptions such as the marginal states. The mutual interconnection of both these global development locomotives and their synergy brought forward the circumstances under which the decisions affecting the functioning of the political, economic, cultural and other spheres become less dependent on national state regulations, but more forced by powers that bloomed tremendously in the last few decades on supranational and subnational (regional) levels.
An immut able priority of the national governments to be the only main players in international affairs has been seriously impugned by different newcomers in the last few decades. In this regard, we can mention Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye who, in the early 1970s, were among the first who argued in their co- edited Transnational Relations and World Politics about the possibility of “transnational relations” among non- state actors like multinational corporations (MNCs). Evidently, with this work Keohane and Nye opened the floor for further discussions about new players in international relations. Besides MNCs, the focus of researchers has become largely concentrated on the international impact of transnational NGOs and supranational (transnational) regimes, like the EU or NAFTA, for example. Also, the interest in studying the international activities of subnational governments and municipal authorities has grown. In the twenty- first century, especially after the events of 9/11, terrorist networks and, generally, transnational organized criminal groups have received incredible attention from political scientists as one of the most influential newborn actors in the global order. And the most recent trend is an increasing academic interest in studying “individuals” like, for instance, George Soros or Angelina Jolie as independent competitors in international relations, a phenomenon that is often labeled as celebrity diplomacy.
There is no doubt that studies on the rise of new global actors are very important for contemporary social science scholarship, because without understanding those changes it is difficult to give a full picture of the situation that is taking place in modern international relations and in domestic affairs of particular countries. What one can see today is that modern states have to navigate in international affairs surrounded by various MNCs, NGOs, supranational bodies, “individuals” and high profile issue of “war and peace” that determined international affairs for ages is challenged by so- called “low politics” matters. In these circumstances, it seems absolutely natural that states are increasingly losing their traditional authority and sovereignty. This partial extinction of sovereign states as major global players raises a rhetorical question about states’ future – some kind of “to be or not to be” for sovereign states. The clash of views between those social scientists who believe in the end of state and those who strongly oppose these perceptions has become an inherent part of mainstream academic discourse in social sciences. Moreover, the debate on globalization and its consequences has shifted from purely academic grounds to the area of intellectual consumption for masses. In the last two decades in the global book market a number of best- sellers have been published on world economics and politics, written both by representatives from academia and non- academia, and these volumes received attention from the general public, as it used to be in the past with fiction and love stories. Although, there is no lack of opinions on the future of a state and its role in international relations in the anticipated post- state era, that intellectual question is not yet posed by anyone.
This book was written with a strong belief that the crucial mission of political scientists is to describe what is going on and to make an attempt to predict what the potential trajectories of further developments are, and where possible points of bifurcation on its path are. Although the prediction is very hard to complete, and in some cases this mission is impossible by default, it is an important duty of any social scientist to provide the alternative projections on the future changes within and across societies around the world. In other words, scholars should create some discursive practices, the essence of which can be transformed then to reality through a shift from intellectual discourse to policy- makers’ agenda. However, by following the above- mentioned values, scholars should not forget about the feasibility of their research and, accordingly, this book does not intend to cover all issues related to the emergence of the new actors in the global scene and there is no aim to demonstrate the future of the sovereign states in international relations in the epoch of new global tendencies. The focus of this book is merely a single component of the whole intellectual puzzle. This book examines the phenomenon of paradiplomacy in its theoretical and practical aspects and paradiplomacy is the main research object of this work.
Outlook on gaps in paradiplomacy research
Paradiplomacy is generally referred to in the academic literature as the involvement of the constituent units (regions) of national states in international affairs, like the provinces in Canada, states in the US, autonomous communities in Spain, the landers in Germany, the oblasts and the republics in Russia, and so on. The regional governments perform actively in international affairs in different ways: they open trade and cultural missions abroad, sign treaties and agreements with foreign state and non- state actors, they participate in international networks of regional cooperation and they sometimes even challenge the official foreign policy of their central governments through their statements or actions. On the one hand, as Michael Keating vividly mentions:
[. . .] Unlike the foreign policy of states, regional diplomacy does not seek to represent broad general interests or to be comprehensive in coverage. Regions do not have sovereign governments able to lay down their definition of the “national interest” and to pursue it in a unified and coherent manner. Regions are complex entities containing a multiplicity of groups which may share common interests in some areas but be sharply divided on other issues. Even where there are strong devolved governments, they cannot simply lay down a line to be followed by all but must seek to bring together independent actors around specific programs and issues. They must fit their own activities into a world dominated by national governments and transnational organizations, which they can rarely challenge head on but must work around or with.
On the other hand, as it will be demonstrated later in this book, paradiplomatic activities, even if they only include the articulation of some regional “private interest,” often represent the force within a state from its bottom level, which plays a significant role in shaping the foreign and domestic policies of the central governments. Ivo Duchacek expresses this idea of the importance of paradiplomacy very precisely by stating that:
[. . .] they [non- central governments] can hardly compete for public attention with wars, arms talks, international terror and other forms of conflict or cooperation among sovereign nations. Their impact on national foreign policy has remained modest. [. . .] But, these internal concerns with their external dimension significantly affect the welfare of millions, their local and provincial leaders and through them the complex interaction between domestic and foreign politics.
Another central point consists of the fact that, in comparison with all other new players in international affairs that appeared recently, subnational entities are the only actors who have a state- like nature while all others actors like NGOs or MNCs are non- state ones. Actually, all newcomers in international affairs can be affiliated in different degrees to national governments, for example, transnational bodies such as the EU or NAFTA, clearly have a direct link to certain national governments, but unlike regions they are not a constituent part of the state institutional design. In other words, the head of the provincial government of Quebec, the governor of California or minister- president of Bavaria are the representatives of the states the same way the Canadian and the German prime- ministers and the US president are, but they are the subnational level branch of state power. Hence, it seems fascinating to study paradiplomacy because this phenomenon is not only the major vari able for examining contemporary international relations, but also because subnational diplomacy is a crucial factor for understanding those problems related to the interpretation of sovereignty and processes of centralization/decentralization that are taking place within modern states today. Paradiplomacy, in this sense, is a research object that has to be in the scope of interest for representatives from different disciplines – it can be the source of new knowledge for IR specialists, for political comparativists, for students of economics and for many other professionals with various backgrounds in social sciences and humanities. Despite the high potential of paradiplomacy to be a “sexy” topic for researchers, many experts note that the study of the subnational governments’ activities still does not get the deserved comprehensive scientific coverage. For example Noe Cornago remarks:
[. . .] Literature on sub- state diplomacy has never attracted mainstream attention in diplomatic studies, nor in the field of international relations, but it has become the subject of scholarly debate. Initially, the most influential works were more descriptive than explanatory in content.
A similar opinion was expressed by Andre Lecours:
[. . .] The international activity of regional governments, or paradiplomacy as it has been termed, has been the focus of a modest but growing literature that details various cases and seeks to make sense of the phenomenon. [. . .] However, this literature suffers from two major weaknesses: the first, and most important, is the absence of a general theoretical perspective that can explain how regional governments have acquired international agency, and what shapes their foreign policy, international relations, and negotiating behavior; the second is a lack of focus on constructing general analytical frameworks that can guide the study of paradiplomacy.
Thus, it seems there is a strong incentive to do research on regional governments’ involvement in international affairs, because there are various white spots on the map of paradiplomacy studies that have not been discovered or tackled until today. By taking into consideration the above- mentioned comments of Lecours and Cornago, the scholarly mission of this book is to cover the existing research gap and provide a study on paradiplomacy which will be in the format of a theory proposing project, supplemented with elements of literature accessing and theory testing. The sequence of the research is as follows. First, the evaluation and systematization of the existing theoretical and empirical literature on paradiplomacy will be conducted. Second, on the basis of this summarization, a theoretical model to explain the involvement of constituent units in international affairs will be proposed. And, third, the proposed explanatory framework of paradiplomacy will be tested by taking under examination the case of the Alberta province paradiplomacy.
The literature accessing mission and the endeavor to construct and to test the integrative model for analyzing constituent diplomacy are probably the most important research tasks that will be addressed in this work. Regarding the literature accessing, as it will be demonstrated later in the book, the paradiplomacy scholarship emerged as a new research field in the 1970s and since that time it has been flourishing and has asserted its own important place in the political science landscape. Scholars with different academic backgrounds (those who used to work on federalism, intergovernmental relations, nationalism, regionalism, international relations, etc.) and with different geographical area interests (Canada, Spain, USA, Germany, etc.) were involved in development of paradiplomacy scholarship. On the other hand, as will be shown in this book, although researchers produced a number of descriptive works and a few theoretical insights on paradiplomacy, the problem in the lack of the systematization of this knowledge is strongly evident. To further illustrate this problem, we can compare the current situation in paradiplomacy studies with the puzzle game, in which players possess many pieces of one whole picture, but may have no idea how this image looks like as a whole till they put all elements in the right order. Figuratively speaking, one of the main goals of this book is to provide as much as possible a full picture of the phenomenon of paradiplomacy by gathering in a systematic manner all academic achievements of the last decades in this field. In order to accomplish this task in this research, an analytical outlook on paradiplomacy studies as an independent subfield in contemporary political science is provided in Chapter 3, and in Chapter 2 the development of the terminology, concepts and discourses within the paradiplomacy scholarship is carefully examined. Also this work studies the evolution of academic interest regarding the problem of participation of subnational governments in international affairs from the moment of its birth until today. In addition, an effort is made to define theoretical schools of paradiplomacy that were shaped as formal or informal networks in academia during that time frame.
Regarding the endeavor to construct and to test the integrative model for analyzing paradiplomacy, this mission is addressed in Chapter 5 by creating an integrated explanatory matrix of constituent diplomacy that may guide the study of paradiplomacy. The proposed theoretical pattern in this book can be considered to be a research tool for conducting case study oriented inquiries on regional involvements in international relations that provide potential answers to the following key questions:
1. What are the causes of the blooming of the paradiplomatic activities of an examined region?
2. What are the legal grounds of constituent diplomacy in the country of an examined subnational case?
3. What is the predominant motive of the government of an examined region to be involved in international affairs?
4. How has paradiplomacy been institutionalized in an examined region?
5. What is the attitude of the central government towards the paradiplomacy of its constituent entities?
6. What are the consequences of paradiplomacy for the development of the whole nation?
As already been mentioned before, scholars such as Andre Lecours, Noe Cornago and others note the lack of works on the general theoretical explanation of paradiplomacy. Indeed, although there were attempts in the last three decades to build theories that can explain subnational foreign activities, all these theoretical elaborations suffered from explanatory limitations. Peter Bursens and Jana Deforche, after providing a thoughtful literature review on the subject of paradiplomacy, absolutely correctly conclude:
[. . .] the paradiplomacy concept has clearly made international relations and comparative politics scholars aware of the external activities of regional entities. The paradiplomacy literature delivered a series of useful conceptualizations and inventories of paradiplomatic activities and instruments. We now have substantial clues about what paradiplomacy exactly is. In our eyes, however the paradiplomacy literature hardly goes beyond this descriptive work. It has so far failed to present a sound theoretical framework from which hypotheses could be derived with respect to the level of foreign policy competences of sub- national entities and the type of foreign policy activities regions develop.
There are two inevit able questions that come up in this situation: (1) Why is there such a big difficulty to construct a comprehensive theoretical framework? (2) Is it possible to circumvent this problem? The answer to the first question can be hidden in the complex nature of constituent diplomacy as a research subject. The review of all existing literature on paradiplomacy gives us a strong vision on the subnational involvement in international affairs as a very multidimensional phenomenon. As a matter of fact, we need to accept that scholars use very different research lenses to observe paradiplomacy. In this book the existing literature on constituent diplomacy is analyzed and eleven major dimensions/ approaches which are used in social sciences to examine paradiplomacy are identified. Those eleven dimensions are briefly listed below and further details in this regard will be presented in Chapter 4.
(1) Constitutional dimension. Researches of this type are mostly oriented on studying paradiplomacy from the position of legal expertise. The scholars study national constitutions and other legal acts in order to identify those competences that de- jure possess regional authorities in foreign affairs. (2) Federalist dimension. Those scholars who study paradiplomacy from this angle try to understand regional activities in the international arena as a significant vari able for the development of the federal system and intergovernmental relations. (3) Nationalism dimension. The group of researchers who work in this dimension consider constituent diplomacy mostly as an important factor for understanding nationalist aspirations on the regional level in multinational and multilingual countries. (4) IR dimension. This dimension presents the works of scientists who look at paradiplomacy from the broad perspective of the great change that took place in international relations in the recent decades, when, besides subnational units, other newcomers like NGOs and MNCs penetrated and weakened the monopoly of national governments to be the only decision- makers in the international arena. (5) Area/border studies dimension. In this type of research, scholars study paradiplomacy in order to understand the general picture of those political, economic and social transformations that challenge concrete area of their intent look. (6) Regionalization/globalization dimension. In this category we can subsume works where paradiplomacy is analyzed as an illustrative manifestation of the two global forces – regionalization and globalization. (7) Security/geopolitical dimension. In this dimension scholars pay primary attention to security and geopolitical consequences of regional involvement in international affairs. (8) Global economy dimension. To this dimension belong those studies that look at paradiplomacy within the broad scholarship on the development of contemporary global economics and world trade. (9) Environmental dimension. Environmental studies are among the most popular fields in modern political science; therefore, it is not very surprising that in the constituent diplomacy scholarship ecological perspectives also appeared. In this dimension, social scientists conduct researches on subnational governments’ impact on international environmental regimes and standards. (10) Diplomacy dimension. Here, the focus is on how subnational diplomacy may affect the domain of the classical central state diplomacy and what the consequences of the decentralization of diplomacy are. (11) Separatist dimension. The problem of so- called non- recognized states that was especially actualized after the collapse of the communist federations (Yugoslavia and USSR) brought to paradiplomacy studies a new important separatist dimension. The struggle for statehood and search for international recognition by subnational governments (de facto states) like Kosovo, Abkhazia or South Ossetia fueled further research on the opportunities and limits of the phenomenon of paradiplomacy.
Indeed, most of the studies focus on paradiplomacy from several dimensions and analyze constituent diplomacy from a few perspectives, but the proposed typology of “ideal types” is useful, because it vividly classifies the complex structure of the paradiplomacy scholarship and gives us a convincing answer to why it is difficult to create a universal framework to study the regional involvement in international affairs. Another obstacle in the way of theoretical comprehension and systematization is the problem of the definition and the boundaries of the concept paradiplomacy as such. As you will see in Chapter 2, different scholars have attributed dissimilar meanings to the concept of pardiplomacy and this circumstance makes the concept ambiguous and therefore decreases its theoretical convertibility which is essential for the construction of explanatory patterns.
Hence, this problem of conceptual uncertainty and the presence of eleven dimensions in understanding paradiplomacy can be named as the main stumbling blocks on the way of those who endeavor to build a theoretical matrix for understanding why regions go abroad. However, the identification of those problems gives us a good opportunity to treat and circumvent them. In Chapter 5 an attempt will be made to reduce the eleven approaches to paradiplomacy to a common denominator and to clearly mark the conceptual boundaries of this phenomenon. In terms of empirical or practical analysis, in order to test the explanatory matrix, Chapter 6 will tackle the case of Alberta paradiplomacy in order to complement the theoretical construction.
Methodology of research: a brief outlook from chapter to chapter
Mark Bevir, one of the most prominent contemporary specialists on social science methodology vividly reflected his view on methodological problems that should be considered seriously by political scientists:
[. . .] Many political scientists have long worried about hyperfactualism – the collection of data without proper theoretical reflection. Today we might also worry about hypermethodologism –the application of methodological techniques without proper philosophical reflection.
It is difficult not to agree with the concern raised by Bevir – it is vital that methodological tools for political science research are always chosen in a way to keep an optimal balance between description of facts and their theoretical reflection. So, below a brief excursion through the methodological approaches that were implemented in this research is presented, and this should help to keep the above- mentioned balance.
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of this book aim to systematize the existing knowledge on paradiplomacy and therefore this part of the work is based more on a qualitative methodology rather than on a quantitative one, because such systematization of knowledge demands work not with numbers or data sets but mainly with ideas in texts and some field observations on this subject. The key question of this research, particularly in the second and the fourth chapters, is not only what paradiplomacy is as such (or in fact, what we suppose it is) but what do various researchers consider as paradiplomacy and how do they reflect upon this phenomenon in their surveys? Obviously, the configuration of this question lies in the postmodernist philosophical tradition of Bourdieu, the extrapolation of which lets us assume that some idiomatic habitus of paradiplomacy may exist, created by the doxa (view) of the leading social scientists. The habitus dominates the academic discourses and determines our understanding of the essence of paradiplomacy. For the systematization of the existing knowledge on paradiplomacy and searching of the habitus of paradiplomacy the following qualitative research techniques will be used: interpretation, discourse analysis and semantic analysis.
Interpretation is one of the most widespread approaches of descriptive inference in social sciences. King, Keohane and Verba (KKV) in their famous Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research portray in detail the scholarly features of interpretivists. However, from the plethora of characteristics given by KKV to interpretation as a research paradigm, there are three particular characteristics that are most linked to this research project:
[Interpretivists] seek to place the events they describe in an intelligible context within which the meaning of actions becomes explic able [. . .]. Interpretivists seek to explain the reasons for intentional action in relation to the whole set of concepts and practices in which it is embedded. They also employ standards of evaluation.
In accordance with this definition, I consider myself to be an interpretivist in this book, because one of the aims of the book is to explain the reasons for the intentional actions in relation to the whole set of IR and political science concepts, and also to employ some new standards of evaluation for regions’ activities abroad.
Concerning the use of discourse analysis for the purposes of this research, some clarifications must be presented below. As it is generally known, discourse is the concept that originally appeared in linguistics but in the last decades, it has acquired a broad usage in contemporary social science, including political science and international relations. Michel Foucault is the famous French theorist who stipulated in the 1970s a new notion for the term discourse as different from linguistics by presenting discourse not as a subject of language studies but as a system of ideas reflected in linguistic practices that determines the content of social processes, political realities and power relations. Today, the methodology of discourse analysis for social research is properly developed and earns more and more creditability among scholars. Following Howarth, the vital task of discourse analysis in political research endeavors “is to discover those rules and conventions which structure the production of meaning in particular contexts; investigating why and how these systems of meaning change; and how social agents come to identify themselves in discursive terms.”
In this research the discourse analysis is implemented as the theoretical tool for searching the meaning of paradiplomacy that was constructed in the academic discourse during the past four decades. Herein, the primary focus is directed to the academic discourse of paradiplomacy that consists of (1) what researchers think about the involvement of subnational governments in international relations, (2) what theories and hypothesis they formulate on the basis of their comprehension of the problem, (3) how they communicate and influence each other in the process of cognition and meaning- making.
The semiological approach is the third element used in the completion of the systematization of the existing knowledge on paradiplomacy. The core principal of semiotics is to interpret and find the contextual (i.e., real or objective) meaning of signs and symbols derived from language practices and texts. Within the framework of this book, semiotics will be used as one of the tools for identifying the meaning of the two keywords for the whole research Project “paradiplomacy” and “region.” Certainly, the problem of both terms resides in their ambiguity induced by broad scientific usage that washed out their definitional boundaries. Therefore, semiotic analysis should help us to find answers for the questions – how are both “region” and “paradiplomacy” shifting in their meanings within different contexts, what definition of these concepts should be accepted in the context of researches on subnational government’s external activities, and finally, what synonymic terms can be recognized as meaningfully valid to substitute both terms.
So, these three approaches are used for the second, third and fourth chapters. However, other types of research tools are used in the fifth chapter where a theoretical framework for paradiplomacy analysis is constructed and in the sixth chapter where this framework is tested. The construction of a general theoretical framework is possible by implementing the induction principle to the outputs of the fourth chapter, where the systematization of existing paradiplomacy discourses is conducted. As it is generally known, the method of inductive reasoning has been actively employed by social thinkers since ancient times. Induction is a method of inference of general principles from the observation of individual cases. In regard to this research, this principle is applied in order to build general integrative explanatory pattern of paradiplomacy from random theoretical sketches, which are produced in different scholarly perspectives since the emergence of paradiplomacy scholarship in the 1970s. The eleven dimensions of paradiplomacy presented in the fourth chapter are evaluated as autonomic theoretical elements that can be shifted to a general explanatory framework through induction, which is described in Chapter 5.
The creation of an original integrative analytical framework that can explain the essence of paradiplomatic actions of regional governments and that can guide the study of paradiplomacy definitely brings a significant research value to the whole inference, though this framework needs to be tested in order to demonstrate its operability. Consequently, in the sixth chapter the developed explanatory framework is applied to the case of the Alberta province paradiplomacy. The case study is one of the most prevalent research methods in social sciences that focuses on in- depth examination of a small number of cases. According to Robert Yin this method is primarily appropriate for research inquiries with the “how” and “why” types of questions as and for studies of contemporary events when the relevant behaviors can not be manipulated. The research design of the case study project is determined by sources of evidence used by the researcher and is marked by his/her strategy in the case selection procedure. Usually specialists note six major sources of information on which scholars can rely for doing case studies: (1) documentation; (2) archival records; (3) interviews; (4) direct observations; (5) participant observation and (6) physical artifacts. For this research project, mainly the first three sources are used.
The Canadian province of Alberta is the case that was taken in order to prove the operability of the proposed explanatory framework of paradiplomacy. What are the strategic reasons for this choice? Here I need to confess that the selection of Alberta as case study was affected in many ways by pragmatic and logistical issues rather than by the idea to implement the most similar, extreme, deviant, pathway or other type of case selection that are usually used by scholars. This pragmatic case selection is not unusual in social science research; thus for example, one of the leading specialists on case study research, John Gerring, has to accept the following reality:
Evidently, case selection is often influenced by a researcher’s familiarity with the language of a country, a personal entrée into that locale, special access to important data or funding that covers one archive rather than another. Pragmatic considerations are often and quite rightly decisive in the case selection process.
Therefore, Alberta is not chosen accidentally, but was purposefully selected to make the successes of the case study as feasible as possible. Canada is among those countries, like Germany, Belgium or Spain, that exercise special federal arrangements that allow regional governments to be quite active in the international arena. However, there are also obvious advantages of basing the case study in Canada. First, the success of the research presumes a large set of interviews: the Canadian governmental system on both federal and regional levels is notably open and transparent and this makes the tasks of collection of the necessary data more feasible. Second, the officials in Canada speak English and the official documents in the archives are also in English – thus, for example, a similar kind of research in Germany or in Spain would be more complicated without the knowledge of the languages of these countries.
Studying paradiplomacy: why qualitative approaches beat quantitative approaches
In conclusion to the introduction, it is necessary to explain in more detail the issue of why the qualitative approach seems preferential in comparison with quantitative techniques in analyses related to paradiplomacy. By examining the existing scholarship on paradiplomacy, one can note that the studies are mostly based on the qualitative methodology. Mainly the case study research strategy is implemented to explore subnational governments’ activities in the international arena. The crucial and logical argument for this qualitative supremacy is that it is difficult to invent clear quantitative indexes that relate to paradiplomacy and measure its performance. Paradiplomacy is a phenomenon that is very hard to quantify, not because each case of its display is unique, but simply because the data sets on paradiplomatic activities are mostly unavail able. The huge lack of data sets is clear evidence of the complexity of the procedure of operationalization and definition of the vari ables that characterize paradiplomatic activities of regions in international arena. A quantitative researcher immediately faces a crucial problem in operationalizing in his/her endeavor. For example, how is it possible to measure and present statistically in numbers the intensity of regional aspirations to go abroad? One of the most visible solutions is to assume that the indicators of the strength of constituent diplomacy can be evaluated by the number of regional consulates and trade missions in foreign countries, the number of treaties with foreign partners, the number of the regional export/ import balance or other statistically tangible factors.
Indeed, this approach to operationalize paradiplomacy sounds quite reasonable. However, can the given quantification style work in practice to provide an insightful explanation of the essence of paradiplomacy? The answer is negative rather than positive. The current attempts of some political scientists to conduct paradiplomacy studies through quantitative analyses demonstrate that formalization/quantification of the performance of regional external activities has many vulner able points and hence the results of such endeavors cannot be considered to be very convincing. In order to illustrate argumentatively the weaknesses of quantitative- oriented designs in paradiplomacy studies, we can trace the work of the group of four European researchers Joachim Blatter, Matthias Kreutzer, Michaela Rent and Jan Thiele (Blatter et al.) who recently applied the technique of fuzzy- set Qualitative Comparative analysis (fsQCA) in their research project on the foreign relations of European regional governments. As it is known, the fsQCA is a popular modern research technique in social sciences created by Charles Ragin for the sake of circumventing polarization between qualitative and quantitative approaches. The main idea of Ragin’s technique consists in formalizing the logic of qualitative analysis and in applying Boolean algebra methods of logical comparison for the analysis of the selected cases represented as combinations of causal and outcome conditions.
In their research Blatter et al. scrutinize the paradiplomacy of eighty one regions of six western European countries (Italy, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Great Britain and France) and make an effort to analyze the necessary preconditions for intensive external regional activities. The large range of units of analysis (eighty- one) which is taken under consideration makes the implementation of classical qualitative case- oriented analysis impossible by definition. In this situation of a large number of cases, the authors prefer to appeal not to statistical techniques but find it useful to apply the fsQCA design with their theoretical framework that begins with the assumption that:
[. . .] every foreign activity must be based on a “motive” (the independent vari able) and facilitated by specific capabilities or restricted constraints (the intervening vari ables) [. . .] different motives lead to different strategies and that for every motive there are specific logically coherent intervening variables (corresponding capabilities/constraints, which are especially relevant for specific motives).
The designed framework looks smooth only until we start to examine it mindfully. One can easily bring to light a few crucial weaknesses of the proposed research pattern that impugn the validity of the whole research project. Blatter et al. propose as the independent vari ables in their study three types of motives/strategies for foreign regional activities that are usually noted in the literature on paradiplomacy: economic, political and cultural. However, it seems that the key problem of operationalizing those vari ables (i.e., the dilemma of how to evaluate in numbers those motives) was not cogently resolved by the researchers. Thus, for example, according to Blatter et al. the number of regional offices/representatives in foreign countries expresses the economic strategy of subnational authorities; the number of transnational or cross- border and network partnerships represents cultural activities; the number of employees in Brussels regional offices is considered as the prime example of foreign political activities of the European subnational governments. All these three indicators emerge from the authors’ assumptions, and are not based on well- founded arguments and can be easily criticized. For instance, the following statement looks absolutely unsubstantiated:
[. . .] networks between regions, such as the Assembly of European Regions (AER) or Bodenseekonferenz (Lake Constance Conference), represent cultural activities, because they are driven by the desire to receive recognition for regional identities and the selection of partners is based on notions of similarity or commonality.
The examination of practicality and the declared missions of those regional networks do not provide enough evidence to think that those organizations are driven by the sublimation of cultural aspirations. In contrast, the official statutes of both the AER and the Bodenseekonferenz highlight different primary strategies: the AER proclaims as its first aim “to act as the political voice of the Regions of Europe,” while the Lake Constance Conference specifies its objectives as the “preservation and promotion of Lake Constance region as an attractive living, natural, cultural and economic and strengthening regional solidarity.” It is hereby more correct to assume that membership in the Assembly of European Regions represents not the cultural but political performance of subnational governments in European affairs and the participation in the international regional network Bodenseekonfenz is above all motivated by “house- keeping” paradiplomatic strategy, and not by a cultural one. Also it looks quite question able the decision of the authors of this work to operationalize the political strategy of subnational governments in international affairs via assumption that the existence of large office in Brussels is the prime index of regional external activities in political field.
Another important limitation of the quantitative- oriented studies brought to light by the discussed research on European regions’ foreign activities is the problem of “case selection bias.” This is mainly caused by the practical difficulty of collecting even basic information for data sets that include large number of cases. For example, in the work of Blatter et al., the authors employ for their fsQCA analysis the data collected on all regions from Belgium, Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain and Italy through the following justification:
[. . .] In order to be able to concentrate on a few central vari ables, we have chosen only those regions which have rather similar socioeconomic backgrounds and which have not witnessed any fundamental change in their political system in recent times. These considerations lead to the exclusion of East European regions. [. . .] We had to exclude Spanish regions because of language restrictions. Attempts to approach the Spanish regions in English language failed to generate any substantial feedback.
Here we can see a serious problem of “case selection bias” that can be reflected by a number of critical remarks. First, the authors do not clarify at all why changes in the political systems of Eastern European nations are an obstacle for including them in analyzing the paradiplomacy of regional governments from this area. Second, there are no explanations for the absence in the research sample of the Finish, Swedish and other European regions which have similar socioeconomic backgrounds with those subnational units selected by Blatter et al. Third, the authors “forced by language restrictions” excluded the Spanish regions from the research analysis. The governments of the Spanish regions like Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia are the most influential players in the international arena among subnational actors not only on the European but on the world scale as well. Definitely those regions’ international actions shape in great part the whole design of paradiplomacy in contemporary Europe. Not taking Spanish regions into account in the research on the foreign activities of European regions is approximately the same in a methodological sense as excluding the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in a study on the development of communist regimes in the twentieth century.
Evidently, those problems with “case selection bias” in many ways lie in the nature of quantitative approach itself, whose implementation successes depends significantly on the availability of correct data on large N cases. If a scholar is not able to collect, organize and well- code the information of his/her research interest in proper data sets, then the problem is, in the words of KKV, in “finding the right answers to the wrong questions is a futile activity.”
This brief critical review of the research by Blatter et al. where the authors apply the fsQCA technique for examining paradiplomacy in Europe therefore illustrates the strong vulnerability of quantitative oriented approaches in paradiplomacy studies. The qualitative methods and particularly the case study one are not perfect as well, but they can be considered among the most appropriate ways to do an in- depth and valid inquiry on regional involvement in internal affairs. The great advantage of the application of a case study inquiry in paradiplomacy scholarship consists in the four crucial features of this method that were precisely formulated by Robert Yin as:
1. Ability “to investigate a contemporary phenomenon within its real- life context. Especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident”;
2. Ability “to cope with the technically distinctive situation in which there will be many more vari ables of interest than data points;
3. Ability “to rely on multiple sources of evidence”;
4. Ability “to obtain benefits from the prior development of theoretical propositions to guide data collection and analysis.”
In other words, I would like to emphasize that the proposed explanatory framework for paradiplomacy in this book will guide scholars and students of paradiplomacy to apply the case study method. I strongly believe this is a prefer able way to learn about paradiplomacy because it helps to better cover the contextual peculiarities of the multidimensional phenomenon. In addition, a case study strategy gives more room for maneuvering in the choice of sources of evidence and techniques of data collection.
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