The Growing Role of States in U.S. Foreign Policy: The Case of the State Partnership Program


  • Author's note: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2003 meeting of the International Studies Association, Portland, Oregon. Special thanks are due to the Maryland National Guard for their generous assistance in researching and preparing this article and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Research for this article was supported in part by a grant from the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) with funds provided by the United States Department of State through the Title VIII Program. None of these organizations is responsible for the views expressed.


States can and do play an important role in contemporary U.S. foreign policy. This article will discuss the growing role of states through an investigation of the State Partnership Program (SSP). The SSP pairs state National Guards with the militaries of other countries through U.S. military engagement programs. The state-level National Guard then becomes the primary site for implementing U.S. military engagement programs. Both a federalism and decision-making perspective, however, are unable to recognize this role. The decision-making bias of foreign policy analysis affords states a limited international role and minimal influence in shaping the policies of the government toward other countries. An implementation perspective, however, reveals a growing role of states carrying out U.S. foreign policy, including the “high politics” of national security issues. States give decisions meaning through the practice of policy implementation. A detailed case study of the Maryland–Estonia partnership illustrates how an implementation perspective can recognize a growing role of states in shaping U.S. foreign policy.