Briefing on Governors Engagement in Foreign Affairs

On Thursday, April 4, the National Governors Association hosted a joint call for Governors’ legal counsel and the Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council (GHSAC) which discussed gubernatorial engagement in foreign affairs.

Governors can play a key role in foreign affairs, helping shape global economic, cultural, and political relations. Relationships between Governors and foreign entities are dynamic, focused on both outward priorities, such as building relationships with foreign partners, as well as inward concerns, such as protecting their states from foreign threats. In building and maintaining such relationships, it is important for Governors to be mindful of the significant role they play in broader foreign policy, and to be cautious to ensure that engagements with foreign people and businesses are properly vetted. As long as state efforts do not derogate the sovereignty of the U.S. or seriously interfere with foreign defense or other federal policies, Governors have a lot of latitude to do what they feel comfortable with in foreign sectors.

Common ways for Governors to participate in foreign affairs include the following:

  • Receiving foreign dignitaries or traveling abroad;
  • Organizing and participating in economic trade missions and supporting foreign direct investment;
  • Strengthening cultural engagement or establishing sister state relationships;
  • Engaging in foreign partnerships and agreements;
  • Issuing statements on foreign matters; or
  • Providing humanitarian aid during foreign conflicts or emergencies.

Some states have established dedicated offices, councils, or subagencies focused on the state’s engagement in international affairs. These entities may be tasked with devising the states international strategy; pursuing and building business, trade, and cultural relationships with foreign partners; and often oversee, coordinate, and evaluate international activities of other state agencies. Some Governors may also designate a state foreign relations lead, such as the Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, or other official, that may serve as a representative on behalf of the state when meeting with foreign governments or businesses. Other state programs, such as a National Guard’s participation in the State Partnership Program, also contribute to a state’s global presence.

Key legal authorities impacting state engagement in foreign affairs include Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution, the Dormant Commerce Clause, and general federal foreign affairs preemption powers. Governors and states may coordinate their foreign affairs activities with the federal government to ensure consistency with U.S. foreign policy objectives and avoid conflicting actions. Ultimately, Governors’ global leadership can advance national interests and play an important role in strengthening U.S. diplomacy in the twenty-first century.

NGA holds monthly briefings for Governors’ legal counsel. Please reach out to Lauren Dedon ( for additional information.