Historically, heads of state have come from the ranks of cabinets and parliaments. Five of America's first eight presidents were cabinet members. Sixteen
presidents have been senators, including of course Barack Obama. Tellingly, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van
Buren, and James Buchanan all served as Secretary of State, for years an important -- or at least useful -- diplomatic credential for running a nation.
Mayors are stepping up to the top level of "high politics" both because of their tangible track records in governing large polities such as Sao Paolo and
Paris, and also because of their growing audacity in building diplomatic bonds across cities. Many in this new elite of global mayors might lack the name
recognition of Cold War-era figures like West Berlin's mayor Willy Brandt, who subsequently became German chancellor and architect of Ostpolitik.
Yet, they are a shrewd mix of populist and technocrat, steering ever more populous and prosperous cities toward global stature through innovative
diplomatic initiatives far beyond their city halls.
To manage this growing set of relationships more effectively, cities and mayors' offices are generating increasing capacity to conduct their own
international missions - a phenomenon that could be called diplomacity, an expanding propensity of cities to develop the necessary mechanisms to
autonomously navigate foreign relations on their own.
In New York, mayor Michael Bloomberg has established a "Mayor's Office for International Affairs" to centralize the city's management of relations with the
United Nations, consular missions. He also uses it to manage international outreach, which now covers investment promotion, security exchanges, and
initiatives such as the Climate Leadership Group (or C40), which he presently chairs, an organization that gathers 58 of the world's major metropolises.
C40 represents a newer and more dynamic kind of city network, but city-to-city cooperation has been a staple of the last few decades, as well. During the
Cold War, inter-city diplomacy was largely symbolic, with activities such as Sister Cities International promoting development and crisis response
connections, or the Mayors for Peace initiative calling for nuclear disarmament. Then, particularly since the United Nations' 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro, mayors' role in the global arena has evolved into a new and important component of their portfolios. At Rio, the lead role was taken by Local
Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI); today there are least ten such networks of cities charting transnational urban sustainability programs.
The leading example is the Eurocities network founded in 1986 by major European centers like Barcelona and Milan. What began as an informal association of
10 European cities to promote the city agenda within EU institutions has grown into a club of 135 cities in 34 nations that lobbies for urban policy
proposals with numerous European Union bodies and the Commission, which targets the urban level for policy implementation. It has also become a tool of the
EU's external strategy. The 7th China-EU Summit has seen the first test run of an EU-China Mayors' Forum dedicated to a newly-inaugurated "EU-China
Urbanization Partnership" that devotes funds to promoting inter-city technical and management exchanges among European and Chinese municipal authorities
and civil society.