City Diplomacy and Competitiveness: Rio de Janeiro’s International Activism in the Olympic Context

With the dynamics of globalization, non-central governments have shown increasing activism in the international arena. Cities in particular have assimilated internationalization strategies, mainly in search of opportunities for internal development, through public policies that increase urban competitiveness. Examples of such movements are twinning agreements between cities from different parts of the globe, participation in international networks and the celebration of mega-events of global reach.

Within International Relations, this phenomenon has been studied by the theorists of Paradiplomacy, a term that gained prominence from the 1990s with the seminal works of Ivo Duchacek and Panayotis Soldatos. In parallel, the Global City theory also serves as an analytical framework to understand this process, since it explores the role of cities in the global flows of information, goods, capital and people.

In the paper Paradiplomacy and the International Competitiveness of Cities: the case of Rio de Janeiro published in the issue 1/2017 (Volume 60 – N. 1) of the Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, the researchers analyzed the influence of the paradiplomacy practiced by Rio de Janeiro in the context of the 2016 Olympic Games for the international competitiveness of the municipality. In order to do so, the authors start with an evaluation of the gradual growth of cities as actors in international politics, followed by a broader discussion of the debate on paradiplomacy in Brazil. Moreover, the paper presents an analysis of actions and policies developed by Rio in the Olympic context, fostering international cooperation in search of improving its urban competitiveness.

The paper presents the Global City theory and its revisitations, a relevant starting point to understand how city’s international activism can result in endogenous urban development strategies. Also, Brenner’s theory of the state rescaling is discussed, arguing that the state has its power redimensioned by the globalization process. Thus, currently it operates under internal coercion (pressures for national development) and external constraints (supranational institutions, regulating actions above the national level). In this context, often the state action is restricted, opening space for the emergence of non-central governments in international politics, in the search for local development.

From that point on, it is discussed the role of cities as “glocal” actors, endowed with growing international political power. However, at the same time they seek to insert themselves into the global scenario, cities have the function of promoting inner-accumulation strategies, local development and competitiveness. The article argues that it is based on this trade-off that the strategies of urban paradiplomacy unfold. The article also presents an overview of paradiplomacy in Brazil, exploring the main academic studies published on the subject. In this analysis, it is clear the importance of the pivotal position of the country in South America for the international activism of non-central governments, particularly motivated by regional economic and productive integration. In this scenario, numerous institutions were created to support the paradiplomatic activity of Brazilian cities.

In this context, the paper explores the influence of the 2016 Olympics for the international activism and competitiveness of Rio de Janeiro. The main institutional restructurings in the municipal public machine in the sense of making it more competitive are discussed. Much of these movements have received international support, as can be seen from Rio’s growing participation in international networks and city twinning agreements. The paper presents in detail the various international cooperation projects in which the city was engaged between 2009 and 2016, i.e, in the Olympic context. Those projects ranged from consulting with previous olympic cities to cooperations in the areas of urban mobility, urban resilience and improvement of business environment. The paper also explores evidences of the use of New Public Management principles, contributing to increase efficiency within the city hall. Among them, the strong presence of public-private partnerships in the olympic projects and the effort made to convert Rio into a smart city are highlighted.

The paper’s main conclusion is that the international competitiveness of the city had a considerable boost thanks to the 2016 Olympic Games, highlighting the importance of paradiplomacy for Rio de Janeiro within the context and time frame of the study.

About the authors

Marcos Vinícius Isaias Mendes – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Instituto Coppead de Administração. Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brasil, ( ORCID ID:

Ariane Roder Figueira – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Instituto Coppead de Administração. Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brasil, ( ORCID ID:

Read the Article

Mendes, Marcos Vinícius Isaias, & Figueira, Ariane Roder. (2017). Paradiplomacy and the International Competitiveness of Cities: the case of Rio de Janeiro. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 60(1), e012. Epub April 27, 2017.

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