National governments have intensified their attempts to create international institutions in various policy fields such as the environment, finance and trade. At the same time, many subnational policy makers have begun to duplicate international efforts by setting their own, stricter policies while others remain inactive or enact more lax regulation. This ‘glocalization’ of policy creates a complex and potentially costly patchwork system of regulations. To shed light on this phenomenon, this article analyzes the interaction between subnational and national governments within a game-theoretic model of international treaty negotiations. The glocalization of regulatory policy can be understood as an attempt by subnational policy makers to strategically constrain or empower national governments in international negotiations. The study finds that the shadow of international treaty formation gives rise to within-country and cross-country policy balancing dynamics that may explain some of the subnational policy polarization that is currently observable in many countries. The article specifies the conditions under which these dynamics occur, spells out empirically testable hypotheses and identifies possible theoretical extensions.
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