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Definition: foreign policy from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1804) : the policy of a sovereign state in its interaction with other sovereign states


Summary Article: foreign relations from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

A country's dealings with other countries. Specialized diplomatic bodies first appeared in Europe during the 18th century. After 1818 diplomatic agents were divided into: ambassadors, papal legates, and nuncios; envoys extraordinary, ministers plenipotentiary, and other ministers accredited to the head of state; ministers resident; and chargés d'affaires, who may deputize for an ambassador or minister, or be themselves the representative accredited to a minor country. Other diplomatic staff may include counsellors and attachés (military, labour, cultural, press). Consuls are state agents with commercial and political responsibilities in foreign towns.

After World War II there was an increase in the number of countries represented by a diplomat of ambassadorial rather than lower rank, although in recent years improved communications have lessened the importance of the career diplomat as the person on the spot. Professional spies (employed by an intelligence service or agency) often inflate the number of ‘diplomats’ accredited to a country. In the USA foreign relations are handled by the State Department.

In medieval England foreign affairs were dealt with, together with home affairs, by the king's principal secretary, an office split into two under Henry VIII. Irish and colonial affairs and relations with Mediterranean countries became the responsibility of the secretary of state for the Southern Department, the rest of Europe of the Northern Department. In 1782 the Southern Department became the Home Office and the Northern Department the Foreign Office, and colonial affairs, growing in importance, became separate departments – Colonial Office in 1854, India Office in 1858, Dominions Office in 1925, Commonwealth Office in 1947, the last of which was merged with the Foreign Office to form the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1968.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

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