Department of Foreign Affairs

Departments of Foreign Affairs


Government agencies that deal with foreign affairs are usually called the ministry or department of foreign or external affairs. In the U.S., foreign affairs is handled by the Department of State. Such a department is headed by the foreign secretary (or, in the U.S., by the secretary of state). In democracies, the foreign secretary is always a political appointee who is selected by the nation’s leader. Drawing on the expertise within the department and its establishments abroad, the secretary advises the head of state on matters of foreign policy, helps formulate and coordinate policy, and administers the agency over which he or she presides. At times, the foreign secretary is also directly involved in negotiations with other nations. A small number of politically appointed undersecretaries and assistant secretaries aid in running the department.

Geographic and Functional Divisions

Departments of foreign affairs usually are divided into geographic and functional divisions. The former consists of bureaus for major geographic areas that are then broken down into smaller divisions and, ultimately, into “country desks.”Desk officers are career diplomats who specialize in various aspects of the country to which they are assigned. Instructions to and reports from embassies abroad are handled first by the country desks. The functional division deals with problems or issues that do not appropriately fall under the domain of any one country: trade, international organization, human rights, intelligence, public information, international law, and passports and visas. Coordination of policy between geographic and functional divisions is a continually perplexing problem.

Departments of foreign affairs also have an administrative section that is in charge of running the agency. This section deals with internal matters such as budget allocations, personnel recruitment and management, training, and logistics.


In an age of interdependence and total diplomacy, foreign affairs departments must coordinate their activities with the foreign activities of other government agencies. Treasury departments, for example, are increasingly involved in negotiations over trade and money. Agricultural departments are concerned with foreign trade and world food problems. Defense establishments are involved in supporting foreign governments abroad and training their armed forces. Intelligence agencies provide heads of state with alternate sources of information about other countries. In some cases, a foreign minister has trouble merely keeping informed of all the activities the nation is engaged in abroad.

Source: “Diplomacy” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia

Further References about Department of Foreign Affairs

Diplomatic Missions information.
Foreign Services information.
Diplomatic Negotations information


See Also

PAIS: Public Affairs Information Service
Foreign Law Guide (FLG)
Foreign law resources
Foreign Law
MPEPIL: Diplomacy and consular relations
Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
Treaties resources
Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
International Law

Further Reading

Diplomacy and peace. Bibliography
Diplomacy and Coffee (Book)



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