Foreign Minister

A Minister of Foreign Affairs, or foreign minister, is a cabinet minister who helps form the foreign policy of a sovereign state. The foreign minister is often regarded as the most senior ministerial position below that of the head of government (prime minister or president). It is often granted to the deputy prime minister in coalition governments. In some nations, such as India, the foreign minister is referred to as the Minister for External Affairs or, as in the case of Brazil and of the former Soviet Union, as the Minister of External Relations. In the United States the equivalent to the foreign ministry is called the Department of State, and the equivalent position is known as the Secretary of State.

A foreign minister's powers can vary from government to government. In a classic parliamentary system, a foreign minister can potentially exert significant influence in forming foreign policy but when the government is dominated by a strong prime minister the foreign minister may be limited to playing a more marginal or subsidiary role in determining policy. Similarly, the political powers invested in the foreign minister are often more limited in presidential governments with a strong executive. Since the end of World War II, it has been common for both the foreign minister and defense minister to be part of an inner cabinet (commonly known as a national security council) in order to coordinate defence and diplomatic policy. Although the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw many heads of government assume the foreign ministry, this practice has since become uncommon in most developed nations.

Along with their political roles, foreign ministers are also traditionally responsible for many diplomatic duties, such as hosting foreign world leaders and going on state visits to other countries. The foreign minister is generally the most well-traveled member of any cabinet.

In the United Kingdom, the minister responsible for foreign policy (as well as the British overseas territories) is the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Foreign Secretary). Before 1968, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs only handled relations with foreign (non-Commonwealth) countries, while relations with Commonwealth countries and colonies were handled by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs. For the same reason, in Commonwealth countries other than the United Kingdom, the ministers responsible for handling relations with both Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries were formerly usually designated ministers for 'External Affairs'.

In the United States, the United States Secretary of State handles foreign policy and is the senior Cabinet officer. The name of the post comes from several domestic duties.

Although it is very rare for there to be any sub-national foreign minister post, although sometimes there is a minor external relations position, it can exist supranationally. The European Union has dealt with external relations in certain areas since its inception (see EU Trade Commissioner) and has a High Representative as its chief diplomat. However her duties are primarily to implement EU foreign policy, rather than formulate it.

Other common titles may include minister of foreign relations. In many Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, the foreign minister is colloquially called canciller (chancellor) (in Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country, is chanceler).

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