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Foreign relations is the management of relationships between a public policy administrative organization of a state, and other countries. The primary goal of such organisations is therefore to create, develop and manage foreign policy and therefore describes relationships as seen from the self-interested perspective of the state when viewing the international milieu.
The term foreign evolved during the mid-13th century CE from ferren, foreyne "out of doors," based on the Old French forain "outer, external, outdoor; remote" reflecting the sense of "not in one's own land" first attested in the late 14th century CE. Spelling in English altered in the 17th century, perhaps by influence of reign and sovereign, both associated at the time with the most common office of monarch that determined foreign policy, a set of diplomatic goals that seeks to outline how a country will interact with other countries of the world.
The idea of long-term management of relationships only evolved with the development of a professional diplomatic corps that managed diplomacy, a term attested since 1711, which was "pertaining to documents, texts, charters, and treaties" as the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or nations.
In the 18th century, due to extreme turbulence in European diplomacy and ongoing cultural, social, economic, political and military conflicts, the practice of diplomacy was often fragmented by the necessity to deal with isolated issues, termed "affairs", and therefore while domestic management of such issues was termed civil affairs (peasant riots, treasury shortfalls, and court intrigues), the term foreign affairs was applied to the management of temporary issues outside the sovereign realm. This term remained in widespread use in the English-speaking states into the 20th century, and remains the name of departments in several states that manage foreign relations. Although originally intended to describe short term management of specific concern, these departments now manage all day-to-day long-term international relations among states within the international system their nation participates in.
Foreign relations are governed by several conditions within which they exist:
- Chronological - foreign relations may be operational and ongoing where other nations are concerned, or project-based and temporary where non-state international agents are concerned; they may relate to factors of historical or future considerations
- Contextualised - foreign relations may be particularly affected by pertaining to regional, economic or common goal oriented international organisational issues, etc.
- Environmental - foreign relations may develop to be cooperative, adversarial, predatory, altruistic, mentoring, parasitic, etc.
- Dynamic - Contain a degree of dependence or interdependence; a colony would have a static relationship with the colonizer
- Oriented - foreign relationships are ideally based on commitment to common goals, but can be dysfunctional, and even destructive
Organisations such as the Council of Foreign Relations in the USA are sometimes employed by government foreign relations organisations to develop foreign policy proposals as alternatives to existing policy, or to provide analytical assessments of evolving relationships.