Ministry of foreign affairs

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British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan and Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Max van der Stoel in 1975

In many countries, the ministry of foreign affairs (abbreviated as MFA or MOFA) is the highest government department exclusively or primarily responsible for the state's foreign policy and relations, diplomacy, bilateral, and multilateral relations affairs as well as for providing support for a country's citizens who are abroad.[1] The entity is usually headed by a foreign minister or minister of foreign affairs (the title may vary, such as secretary of state who has the same functions).[2] The foreign minister typically reports to the head of government (such as prime minister or president).[3]

Difference in titles[edit]

In some nations, such as India, the foreign minister is referred to as the minister for external affairs; or others, such as Brazil and the states created from the former Soviet Union, call the position the minister of external relations. In the United States, the secretary of state is the member of the Cabinet who handles foreign relations. Other common titles may include minister of foreign relations. In many countries of Latin America, the foreign minister is colloquially called "chancellor" (canciller in the Spanish-speaking countries and chanceler in the Portuguese-speaking Brazil).

Diplomats, themselves, and historians often refer to the foreign ministry by its local address, for example, the Ballhausplatz in Vienna housed the Foreign Ministry of Austria-Hungary; the Quai d'Orsay in Paris for France's Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs; the South Block in New Delhi for India's Ministry of External Affairs; the Necessidades Palace in Lisbon for Portugal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Wilhelmstraße, in Berlin, was the location of the German Foreign Office; and Foggy Bottom, a neighborhood of Washington, D.C., houses the Department of State. The Ministry of External Relations of Brazil is often referred as the "Itamaraty" due to the two homonymous palaces that served as its headquarters, the original one in Rio de Janeiro (1899–1970) and the present Itamaraty Palace (since 1970) in Brasília. Indonesians also often refer to their Ministry of Foreign Affairs as "Pejambon", since the ministry's main headquarters is located at Pejambon Street, Central Jakarta. During the Russian Empire, which lasted until 1917, the term used was the Choristers' Bridge in Saint Petersburg. In contrast, the Italian ministry was called the Consulta.[4]

Powers of position[edit]

A foreign minister's powers 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 branch. 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 defense and diplomatic policy. Although the 19th and early 20th centuries saw many heads of government assume the foreign ministry, this practice has since become uncommon in most developed nations.

In some countries, the foreign minister is typically among the highest profiles of cabinet positions. For instance, in the US, its foreign minister is the first member of cabinet in line for the presidential line of succession (with the vice president, speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and president pro-tempore of the United States Senate ahead of the foreign minister). The UK's foreign secretary belongs to the four Great Offices of State (along with the prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, and home secretary).


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.

Although it is very rare for there to be any sub-national foreign minister post, sometimes there is a minor external relations position. 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, his or her duties are primarily to implement EU foreign policy, rather than formulate it.

Lists of current ministries of foreign affairs[edit]

Named "ministry"[edit]

Equivalents named "department"[edit]

Other names[edit]


Named "ministry"[edit]


By year[edit]


  1. ^ The Selection and Tenure of Foreign Ministers Around the World. Cambridge University Press. 2024.
  2. ^ "Minister of Foreign Affairs". The Free Dictionaryaccessdate=March 24, 2024.
  3. ^ The Oxford Andrew F. Cooper, et al. eds. The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy (2015) excerpt chapters 4 and 5.
  4. ^ David Stevenson, "The Diplomats" in Jay Winter, ed. The Cambridge History of the First World War: Volume II: The State (2014) vol 2 p 68.

External links[edit]

Media related to Foreign affairs ministries at Wikimedia Commons