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Foreign relations or foreign affairs is the management of relationships and dealings between two countries. Any results of foreign policy dealings and decisions can be considered foreign relations.
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 was altered in the 17th century, perhaps by influence of the words reign and sovereign. Both words were 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 followed the development of a professional diplomatic corps that managed diplomacy. Since 1711, the term diplomacy has been taken to mean 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 conflicts, the practice of diplomacy was often fragmented by the necessity to deal with isolated issues, termed "affairs." 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 a specific concern, these departments now manage all day-to-day and long-term international relations among states.
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.
- Latimer, Matthew (2014). Conversation Concerning Expertness. GTalk.