A minister for foreign affairs, or foreign minister, is a cabinet minister that helps to form foreign policy for sovereign nations. The ministry for foreign affairs is often considered to be the most senior ministerial position after that of the head of government (prime minister), and is often given to the deputy prime minister in coalition governments. In some cabinets the foreign minister is known as the minister for external affairs.
A foreign minister's powers can vary from government to government. In a classic parliamentary system a foreign minister can have genuine influence in forming foreign policy. However, with a strong prime minister, or in a presidential system, a foreign minister can have a more advisory role, or be outright ignored. Since the end of World War II, it has been common for the foreign minister to be part of an inner cabinet, often known as a National Security Council, with the defence minister so that defence and diplomatic policy can better be coordinated. While it was common for a head of government to assume the foreign ministry in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, this is not as common anymore. It still occurs, but usually only in newly independent or developing nations.
In the United States, the foreign minister is the 'Secretary of State', and holds the oldest cabinet post in the nation. In the United Kingdom, the foreign minister is called the 'Foreign Secretary', and has officially been called the 'Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs' since 1968, when the previously separate Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office were merged.
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