American Politics

Foreign Affairs and Defense » Glossary

The highest official diplomatic representative of the U.S. government to a foreign nation. The ambassador lives and works in that nation and represents U.S. interests (as an agent of the U.S. Department of State).
A nation in a state of war or hostilities.
In international affairs, engagement of two nation states. A bilateral treaty, for instance, is a treaty between two nations.
client state
A nation state that is allied with and beholden to another state (in its "sphere of influence"). Typically a large powerful nation has client states that it aids and protects, to pursue its own national interests. For instance, the Soviet Union had numerous client states that helped it to protect its borders and helped keep the United States at bay. The U.S. is often said to have client states, such as Israel or the old South Vietnam.
Fees, tariffs, tolls, or duties required and collected by a nation state on imports or exports of goods.
developing nations
A term used to refer to nation states whose economic and political structures are not well developed, in relation to the wealthier, industrialized world. Developing nations have low income levels and agricultural or resource-based economies, but are making efforts to industrialize and boost income. The term has numerous variants (e.g., less developed nations, Third World nations) and its use is sometimes controversial since it implies that western industrialism is the standard for judging development.
The practice of nation states (or multinational groupings) negotiating with each other over matters of interest. The U.S. Secretary of State directs the United States' diplomatic efforts, on behalf of the President.
diplomatic corps
The Ambassador and additional State Department staff assigned to diplomatic service in a particular country. For instance, we speak of the U.S. diplomatic corps in England as consisting of the ambassador and lower-level diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in London.
executive agreement
A formal agreement between the President of the United States and a foreign country, which has the effect of law. An executive agreement differs from a treaty in that the President must submit a treaty to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent. An executive agreement can be negotiated and put into effect by the President with no congressional involvement (and can be changed by the President or a future President, in agreement with the other nation). The Supreme Court has upheld executive agreements as constitutional exercises of presidential authority.
foreign aid
Donations of money, goods, or services from one nation to another. Such donations can be made for a humanitarian, altruistic purpose, or to advance the national interests of the giving nation. While in total dollars the United States gives a large amount of foreign aid,as a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product U.S. foreign aid appears stingy compared with aid given by other industrialized nations.
foreign policy
Approaches and goals pursued by a nation in its interactions with other nation states, in furtherance of national interests. Foreign policy can include economic, diplomatic, military, and social and cultural relations with other nations.
G-8 Nations
The "Group of 8" major industrial nations (now Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States) whose heads of state meet annually to discuss economic and political issues (especially those having major impacts on international affairs).
Movement of people from one country to another, for purposes of permanent or long-term relocation. Nations typically have policies restricting or governing immigration, as a means of population control and national security. Immigration controls can also have cultural goals.
An adjective referring to relations or actions involving more than one nation state. For instance, the phrase "America's international relations" refers to the foreign policies and engagements of the U.S. with the rest of the world. An international organization or an international agreement involves several countries.
Involving more than two nations. The term multinational can be contrasted with binational or bilateral (only two) or unilateral (only one).
multinational force
A military force comprising members from more than two nations. For instance, when the United Nations sends a peacekeeping force to a troubled area, it often assembles a multinational force.
An adjective used to describe some action designed to forestall or deter some anticipated negative outcome. A preemptive military strike, for instance, is one taken before the other party has taken military action, based on the belief that the other party would otherwise strike.
Matters of etiquette and ceremony followed by heads of state, foreign ministers, ambassadors, and the diplomatic corps in interactions with other nations' representatives.
sphere of influence
A region of political influence or dominance in international affairs. The United States is said to have a wide sphere of influence in global affairs. Russia is said to exert influence the countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.
A conference of top leaders (usually heads of state), called to negotiate or discuss bilateral or multilateral arrangements.
Third World
A term widely used in the past to refer to those nations not aligned with the U.S. or the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. The term also, independent from the U.S./Soviet engagement during the Cold War, is used to refer to poor nations, and is sometimes used with the terms "developing" or "underdeveloped" nations.
Exchange of goods. In the international realm, trade can occur between private entities, but usually refers to policies and transactions sanctioned and regulated by national governments.
A formal agreement between two or more nations states, having the effect of higher law. Under the U.S. Constitution, a treaty is negotiated by the President, and must then be submitted to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for ratification.
Action by one party. In international affairs, the United States might act unilaterally, rather than pursuing bilateral or multilateral decisions or actions, if it believes that unilateral actions will best advance national interests.
United Nations
The international organization formed at the end of World War II to be a deliberative organization for all nation states, with the goal of avoiding war and promoting improvement of international relations.
A state of hostilities between or within nation states. In terms of the U.S. Constitution, a state of "war" exists when declared so by Congress. In actual use, nations (including the U.S.) often engage in military action without formally calling those actions war.