1. News & Issues

The Role of the Executive Branch

Who Makes U.S. Foreign Policy?


The President of the United States has a number of advisers who are key to making U.S. foreign policy. The most important is the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State (the position is more commonly called "Foreign Minister" in other countries) is actually the highest ranking, non-elected person in the U.S. government. He or she sits fourth in the order of presidential succession after the Vice President, Speaker of the House, and President pro tempore of the Senate. The first Secretary of State was Thomas Jefferson, and the list of subsequent secretaries includes a Who's Who of American history:

The Bureaucracy

The secretary sits at the top of a huge foreign affairs bureaucracy. The "organization chart" for the U.S. State Department gives a feel for the broad areas covered by this one agency. Everything from negotiating arms control agreements to approving passports to coordinating the global fight against AIDS is tackled here. This page from the State Department Web site gives a detailed summary of all the different activities under the department's umbrella.

American ambassadors, heading official U.S. embassies and missions around the world, also play a role in crafting and implementing U.S. foreign policy. They are the official representatives of the President of the United States in whatever country they serve. But they work as part of the U.S. State Department.

Notice in the organization chart one box that sits directly to the left of the secretary. This is the "United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations." He or she has a special position in crafting and implementing U.S. foreign policy as the president's ambassador to the only universal membership, intergovernmental body in the world.

Beyond the State Separtment

A number of people outside the State Department also advise the president on matters of foreign policy. Perhaps most important is the National Security Adviser. The role of this post has changed over the years, but it is viewed a a major power center enjoying very close access to the president. And it has been occupied by high-profile foreign policy shapers like Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleeza Rice.

Outside the White House, the heads of several executive branch agencies have an interest in shaping U.S. foreign policy. These include:

Back to "Who Makes U.S. Foreign Policy?"
Also:"U.S. Foreign Policy: Who Cares?"

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.