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Foreign Office, Great Britain


The Foreign Office leads the conduct of British international relations.

Occupying a palatial building in London since the mid-nineteenth century, the Foreign Office is linked with the world by modern communications technologies. The Foreign Office is led by a British politician whose power depends on the prime minister, cabinet, and party. The foreign secretary relies on the information and advice he receives from the permanent undersecretary and his staff. The foreign secretary must sell British policy to parliament and the media at home as well as to diverse regimes and public opinions abroad.

Foreign policy has pivoted less upon events and relations in the Middle East and North Africa than upon maintaining Britain's ties to the great powers of Europe and, since World War II, the United States. As foreign secretary and prime minister for over two decades, from the 1830s to the 1860s, Lord Palmerston (Henry John Temple) saw the Ottoman and Qajar Empires as buffers against the Asiatic expansion of Russia, while the defense of India concerned him less than maintaining the balance of power in Europe. Benjamin Disraeli backed the "good ol' Turk" but increased the British presence in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly at the Suez Canal. To counter Germany, Edward Grey's concessions to France in North Africa and Russia in Persia alienated the Young Turks, who joined Germany in World War I. A. J. Balfour's declaration to the Zionists late in 1917 put the Jews of America, Europe, and Russia before the Arabs of the Middle East. George Nathaniel Curzon limited his Middle Eastern ambitions because of diplomatic pressures and Turkish nationalism. Anthony Eden, the only foreign secretary trained as an Orientalist, relied on Arab collaborative regimes before and during World War II, after which Ernest Bevin tried to put people before pashas. Since the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Britain's secret alliance with France and Israel against Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser infuriated the United States, the British Foreign Office has mostly followed the U.S. lead in the Middle East and North Africa.

See also Balfour Declaration (1917); Bevin, Ernest; Eden, Anthony; Palmerston, Lord Henry John Temple.


Yapp, M. E. The Making of the Modern Near East, 17921923. New York; London: Longman, 1987.

Yapp, M. E. The Near East since the First World War: A History to 1995. New York; London: Longman, 1996.

Roger Adelson

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