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Public Sector & Defence careers

Foreign Affairs, International Relations & Development

Who handles foreign affairs & international relations in the UK?

Once upon a time, foreign affairs, international relations and international development responsibilities were kept well within the realm of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Today things have changed and the FCO is no longer the only major player in this important area of public sector work. While the FCO still plays an integral role in managing the UK’s international relationships, the Department for International Development (DFID) now also shares in these responsibilities.

Various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), intergovernmental organisations, such as the United Nations (UN) or the European Union (EU), and multinational corporations (MNCs), such as Coca-Cola, are also involved in the UK’s foreign affairs.

Why are foreign affairs & international relations so important?

International relationships between different states are incredibly important and help to form the heart of the modern and civilised world. The overall aim of this area of government work is to ensure that existing relationships are strengthened and new relationships are formed.

Foreign affairs and international relations are generally used to further the objectives of national governments and to provide support to companies and organisations that are based on foreign soil.

International development, on the other hand, aims to improve the quality of human life in less economically developed countries. This is done through various means; for instance, by providing better access to clean water, reducing poverty levels and increasing life expectancy through the provision of medical aid.  

Since the Labour government set up the Department for International Development in 1997, it has been an important part of the UK’s international agenda. This has continued with the incumbent Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition, which primarily focuses on the eight Millennium Development Goals.

The range of positions available within the world of foreign affairs and international development is huge, spanning diplomatic positions, research roles, analyst opportunities, administrative jobs and corporate service positions within legal, financial and public relations departments.

What do I need to work in foreign affairs & international relations?

If you’re looking to make a real impact and influence other people’s lives on an international scale, then this could be the right career path for you. However, with such responsibility comes lots of pressure, unconventional hours and potentially long periods away from your friends and family.

Effective communication skills are absolutely essential for each and every role in this line of work. Consequently, additional languages will be an advantage. However, this is by no means necessary for the majority of positions within this subsector.

There are a number of routes into this line of work. Many graduates opt to enter this subsector through the diplomatic arm of the Civil Service Fast Stream or by applying directly to specific departments, such as the FCO or the DFID.

All of these routes allow you plenty of room for growth and progression; for example, people who join the Civil Service Fast Stream can progress to becoming full-time diplomats in many locations across the world.

The FCO is a huge department and, understandably, the career opportunities on offer can vary widely. Some very specific roles are up for grabs, e.g. economists and legal advisors. However, other general positions are available, ranging from people that evaluate visa applications, to professionals that manage diplomatic finances, and research analysts who help to influence foreign policy.

Similarly, the DFID offers a wealth of positions, from researchers and policy-writers, to auditors and logistics experts.

Basically, this area of public sector work requires many different types of people with different skills and interests. So, if what you’ve read has interested you, you can rest assured that there is something for everyone with a career in foreign affairs, international relations and development!