Ambassadors, Executive Agents, and Special Representatives

Kenneth J. Grieb

International relations involve negotiations between the governments of nation-states, which are conducted by their executive branches under the auspices of their heads of government. Since each state is sovereign, agreement is reached only when the parties involved in an issue reach unanimous agreement among themselves. Those nations that do not agree with the consensus among the participants do not sign the resulting agreement and hence are not bound by its provisions. Diplomatic negotiations are difficult and time-consuming, since all those involved must agree on every aspect and word of the agreement. When the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948 amid the tensions following the Second World War, over 1,400 separate votes were required before the full declaration was adopted.

Achieving unanimous consensus requires extensive, constant, and precise communications between the heads of government of the nations involved. Such communications are conducted through a variety of representatives. The number and types of such representatives have proliferated throughout history and in particular during the twentieth century, when rapid communications increased the need for speedy and ongoing contacts. The end of colonialism during the second half of the twentieth century meant that many more nations and peoples were involved in global and regional issues.

These trends increased the need for representatives abroad as the United States became a global power and then a superpower during the twentieth century, and then the sole global superpower in the last decade of that century. During this period the United States found itself involved in virtually every major issue in international affairs, regardless of the part of the world in which it occurred. Not surprisingly, the increasing complexity of American foreign relations necessitated increased numbers of envoys and new forms of representation.

Ambassadors, executive agents, and special representatives are different categories of envoys conducting the constant negotiations between the governments of the world's nations. The type of envoy that is appropriate varies with the circumstances of each issue and the parties involved. Use of each type has evolved through modifications since the founding of the United States. Technically, each of these types of envoys serves as the representative of the president to foreign governments.


Bemis, Samuel Flagg. The Latin-American Policy of the United States. New York, 1943. A general survey, useful since agents were frequently employed in Latin America.

Bemis, Samuel Flagg, and Robert H. Ferrell, eds. The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy. New York, 1928–. An extensive, ongoing series containing a volume on each of the individuals who served as secretary of state throughout American history. Offers some comments on the relationship of special agents to the regular diplomatic establishment and brief descriptions of some of the missions.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser: 1977–1981. New York, 1983.

Destler, I. M., Leslie H. Gelb, and Anthony Lake. Our Own Worst Enemy: The Unmaking of American Foreign Policy. New York, 1984. Devotes special attention to the role of the National Security Council, while also providing an overall analysis of the delicate balance of powers and the offices involved in the making and conduct of American foreign policy.

George, Alexander L. Presidential Decisionmaking in Foreign Policy: The Effective Use of Information and Advice. Boulder, Colo., 1980.

Graebner, Norman A. An Uncertain Tradition: American Secretaries of States in the Twentieth Century. New York, 1961.

Grieb, Kenneth J. "Reginald Del Valle: A California Diplomat's Sojourn in Mexico." California Historical Society Quarterly 47 (1968). A full discussion of the mission to Mexico of an agent sent by Woodrow Wilson.

β€”β€”. The United States and Huerta. Lincoln, Nebr., 1969. Includes a detailed examination of an era during which Woodrow Wilson employed numerous agents in Mexico, with full discussions of the various missions.

Halperin, Morton H. Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy. Washington, D.C., 1974.

Harriman, W. Averell, and Ellie Abel. Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin: 1941–1946. New York, 1975.

Hastedt, Glen P. American Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2000. Offers a concise discussion of the various branches and offices of the government involved in the making of U.S. foreign policy.

Henkin, Louis. "Foreign Affairs and the Constitution." Foreign Affairs 66 (winter 1987–1988). Updates his earlier monograph.

β€”β€”. Foreign Affairs and the United States Constitution. 2d ed. New York, 1996. Provides a detailed examination of the constitutional provisions and the roles of the executive and the legislature.

Hill, Larry D. Emissaries to a Revolution. Baton Rouge, La., 1973. Examines Woodrow Wilson's use of agents in Mexico throughout his administration.

Inderfurth, Karl F., and Lock K. Johnson, eds. Decisions of the Highest Order: Perspectives on the National Security Council. Pacific Grove, Calif., 1988.

Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York, 1994.

Munro, Dana G. Intervention and Dollar Diplomacy in the Caribbean, 1900–1921. Princeton, N. J., 1964. Includes a brief consideration of some missions in this area.

β€”β€”. The United States and the Caribbean Republics: 1921–1933. Princeton, N.J., 1974.

Ripley, Randall B., and James M. Lindsay, eds. U.S. Foreign Policy after the Cold War: Processes, Structures, and Decisions. Pittsburgh, Pa., 1997.

Rosati, Jerel A. "United States Leadership into the Next Millennium: A Question of Politics." International Journal (spring 1997).

β€”β€”. The Politics of United States Foreign Policy. 2d ed. Fort Worth, Tex., 1999. Provides an effective overview of the evolution of foreign policy instruments and offices.

Rubin, Barry. Secrets of State: The State Department and the Struggle over U.S. Foreign Policy. New York, 1985. Gives an overview of the functioning of the Department of State, the role of political appointees, and the tensions between the Department and the National Security Council.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Imperial Presidency. New York, 1989. Contains a detailed history of the evolution of the role of the president and Congress in foreign policy.

Scott, James M., ed. After the End: Making U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post–Cold War Era. Durham, N.C., 1998.

Seymour, Charles, ed. The Intimate Papers of Colonel House. 3 vols. Boston, New York, 1926. Provides the personal records of House's missions.

Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History. 2d ed. New York, 1950. Details the relationship between the two title figures and contains chapters referring to Hopkins's service as an executive agent.

Smith, Jean E. The Constitution and American Foreign Policy. St. Paul, Minn., 1989.

Wriston, Henry M. Executive Agents in American Foreign Relations. Baltimore, Md., 1929; Gloucester, Mass., 1967. The most extensive study available, deals mainly with the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A rather cumbersome discussion because of a broad interpretation of the term, but useful for consideration of the reasons for agents, early precedents, and congressional debates.

See also Arbitration, Mediation, and Conciliation ; Department of State ; Intelligence and Counterintelligence ; Intervention and Nonintervention ; National Security Council ; Presidential Advisers ; Presidential Power ; Recognition .

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