The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was established in 1816 as one of the original ten standing committees of the Senate. Throughout its history, the committee has been instrumental in developing and influencing United States foreign policy, at different times supporting and opposing the policies of presidents and secretaries of state. The committee has considered, debated, and reported important treaties and legislation, ranging from the purchase of Alaska in 1867 to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. It also holds jurisdiction over all diplomatic nominations. Through these powers, the committee has helped shape foreign policy of broad significance, in matters of war and peace and international relations. Members of the committee have assisted in the negotiation of treaties, and at times have helped to defeat treaties they felt were not in the national interest.
The Foreign Relations Committee was instrumental in the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and 1920, and in the passage of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and Marshall Plan in 1948. A bipartisan spirit prevailed as the committee confronted the perils of the Cold War. However, the state of almost constant crisis that the Cold War spawned eventually resulted in the vast expansion of presidential authority over foreign policy. Since the 1960s, the committee has sought to redress this imbalance of powers.