Involvement of United States Congress in Foreign Policy In this report I intend to first describe what foreign policy is. It is important to show exactly how Congress is involved in United States foreign policy. Sometimes United States foreign policy can be too much, too little, or the wrong type. In conclusion there are some misconceptions by the general public today on how they see Congress represented in United States foreign policy. American foreign policy consists of all of the official statements made and all of the actions taken by the government of the United States as it conducts this nation's foreign relations.
It involves such matters as treaties and alliances, international trade, the defense budget, foreign economic and military aid, the United Nations, nuclear weapons testing and, disarmament negotiations. In short, it includes everything which that nation's government says and does in world affairs. United States Congress' law making function in foreign affairs has varied from passive to relatively aggressive. Congress can never absolutely control foreign policy. It is constitutionally prevented from doing so because of the powers specifically allocated to the president. When aggressive, Congress can be important in secondary areas of foreign policy-making and can have some impact in the primary areas.
When passive, Congress gives up almost all influence in the primary areas and regulates itself to a small supporting role even in the secondary areas. Congress also has different degrees of access to different kinds of foreign policy. There are three main types of foreign and defense decisions: structural, strategic, and crisis. Structural policies and programs aim primarily at procuring, locating, and organizing military personnel and material, usually within the confines and guidelines of determined strategic decisions. Examples of these policies and programs includ sales of arms to foreign countries, weapons systems decisions, decisions about the size of the reserve military forces, and the placement, expansion, or contraction of military bases in the United States. Strategic policies and programs are designed to predict and carry out the basic place of the United States toward other nations, both in military terms and in terms of foreign policy.
Foreign trade, foreign aid, the location and size of United States troop contingents stationed abroad, immigration policies, and decisions about involvement in specific military-political situations abroad. Crisis policies are short-run responses to immediate problems that are perceived to be serious for the United States, that have fallen on policy-makers with little or no warning, and that seem to demand immediate action. Depending on the type of policy, there are different people in the policy-making process that have different levels of access to the making and passing of policy. The principal people are considered to be the president, presidency and centralized bureaucracy, bureaus and other subunits in the executive branch, Congress as a whole, the subcommittees of Congress, and relevant portions of the private sector. Table 11-2 summarizes the relative degree of access for each of these five sets of people to each of the three types of foreign and defense policy.
The last column indicates the most important multi-person relationship in making policy determinations for each type of policy. I believe that the role of United States Congress in the past has been very little or even non-existent. Until recently, one of the most common generalizations in both scholarly and popular literature on Congress was that the executive branch, mainly the president, had completely forgotten Congress in foreign policy matters and that the president took all major initiatives in foreign affairs without any opposition. This model of executive dominance describes a period of time from roughly 1940 to 1965. In March of 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that Congress pass the Lend-Lease Act.
This act was designed to permit Britain and China to draw on resources of the then-neutral United States in World War II. This document authorized by the president to transfer, lease, or lend any article for defense to "the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States." The Lend-Lease Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 260 to 5 and the Senate by a margin of 60 to 31. In recent years Congress has become more aggressive, in reaction to Vietnam and the power of the president to wage an undeclared war, but also on other questions such as foreign aid, foreign intelligence activities, and export of nuclear materials and technology. Congressional involvement with the United Nations is Changing. Some in Congress view the United Nations as ineffective in its peacekeeping operations.
Others see an inefficient body of powers that is not capable of reform as it struggles with a badly managed staff. Congress as a whole, however, recognizes the importance of the United Nations. Congress approved the State Department Authorization Act which reduces the United States share for United Nations peacekeeping from thirty per cent to twenty-five per cent and pushes for a re-assessment of every nation's contribution. Lawmakers have pushed for the administration's pledges that peacekeeping missions will be NATO-lead with no "dual-key" arrangements in which NATO must get United Nations approval for use of military force. A study in 1993 concluding that the president dominates foreign policy also reported a number of cases in which congressional influence was dominant and a few cases in which the beginnings were Congressional. Congress was found to dominate many areas of foreign policy which seem to be unimportant, but together they make up a major portion of United States foreign policy.
Congress became noticeably more aggressive on foreign policy matters during the late 1960 s and especially in the 1970 s. This reached a peak in some ways during the attempts by Congress to end the war in Indochina, after Richard Nixon had become president. But the self- assertiveness was not a product of hostility to Mr. Nixon as a person or of a Democratic Congress to a Republican president, because this same self-assertiveness continued with President Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. In order to understand this fully you must realize that the president and the Congress have different capabilities that enable each to perform some things better than the other. The president has some natural advantages that allow him to dominate certain aspects of foreign policy.
For example, his greater degree of mobility and his superior information sources are assets in diplomacy. Foreign policy spectaculars such as the resumption of contact with China or the Camp David agreements between Israel and Egypt are rare events. Much policy-making in foreign affairs is without glamor and may receive little or no press coverage, which results in low public visibility, but is no less important to the total foreign policy picture. It is generally in these less visible areas that congressional involvement is likely to be high.
Bibliography Cassava, Donna, "As U. N. Marks Its 50 th Year, Congress Demands Change." Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report (Oct. 21, 1995), pgs. 3214-3216. Polen berg, Richard, "Lend-Lease." Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.
(1993). Ripley, Randall B. Congress Process and Policy. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1983..