FOREIGN POLICY ROLES OF THE PRESIDENT AND CONGRESS
CRS Report for Congress
Foreign Policy Roles of the President and
June 1, 1999
Richard F. Grimmett
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The United States Constitution divides foreign policy powers between the President and the
Congress so that both share in the making of foreign policy. The executive and legislative
branches each play important roles that are different but that often overlap. Both branches
have continuing opportunities to initiate and change foreign policy, and the interaction
between them continues indefinitely throughout the life of a policy. This report reviews and
illustrates 12 basic ways that the United States can make foreign policy. The practices
illustrated in this report indicate that making foreign policy is a complex process, and that the
support of both branches is required for a strong and effective U.S. foreign policy. For a
detailed discussion of how war-making powers are shared, see War Powers Resolution:
Presidential Compliance. CRS Issue Brief 81050. This report will be updated only as events
Foreign Policy Roles of the President and Congress
The United States Constitution divides the foreign policy powers between the
President and Congress so that both share in the making of foreign policy. The
executive and legislative branches each play important roles that are different but that
often overlap. Both branches have continuing opportunities to initiate and change
foreign policy, and the interaction between them continues indefinitely throughout the
life of a policy.
This report identifies and illustrates 12 basic ways to make U.S. foreign policy.
The President or the executive branch can make foreign policy through:
1)—responses to foreign events
2)—proposals for legislation
3)—negotiation of international agreements
In nearly all of these circumstances, Congress can either support the President’s
approach or seek to change it. In the case of independent Presidential action, it may
be very difficult to change policy in the short term; in the case of a legislative proposal
by the executive branch or treaties and international agreements submitted to the
Senate or Congress for approval, Congress has a decisive voice. In most cases
Congress supports the President, but it often makes significant modifications in his
initiatives in the process of approving them.
Congress can make foreign policy through:
1)—resolutions and policy statements
4)—legislative restrictions/funding denials
In these circumstances, the executive branch can either support or seek to change
congressional policies as it interprets and carries out legislative directives and
restrictions, and decides when and whether to adopt proposals and advice.
The practices illustrated in this report indicate that making U.S. foreign policy
is a complex process, and the support of both branches is required for a strong and
effective U.S. foreign policy.
Introduction ................................................... 1
The President as Initiator..........................................4
Response to Foreign Events....................................4
Administration Proposal for Legislation...........................6
Negotiation of International Agreements..........................7
The Congress as Initiator.........................................13
Resolutions and Policy Statements..............................13
Legislative Restrictions/Funding Denials.........................17
Oversight of Policy.........................................20
Conclusion ................................................... 21
Appendix: Division of Foreign Policy Powers between the President
Excerpts from the Constitution................................23
Foreign Policy Roles of the President and
The Constitution divides the foreign policy powers between the President and1
Congress but not in a definitive manner. Edward S. Corwin wrote:
What the Constitution does, and all that it does, is to confer on the President
certain powers capable of affecting our foreign relations, and certain other powers
of the same general kind on the Senate, and still other such powers on Congress;
but which of these organs shall have the decisive and final voice in determining the2
course of the American nation is left for events to resolve.
Events have confirmed that together the President and Congress make foreign
policy, but they have not resolved the question of which branch originates or finally
determines policy. The two branches share in the process and each plays an important
but different role. The question of who makes foreign policy does not have a more
precise answer for several reasons.
First, U.S. foreign policy is not created in a vacuum as some sort of indivisible
whole with a single grand design. Rather, making foreign policy is a prolonged
process involving many actors and comprising dozens of individual policies toward
different countries, regions, and functional problems.
Second, the complex process of determining foreign policy makes it difficult to
decide who should be credited with initiating or altering any particular foreign policy.
The two branches constantly interact and influence each other. Under these
circumstances, it is difficult to trace an idea back to its origin, determine when a
proposal actually influences policy, and decide when a modification creates a new3
Third, the roles and relative influence of the two branches in making foreign
policy differ from time to time according to such factors as the personalities of the
President and Members of Congress and the degree of consensus on policy.
Throughout American history there have been ebbs and flows of Presidential and
See appendix for excerpts from the U.S. Constitution relating to foreign policy powers.1
Corwin, Edward S. The President, Office and Powers, 1787-1957. New York, New York2
University Press, 1957. p. 171 (emphasis in original).
Baldwin, David A. Congressional Initiative in Foreign Policy. The Journal of Politics,3
November 1966. p. 754-773.
congressional dominance in making foreign policy, variously defined by different
scholars. One study classified the period 1789-1829 as one of Presidential initiative;
World War II period as one of growing Presidential power. Another study defined4
three periods of congressional dominance, 1837-1861, 1869-1897, and 1918-1936,
with a fourth one beginning toward the end of the Vietnam War in 1973. During the5
Reagan and Bush Administrations the pendulum swung back toward Presidential
dominance, reaching its height in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm against Iraq.6
In the post-Persian Gulf war era, both President and the Congress are confronted with
issues in foreign policy that may well define which branch of government will play the
dominant role during the first decade of the twenty-first century.
For many years a perception existed that the executive branch usually initiated
foreign policy with the implication that this relegated Congress to an inconsequential
role. Writing in 1950 Robert Dahl wrote, “Perhaps the single most important fact
about Congress and its role in foreign policy, therefore, is that it rarely provides the7
initiative. Most often initiative springs from the executive-administrative branch.”
In 1962 James A. Robinson studied 22 case studies of foreign policies over the
previous 30 years and found three cases of congressional initiative: the 1943 repeal
of the Chinese exclusion laws, the 1943 Fulbright resolution calling for postwar
participation in an international organization, and the 1958 Monroney resolution
proposing the International Development Association. Francis O. Wilcox, who was8
Staff Director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1947-1955, and
Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs from 1955-1961,
has argued, however, that “some of the most imaginative and constructive foreign
policies since World War II have originated in Congress.”9
In the period after the Vietnam War, Congress reasserted its role in foreign
policy. It on occasion initiated new policies and exerted decisive influence on policies
initiated by the executive branch. One study on the subject concluded that “the fact
remains that the President is still in charge of American foreign policy,” but it noted
also that “the American Congress has more power to influence foreign affairs than its10
counterpart in any other country.” Another study concluded: “For all the problems
Cheever, Daniel S., and H. Field Haviland, Jr. American Foreign Policy and the Separation4
of Powers. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1952. 244 p.
Franck, Thomas M., and Edward Weisband. Foreign Policy by Congress. New York,5
Oxford University Press, 1979. 357 p.
U.S. Congress. House. Congress and Foreign Policy, 1991. Washington, G.P.O., 1992, p.6
Dahl, Robert A. Congress and Foreign Policy. New York, Norton, 1950. p . 58.7
Robinson, James A. Congress and Foreign Policy-Making. Homewood, Ill., Dorsey Press,8
Wilcox, Francis O. Congress, the Executive, and Foreign Policy. New York, Harper and9
Row, 1971, p.14.
Crabb, Cecil V., Jr., and Pat M. Holt. Invitation to Struggle: Congress, the President and10
caused by a resurgent Congress with unprecedented resources and a will to be
involved more directly in foreign policy, the system is working much more the way
the Founding Fathers devised it than we have seen in some time.”11
This report identifies and illustrates 12 major ways to make U.S. foreign policy,
six utilized by the President or the executive branch, and six utilized by the Congress.
No attempt has been made to measure how often the various practices are used.
However, the findings of the report are consistent with Corwin’s classic statement
...actual practice under the Constitution has shown that, while the President is
usually in a position to propose, the Senate and the Congress are often in a
technical position at least to dispose. The verdict of history, in short, is that the
power to determine the substantive content of American foreign policy is a divided
power, with the lion’s share falling usually, though by no means always, to the
This report does not attempt to define how a policy is made within a branch, as
this is a complex and varied process and would require a detailed study of each case.
Several case studies of this type are indicated in footnotes, and illustrations mentioned
in the report highlight some of the many individuals and groups within each branch
who contribute to policy formation. Similarly, the report does not examine the13
influence of groups outside the executive and legislative branches, but the illustrations
show that such groups, including the judiciary, interest groups, the press, and the
public at large, can sometimes play an important role.
Foreign Policy. Washington, Congressional Quarterly Press, 1980. p. 3.
Ornstein, Norman. The Constitution and the Sharing of Foreign Policy Responsibility. In11
The President, the Congress, and Foreign Policy. New York, Association of Former Members
of Congress and the Atlantic Council of the United States, 1985. p.64.
Corwin, The President, Office and Powers, p. 171(emphasis in original).12
For a collection of case studies, see the Congress and Foreign Policy committee prints,13
prepared by the Congressional Research Service and published by the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, annually, from 1974 to 1992. These committee prints are subsequently cited as
Congress and Foreign Policy, together with their pertinent year of coverage.
The President as Initiator
Following are six basic ways the President or executive branch can originate or
initially shape foreign policy. In these circumstances, Congress is put in the position
of either responding positively to the President’s initiative or seeking to adjust or
reverse the impact of his position.
Response to Foreign Events
Current events in foreign countries or a sudden action by a foreign government
often challenge U.S. interests. As spokesman and head of the foreign service, the
armed forces, the intelligence services, and the bureaucracy, the President usually
responds to such events and thus initiates U.S. policy. Congress ordinarily supports
the President, but on occasion seeks a change in policy.
For example, Congress supported President Reagan in the Falkland Islands crisis
between Argentina and the United Kingdom. After Argentina in April 1982 seized
and occupied the Falkland Islands, which the United Kingdom claimed as a crown
colony, the U.S. executive branch sought to mediate the dispute. When Argentina
refused one of the U.S. peace overtures, Secretary of State Alexander Haig
announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide
material support for British operations. Both Houses of Congress passed resolutions14
supporting the U.S. action siding with the United Kingdom. The crisis ended in
June 1982, and in December 1983 the Department of State lifted the ban on arms
sales to Argentina.
Congress helped bring about a change in Administration-initiated policy in
response to events in Lebanon. In September 1983, Congress reached a15
compromise with the Reagan Administration, and agreed to authorize participation
in the Multinational Force in Lebanon for 18 months. After a terrorist bombing16
attack in Beirut on October 23, 1983, that killed more than 200 Marines, President
Reagan first took the position that the United States had vital national interests in
Lebanon and would continue to participate in the Multinational Force. Prominent
Members of Congress questioned the policy, and some proposed an amendment to
cut off funds for participation. While the amendment was defeated, criticism of the
policy continued. The Subcommittee on Investigations of the House Armed Services
Committee and a Department of Defense Commission headed by retired Admiral
Robert Long both filed reports in December 1983 that questioned the U.S. ability to
achieve its objectives by the use of the Marines. Public opinion polls also indicated
that a majority of Americans thought the Marines should be withdrawn. On February
U.S. Congress. House. Congress and Foreign Policy, 1982. p. 10. 14
For further discussions see Preece, Richard M. Congress and the Conflict in Lebanon.15
Congress and Foreign Policy, 1983, p. 11-28; and Laipson, Ellen. Congress and the
Withdrawal of the Marines from Lebanon. Congress and Foreign Policy, 1984, p. 11-20.
Multinational Force in Lebanon Resolution , P.L. 98-119, signed October 12, 1983.16
off the coast of Lebanon, and in March he reported that U.S. participation in the
Multinational Force had ended.
On August 2, 1990, President Bush responded to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
the previous day by immediately applying full economic sanctions against Iraq, and,
within a week, deploying U.S. Armed Forces to help defend Saudi Arabia against
potential attack. In October Congress supported continued action through the United
Nations, and enacted the economic sanctions into law. In January 1991, Congress
authorized the use of the U.S. Armed Forces to implement U.N. Security Council
President Bill Clinton authorized U.S. actions in support of U.N. and NATO
operations aimed at halting the fighting in the former territory of Yugoslavia,
particularly in Bosnia. Under President Clinton, the United States participated in
airlifts into Sarajevo, Bosnia, naval monitoring of sanctions, aerial enforcement of a
“no-fly zone”, and aerial enforcement of safe havens. In December 1995, President
Clinton authorized the deployment of over 20,000 American combat troops to Bosnia
as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force to help enforce the Dayton peace accords
aimed at resolving the Bosnian conflict. Subsequently, in December 1996, President
Clinton agreed to provide up to 8,500 American ground troops to participate in a
NATO-led follow-on force in Bosnia termed the Stabilization Force (SFOR). These
actions were taken by the President in the absence of express congressional approval,
and despite continuing disputes between the Congress and the President over the
proper course of action for the U.S. in the Bosnian conflict.18
Following the seizure of Haiti’s government by Haitian military leader Raul
Cedras in July 1993 from its President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the United Nations
took a number of steps to support the restoration of Aristide to power, including an
embargo, and in July 1994, authorizing a multinational force to facilitate the departure
of the military leadership in Haiti. In mid September 1994, President Clinton sent a
U.S. negotiating team to Haiti to urge the peaceful departure of the military junta,
while ordering the U.S. military to prepare for an invasion of Haiti, if necessary, to
restore President Aristide. The military junta agreed to leave Haiti peacefully in the
face of an imminent U.S. invasion. Subsequently, the U.S. sent approximately 21,000
military forces to Haiti to disarm Haitian military and paramilitary forces, and to aid
a U.N. peacekeeping operation in restoring civil government and order in Haiti.
President Clinton undertook the Haiti operation without the prior approval of
Congress and was criticized for this. Congress subsequently passed S.J. Res. 229 in
October 1994 (signed as P.L. 103-423) which stated the sense of Congress that the
See Mark, Clyde. Congress and Iraq, 1990, in Congress and Foreign Policy, 1990, p. 109-17
137, and Kenneth Katzman, War and Peace in the Middle East, Congress and Foreign Policy
See Grimmett, Richard F. War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance. CRS Issue18
Brief 81050. Woehrel, Steven and Julie Kim. Bosnia-Former Yugoslavia and U.S. Policy.
CRS Archived Issue Brief 91089 and Bowman, Steven R. Bosnia: U.S. Military Operations.
CRS Issue Brief 93056.
President should have sought congressional approval before deploying U.S. forces to
Haiti and supported a prompt and orderly withdrawal as soon as possible.19
Administration Proposal for Legislation
On occasion, the executive branch wants to begin a foreign policy program that
requires legislation or appropriations, and accordingly proposes legislation to
Congress. Congressional approval in this situation is essential. Congress may play
a more or less active role in the development of the legislation, modifying the
Administration bill or developing entirely new legislation of its own.
The classic example of a policy proposed by the Administration but subsequently
developed by both branches working together cooperatively is the Marshall plan.20
On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed U.S. assistance for
European recovery on condition that the European nations initiate and agree on plans
for an aid program. The Western European governments responded with a proposal
for a program based on 4 years of U.S. assistance. To allow sufficient time for
consideration, President Truman requested an interim aid program that was passed
by Congress in December 1947. He then submitted to Congress the proposal for the
longer term European Recovery Program. Congress created a Select Committee on
Foreign Aid that made an independent study of the needs in Europe. The Senate
Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees also held extensive
hearings, and the legislation that emerged was widely considered to be the product of
a bipartisan, joint effort of both branches.
Since then Presidents have annually proposed foreign assistance programs that
Congress has authorized or appropriated after modifying as it saw fit, often using the
legislation as a vehicle for initiatives of its own. In 1978, for example, Congress
required a new emphasis in both bilateral and multilateral aid for programs designed
to meet basic human needs, and also launched a Women in Development program to
promote attention to women in the economic development process. After21
democratic reforms occurred in Poland and Hungary during 1989, President Bush
proposed an aid package and trade benefits for the two countries. As the year
continued and all of Eastern Europe was transformed by the replacement of
Communist governments with democratic reforms, Congress enlarged the package
and urged more active U.S. support for the growing democratic movements.22
See Taft-Morales, Maureen E. Haiti Under President Preval: Issues for Congress.19
CRS Issue Brief 96019.
For further discussion see Hutchinson, Martha Crenshaw. The Marshall Plan Model: A20
Case Study of the Congressional Information Problem. In Executive-Legislative Consultation
on Foreign Policy, Strengthening the Legislative Side. House Foreign Affairs Committee
Print, April 1982. p. 77-85.
See Sanford, Jonathan E. International Economic Assistance. In Congress and Foreign21
Policy, 1978. p. 73-100.
See Miko, Francis. Congress and the Transformation of Eastern Europe in 1989, in22
Congress and Foreign Policy, 1989, p. 19-37.
President Clinton in April 1993 proposed a major increase in United States
assistance to Russia following a summit at Vancouver, Canada, with Russian Prime
Minister Boris Yeltsin. The $1.6 billion U.S. assistance package, using existing
appropriated funds, included more concessional terms for agricultural loans and an
increase in assistance targeted at privatization. Further, funding was targeted at
resettling Russian officers and providing employment training to assist their return to
civilian life, while facilitating their withdrawal from the Baltics. The President stated
that 75% of the assistance would be used outside of Moscow to make it more highly
visible to the average Russian citizen than earlier U.S. aid programs. All such
assistance efforts were aimed at advancing democratization in Russia. 23
Negotiation of International Agreements
The power of negotiation gives the executive branch a dominant role in making
foreign policy through international agreements, but the President must take into
account congressional opinion because often agreements must be approved by the
Senate or Congress. Congress also influences agreements by placing in legislation
instructions and views concerning international agreements, indicating through
various means what kind of agreement would be acceptable, and attaching
reservations or other conditions when approving an agreement.
A few international agreements might be called “sole executive agreements”
because the President considers that he has the authority to conclude them under his
own powers and does not submit them to the Senate as treaties nor to Congress for
approval. Examples are the Yalta Agreement of 1945, the Vietnam Peace24
Agreement of 1973, the Iranian Hostage Agreement of 1981, and the Afghanistan
Settlement Agreement of April 14, 1988.
Most international agreements, however, have some form of congressional
participation. The Senate must approve treaties by a two-thirds majority. The bulk
of executive agreements are either authorized by Congress prior to their conclusion
or approved after their conclusion, and might be called congressional-executive
agreements. As an example of prior action, Congress has authorized the executive
branch to conclude agreements on military and economic assistance, space and
nuclear energy cooperation, and foreign trade, and has set forth goals, guidelines, and
criteria in the authorizing legislation. As an example of action after conclusion,
Congress approved the SALT I interim agreement of 1972 by a joint resolution, with
the Jackson amendment which requested that the President seek a future treaty that
would not limit the United States to levels of strategic forces inferior to Soviet levels.
For further discussion see Tarnoff, Curt. U.S. Assistance to the Soviet Union and Its23
Successor States 1991-1996: A History of Administration and Congressional Action. CRS
Report 98-43F. January 14, 1998. 31p.
For further discussion of various types of international agreements, see Treaties and Other24
International Agreements: The Role of the United States Senate. A Study Prepared for the
Committee on Foreign Relations by the Congressional Research Service. Washington,
G.P.O., November 1993. S. Prt. 103-53. 384 p.
In the case of trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) and agreements negotiated under the auspices of the General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), Congress has authorized negotiations in
advance but required that it approve the agreement prior to its implementation. The25
implementing legislation for both the NAFTA and the GATT Uruguay Round
agreements was considered under so-called “fast-track” procedures in 1993 and 1994
respectively. This process had been developed during the Nixon and Ford
Administrations to protect a President’s ability to negotiate trade agreements with
some confidence that they would not be undermined later by Congress through the
traditional rules applied to legislation. Under “fast-track” rules, Congress was given
90 days to take action on the implementing bill after its formal introduction. Congress
could not amend the bill. Each congressional committee of jurisdiction was given 45
days to review the proposed legislation. The proposed bill was then only subject to
a yes or no vote in the House and the Senate. Since Congress could not amend the
final legislation, a practice developed over the years whereby informal committee
markup sessions were held on the draft implementing bills to indicate to the President
key areas of Congressional concern regarding the specific trade legislation. This
process afforded the President the opportunity to address these concerns as he
deemed appropriate prior to submitting a final bill to implement the trade agreement.
The debates over the NAFTA and the GATT Uruguay Round agreements were very
contentious. Following passage of the implementing vehicle for the latter in a lame
duck session of Congress in late 1994, the President’s authority to use “fast-track”
procedures lapsed. A subsequent effort by the Clinton Administration to secure
renewal of this authority was dropped in late 1997 due to insufficient bipartisan
support for granting it. In the fall of 1998 a bill to restore “fast-track” authority failed
to pass the House of Representatives26
Legislative-executive branch interchange has been especially complex in the
treaties relating to strategic arms reductions. In preparation for the Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (START), the Senate and House formed Observer Groups to
monitor the negotiations. After the START Treaty was submitted to the Senate on
November 25, 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist and Senators worked with the
Administration in deciding how to handle the new situation. A new protocol
amending the treaty was negotiated in Lisbon with the Soviet successor states. The
Senate approved the START Treaty on October 1, 1992, with several conditions,
including that Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine be legally bound to all the
obligations of the Soviet Union in the treaty.
Sek, Lenore. Congress and Trade Negotiating Authority. In Congress and Foreign Policy,25
For additional background see: Grimmett, Jeanne J. Why Certain Trade Agreements Are26
Approved as Congressional-Executive Agreements Rather Than as Treaties. CRS Report for
Congress 97-896A. September 29, 1997. 6p. Howe, Robert H. North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) and Related Issues: A Checklist of CRS Products. CRS Report for
Congress 97-907L. October 9, 1997. 4p. Wilson, Arlene. The GATT and the WTO: An
Overview. CRS Report for Congress 95-424E. March 27, 1995. 6p. Pregelj, Vladimir N.
Trade Agreements: Renewing the Negotiating and Fast-Track Implementing Authority. CRS
Issue Brief 97016.
The President also establishes U.S. foreign policy through unilateral statements
or joint statements issued with other governments. Sometimes unilateral statements
are broad descriptions of American goals and objectives. In an address to the United
Nations on September 21, 1992, President Bush called for strengthening the
peacekeeping capabilities of the United Nations. Other times, the President articulates
policy on a specific issue. In the State of the Union Address of January 28, 1992,
President Bush proposed that the United States and Russia eliminate all their land-
based multiple warhead ballistic missiles. On April 5, 1991, President Bush
announced the United States would join international efforts to airdrop relief supplies
to Kurdish refugees along the Iraqi-Turkish border. In January 1994, the Clinton
Administration proposed the expansion of the alliance at the NATO summit. With
Congressional support over the next four years, a number of gradual steps were taken
leading to the Senate giving its consent to the amendment of the North Atlantic
Treaty on April 30, 1998, by a vote of 80-19, permitting the admission of Poland, the
Czech Republic and Hungary to the alliance. 27
Joint statements—policy statements made with other countries—are not legally
binding international agreements, but they commit the President to a course of action.
At the conclusion of the summit conference in Tokyo on May 5, 1986, for example,
leaders of seven nations including the United States issued a joint statement pledging
to fight terrorism through specified economic and diplomatic actions. At the
conclusion of the economic summit of the Group of Seven on July 8, 1992, the
leaders issued a communique embodying a wide range of policies including support
for the strategy of cooperation between the Russian Government and the International
Congress may support the policy enunciated by the President, attempt to change
it, or find a way to participate in the further development of the policy. After the
Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, on August 1, 1975,
President Ford and 34 other heads of state signed the Final Act of the Conference that
provided for the freer flow of people and information between East and West Europe.
Congress by legislation established a Commission on Security and Cooperation in
Europe to monitor the implementation of the accords. Since that time the28
Commission, 12 of whose 15 members are Members of Congress, has closely
monitored the accords and played an active role in development of U.S. policy in this
The executive branch makes a policy statement when it casts the U.S. vote in
international organizations. Most measures adopted by international organizations,
such as United Nations General Assembly resolutions, are not legally binding, but they
put the United States on record as for or against a proposed course of action. The
executive branch also determines the U.S. position on resolutions of the United
Katzman, Kenneth. War and Peace in the Middle East. Congress and Foreign Policy, 1991,27
p. 21-53. Gallis, Paul E. NATO: Congress Addresses Expansion of the Alliance. CRS Issue
P.L. 94-304, approved June 3, 1976.28
Nations Security Council, which many authorities consider binding, such as
Resolution 678 (1990) calling for nations to use “all necessary means” to uphold
earlier resolutions aimed at getting Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
Congress sometimes influences the U.S. vote in international organizations. It
has on several occasions directed U.S. representatives in international financial
institutions to vote in a specified manner. For example, in 1992 Congress provided
that the Secretary of the Treasury should direct the U.S. Executive Director of the
Inter-American Development Bank to vote against funding for any project of the
Multilateral Investment Fund if the project was likely to cause loss of jobs in the
United States. Members of Congress also serve on inter-parliamentary groups such
as the North Atlantic Assembly and the parliamentary assembly of the Organization
on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where their views may affect the perspectives
and votes of members from other participating nations. 29
Whenever implementation of the measures promised by the executive in
unilateral or joint statements requires legislation or appropriations, Congress has more
power in deciding whether to support or modify U.S. policy. When the
Administration pledges funds to the multilateral development banks, for example, the
funds must be authorized and appropriated by Congress. The United States could not
increase its quota in the International Monetary Fund for assistance to Russia in 1992
until Congress appropriated the necessary funds.30
Even when Congress establishes foreign policy through legislation, the
Administration continues to shape policy as it interprets and applies the various
provisions of law. This is illustrated in arms sales policy. Congress has established
the objectives and criteria for arms sales to foreign countries in the Arms Export
Control Act, and it has required advance notification of major arms sales and provided
procedures for halting a sale it disapproves. But the executive branch makes the daily
decisions on whether or not to sell arms to specific countries and what weapons
systems to provide. As an example, on September 14, 1992, President Bush notified
Congress of his intention to sell 72 F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia, and after the
Congress has found it necessary to maintain close supervision to prevent sales,
particularly to Middle Eastern countries, that it did not approve. In some cases its
actions had the effect of halting sales, and it has frequently brought about changes in
proposed arms sales packages. In 1985 Congress passed a joint resolution (P.L. 99-31
Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, Title I, P.L. 102-391, signed Oct. 5, 1992.29
P.L. 102-391, signed Oct. 6, 1992.30
For further information see Grimmett, Richard F. Executive-Legislative Consultations on31
U.S. Arms Sales. U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Committee Print,
December 1982. 39 p. See also Arms Sales, Congressional Review Process, by Grimmett,
Richard F. CRS Report for Congress 96-971F. 6p.
to Jordan prior to March 1, 1986, unless direct and meaningful peace negotiations
between Israel and Jordan were underway. After the date passed, the Administration
did not propose the sale, apparently in the belief it would be disapproved by Congress.
In 1986 both Houses passed a joint resolution disapproving a sale of advanced
missiles to Saudi Arabia, and the President vetoed the resolution; the Senate sustained
the veto by a 66-34 vote, but only after the Administration removed Stinger (hand-
held) missiles from the package.
Since the 1980s various Administrations have used their authority to establish
regulatory guidelines for the export of U.S.-origin dual-use technologies. In the case
of exports to China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, U.S. law has
required that China cannot obtain commercial satellites or related technology from the
United States unless the President issues a waiver of this restriction, on a case-by-case
basis, on the grounds that such a transaction is in the U.S. national interest or because
China has made reforms in its human rights or political practices. In March of 1996,
President Clinton transferred authority for issuing export licenses from the State
Department to the Commerce Department. Subsequently, when it was discovered that
two U.S. companies had shared technical information regarding the cause of an
explosion of a Chinese rocket launching a U.S. commercial satellite, without having
secured a license to do so from the State Department, a Justice Department
investigation was launched. In the wake of the controversy over this transfer of
technical information regarding satellites to China and charges that insufficient
scrutiny was being given to security issues involved in such prospective transfers,
Congress by an amendment to the FY1999 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L.
105-261), transferred authority to license commercial satellite and related data exports
from the Commerce Department back to the State Department, effective in March
Occasionally the President undertakes a dramatic or sudden foreign policy action
before Congress is fully informed about it. Congress then is faced with the dilemma
of supporting the action or being charged with undercutting the President before the
world. Congress usually supports the President, but on occasion it tries to halt or
reverse the policy or pass legislation to restrain the President from similar actions in
When President Reagan launched a military invasion of Grenada on October 24,
1983, Congress essentially supported the President in his stated effort to prevent the
formation of a Communist foothold there. Although both Houses of Congress passed
separate measures that would invoke the War Powers Resolution, neither measure
was passed by both Houses. Congressional leaders apparently received assurances32
The War Powers Resolution, P.L. 93-148, was passed over the veto of President Nixon in32
November 1973 to assure that both the President and Congress participate in decisions that
might involve the United States in war. It requires the President to consult with Congress in
every possible instance prior to the introduction of armed forces into hostilities or situations
of imminent hostilities, and establishes a time limit of 60-90 days for U.S. forces to remain
from the White House that the troops would be out within 60 days, and public opinion
strongly supported the action. Congress also supported the President’s action by
approving $15 million for grant economic assistance programs to Grenada.
Similarly, when President Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya on April 15,
1986, to counter state-supported terrorism, and when President Bush ordered the
invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, to apprehend General Manuel Noriega,
most Members supported the President’s effort. Widespread public support greeted
the President’s action and was also a factor in determining the congressional response.
In another instance, President Clinton addressed a financial crisis in Mexico, after
a devaluation of the peso in late December 1994. In an effort to prevent Mexican
default on billions of dollars worth of debt obligations, in early 1995, the President’s
economic advisors crafted a package of support for Mexico that did not require a
Congressional vote on the controversial proposal. This action was taken when it
appeared possible that Congress would not enact the Administration’s legislation to
deal with the crisis. The independent initiative by President Clinton included $20
billion in credits from the Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF) of the Treasury
Department, which is normally used to stabilize the U.S. dollar’s value; $10 billion in
credits from the Bank for International Settlements, and $17.8 billion from the
International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Clinton Administration’s independent
intervention in the Mexican peso crisis led to significant criticism in Congress, but
efforts to modify or block it were either defeated or abandoned.33
Occasionally, however, Congress significantly refines or alters a policy
independently undertaken by the President. This was the case in the 1979 policy
change toward the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. On December 15, 1978,
President Carter announced suddenly that the United States would establish
diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China on January 1, 1979, and
terminate the defense treaty with the Republic of China on Taiwan after the one year’s
notice required by the treaty. The Administration also submitted legislation to govern
future relations with Taiwan.
While few Members of Congress opposed the establishment of relations with
China, a move anticipated since President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, many
Members sought to modify the practical implications of the new policy and reassure
allies in the Pacific. Congress added sections to the Taiwan Relations Act to affirm
that the United States would consider any nonpeaceful effort against Taiwan as a
threat to the Western Pacific and would provide Taiwan with defensive arms to
maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. Congress also made modifications in the
in such situations without congressional authorization.
For background see Storrs, K. Larry. Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress. Issue33
Brief 97028, and “Clinton Leads Mexico Bailout Effort,” Congressional Quarterly Almanac
legislation aimed at continuing economic ties and placing Taiwan-U.S. relations on
a firmer legal basis.34
Senator Barry Goldwater and other Members of Congress filed suit against the
President for terminating the security treaty with the Republic of China without the
approval of two-thirds of the Senate or a majority of both Houses of Congress.
Senator Goldwater also introduced legislation to bar the President from terminating
other defense treaties without congressional participation. While neither effort was
successful, they illustrated that in undertaking independent action, the President risks
punitive action by Congress that may reduce future flexibility in foreign policy actions.
The Congress as Initiator
Following are six basic ways in which Congress can originate or shape foreign
policy. In these circumstances, the executive branch is put in the position of
responding positively to the congressional initiative or seeking to adjust or reverse its
impact on the course of foreign policy.
Resolutions and Policy Statements
Every year Members of Congress introduce large numbers of simple or
concurrent resolutions stating the sense of the House, Senate, or Congress on foreign
policy, and many such resolutions are adopted. Many observers are skeptical about
the effectiveness of these sense of the House, Senate, or Congress resolutions. Like
Presidential policy statements, they express the policy of a single branch of
government, but their effect is often weaker because Congress does not execute
policy. Since simple and concurrent resolutions are not legally binding, the executive
branch often ignores them in carrying out foreign policy.
Nevertheless, sometimes such resolutions play a significant role in foreign policy
by launching a new idea or promoting a new policy. S. Res. 264, introduced by
Senator A. S. Mike Monroney, and adopted July 23, 1958, led to the establishment
of the International Development Association as an affiliate of the World Bank
designed to make low-interest, long-term loans. In 1973 the Senate adopted S. Res.
71, introduced by Senator Claiborne Pell, calling for an international agreement
“prohibiting environmental or geophysical modification activity as a weapon of war.”
Such an agreement was subsequently negotiated and ratified by the United States in
1979. In 1979 the House passed H. Res. 321 urging the United Nations to convene
an emergency session of the General Assembly to deal with the refugee crisis in
Southeast Asia. This added to other calls for such a conference and subsequently a
United Nations Conference was convened in July 1979. H.Con. Res. 248, adopted
September 17, 1990, called for a higher priority for environmental concerns and urged
increased attention to the linkage between the environment and national security.
For further discussion see Sutter, Robert. Congress and U.S. Policy in Asia: New34
Relationships with China and Taiwan. In Congress and Foreign Policy, 1979, p. 54-71, and
Executive-Legislative Consultations on China Policy, 1978-1979. House Foreign Affairs
Committee Print, June 1980. 42 p.
Holding hearings on resolutions has occasionally given impetus to a policy even
though the resolution itself did not pass. In 1967 Senator Pell introduced S. Res. 172
relating to international regulation of ocean activities. The Administration opposed
the resolution and it was not adopted, but later the concept came to fruition in the
seabed arms control treaty of 1971.
Simple and concurrent resolutions also serve as a channel of communication
between Congress and foreign countries. While often the communications to foreign
governments are formal messages of sympathy, congratulations, and appreciation, at
other times they are more substantive. H. Con. Res. 484 of August 8, 1988, called
on President Zia of Pakistan, consistent with his pledge of May 29, 1988, to hold free
and fair elections not later than November 16, 1988. H. Con. Res. 136 of May 24,
1989, called on the Chinese Government to resolve the political crisis in China
without violence. Congress annually passed resolutions calling for Baltic Freedom
and commemorating “Captive Nations Week” from 1959 until independence was
achieved by Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1991.
Sense of the Congress resolutions also provide a vehicle for support or advice
to the President on foreign policy. After the U.S. military intervention in the
Dominican Republic in 1965, for example, the House passed H. Res. 560 supporting
the President in any action he deemed necessary to prevent Communist subversive
aggression in the Western Hemisphere. On May 5, 1986, the House adopted H.35
Res. 424 supporting the President’s policy in Libya by expressing gratitude to the
United Kingdom for allowing U.S. bombers stationed there to participate in the April
Congressional concerns over United States involvement in the developing
internal conflicts in former Yugoslavia—Bosnia and Kosovo in particular—led to
passage of sense of the Congress resolutions. Section 8100 of the Defense
Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1995 (P.L. 103-335, signed September 30, 1994)
stated the sense of Congress that DoD funds should not be made available for the
purpose of deploying U.S. armed forces to participate in implementation of a peace
settlement in Bosnia, unless previously authorized by Congress. On March 11, 1999,
the House passed H.Con. Res. 42 by a vote of 219-191, expressing the sense of
Congress that the President was authorized to deploy U.S. troops to Kosovo as part
of a NATO peacekeeping operation, subject to conditions and various reporting
requirements. On March 23, 1999, the Senate by a vote of 58-41 passed S. Con. Res.
21 expressing the sense of the Congress that the President was authorized to conduct
“military air operations and missile strikes in cooperation with our NATO allies
against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). This Senate
concurrent resolution was passed in reaction to the Serbian military actions in Kosovo
and President Clinton’s request, on March 23, 1999, for “legislative support” of his
actions to deal with the Kosovo crisis. Subsequently, on April 28, 1999, the House
For additional information see: Hutchinson, Martha Crenshaw. The Dominican Republic35
Intervention in 1965: A Case Study of the Congressional Information Problem. In U.S.
Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Executive-Legislative Consultation on
Foreign Policy: Strengthening Foreign Policy Information Sources for Congress. Committee
Print, February 1982. Washington, G.P.O., 1982. p. 73-84.
by a tie vote of 213-213 defeated S.Con. Res. 21, as well as a joint resolution, H.J.
Res. 44, declaring war against Yugoslavia. Through these votes at least one house of
the Congress indicated its skepticism of current Administration policy toward
resolving the Kosovo conflict36
Congress sometimes initiates a foreign policy by using legislation to establish a
new program, set objectives and guidelines, authorize and direct the executive branch
to undertake specified activities, and by earmarking appropriations to be used in a
specified way. The executive branch influences this kind of policy initiative because
Members regularly seek Administration views in the process of formulating
legislation, the President must approve legislation unless it is passed over a
Presidential veto, and the executive branch implements the legislation.
As examples, in 1991 Congress took the lead in using defense funds to provide
assistance to the former Soviet Union, authorizing and appropriating funds to
dismantle Soviet nuclear weapons and provide military transportation for
humanitarian assistance. In 1992 Congress placed new sanctions and controls37
against Iran, Iraq, and nations or persons who assisted them in acquiring weapons of
In 1997 and 1998, Congress was principally responsible for advancing legislation
aimed at elevating the importance of combating religious persecution worldwide
among U.S. foreign policy objectives. On October 27, 1998, the International
Religious Freedom Act was signed into law (H.R. 2431, P.L. 105-292). This act
established within the State Department an Office of International Religious Freedom
headed by an Ambassador at Large, subject to confirmation by the Senate. This
Ambassador is charged with , among other things, recommending appropriate U.S.
government responses where the right to religious freedom abroad is violated,
including preparing an annual report on country practices regarding religious
freedoms. This law specifies sanctions against countries if they are determined to
have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.39
For background see: Kim, Julie and Steven J. Woehrel. Bosnia-Former Yugoslavia and U.S.36
Policy. CRS Issue Brief 91089 and Woehrel, Steven and Julie Kim. Kosovo and U.S. Policy.
CRS Issue Brief 98041. U.S. Congress. Congressional Record, Senate, March 23, 1999,
p.S3101 and Congressional Record, House, April 28, 1999, pp. H2440-H2441, H2451-
H2452 (daily edition).
Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty Implementation Act, P.L. 102-228, December37
12, 1991. For case study, see Congress and the Transformation of the Soviet Union, by
Nichol, James P. in Congress and Foreign Policy, 1991, p. 55-81.
Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act of 1992, Title XVI of National Defense Authorization38
Act for Fiscal Year 1993, P.L. 102-484, signed October 23, 1992.
For background see: Bite, Vita. Religious Persecution Abroad: Congressional Concerns and39
Actions. CRS Report 97-968F.
Sometimes Congress pressures the executive branch into a new direction in
foreign policy by threatening to pass legislation, even though the legislation is not
enacted, or by continuing to exhort a policy through many means.
An example is the congressional effort in the 1980s to pass legislation imposing
economic and other sanctions against South Africa. The effort was widely seen to
have prodded the Reagan Administration to establish limited economic sanctions.
Dissatisfied with the Administration’s policy of “constructive engagement” and quiet
diplomacy to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa, the House in 1983 approved
legislation applying sanctions against South Africa as part of an extension of the
Export Administration Act, but the bill was rejected by the Senate. Toward the end
of 1984, American civil rights leaders began daily protests at the South African
Embassy in Washington to focus greater attention on racial violence in South Africa
and the repressive policies of the white minority government in South Africa. In June
1985 the House passed H.R. 1460 imposing sanctions and threatening a future cutoff
of U.S. investment. The Senate followed with S. 995 providing military sanctions.
The conference report called for a compromise that included a ban on U.S. import of
South African Krugerrands. Before the Senate voted on the final bill, on September
9, 1985, President Reagan issued an executive order imposing sanctions that banned
computer sales to the South African police and military and other government
agencies that enforce apartheid, exports of nuclear technology to South Africa, and
further bank loans to the South African Government. Later the President banned the
importation of South African Krugerrands. Nonetheless in 1986 Congress enacted
comprehensive sanctions against South Africa over the veto of President Reagan.40
Congress for several years pressured President Bush to take a greater leadership
role in protecting the international environment. In 1989 many Members criticized
the President for not leading a world effort to deal with global warming. After
numerous congressional efforts to persuade the administration, including letters,
hearings, and a Senate amendment calling for a global conference on the environment
in 1989, the President offered to host an international meeting as a step toward
negotiations on an international agreement to deal with global warming. Congress
also pressed other countries to take environmentally beneficial action in foreign aid
On June 9, 1998, Congress passed the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act
(H.R. 2709) which would have imposed various sanctions on foreign entities that
aided Iran’s efforts to develop ballistic missiles. This legislation was vetoed by
President Clinton on June 23, 1998. Nevertheless, passage of this bill may have
Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, P.L. 99-440, signed October 2, 1986. See The40th
99 Congress and South African Sanctions, by Shepard, Robert B. in Congress and Foreign
Policy, 1985-86, p. 13-36.
See Congress and International Environmental Issues in 1989, by Tarnoff, Curt in Congress41
and Foreign Policy, 1989, p. 121-139.
induced the Clinton Administration to act more forcefully with Russia in order to get
it to curtail its technological assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile program.42
Another example of legislative pressure is the reaction of various Senators to the
Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
This protocol is the implementation vehicle for the Climate Change Convention. The
Kyoto Protocol was concluded on December 10, 1997 by delegates of 161 nations
and sets binding targets for reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases by developed
nations. The United States signed it on November 12, 1998, but it has not been
submitted to the Senate for its advise and consent, as of this writing, due, in part, to
indications given by some Senators that it would be rejected unless their key concerns
are addressed first. The Clinton Administration has been attempting to secure actions
from various nations that would assist in convincing the Senate that the Kyoto
Protocol should be approved.43
Legislative Restrictions/Funding Denials
Congress has been most visible in its foreign policy role when it has placed
legislation prohibitions or other limitations on the President’s freedom of action in
foreign affairs. Often these measures have been amendments to legislation authorizing
or appropriating funds that the President was unlikely to veto. The use of funding
restrictions or denials by Congress is a classic illustration of the “power of the purse”
under the Constitution. Unlike other legislative action by Congress, its use is not
subject to serious challenge by the President as an unconstitutional infringement on
the President’s foreign policy powers. Major legislative-executive confrontations have
occurred when such restrictions have been passed despite the opposition of the
President. Some examples follow.
On January 23, 1973, President Nixon announced the signing of the Paris peace
accords to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war, but attacks by the Khmer Rouge
in Cambodia continued and the United States resumed bombing in Cambodia. The
Administration wanted to maintain freedom of U.S. action if North Vietnam or its
Communist associates violated the accords. But Congress effectively halted such
military action when it passed over the President’s opposition amendments to funding
legislation stating that after August 15, 1973, no funds under any legislation could be
used to finance combat activities by United States military forces in, over, or from off
the shores of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.44
For background see: Katzman, Kenneth. Iran: Current Developments and U.S. Policy. CRS42
Issue Brief 93033.
For background see: Fletcher, Susan R. Global Climate Change Treaty: The Kyoto Protocol.43
CRS Report for Congress 98-2ENR; Ackerman, David M. Global Climate Change: Selected
Legal Questions About the Kyoto Protocol. CRS Report for Congress 98-349A; Morrissey,
Wayne A. and John R. Justus, Global Climate Change. CRS Issue Brief 89005 by and
Fletcher, Susan R. Global Climate Change Treaty: Negotiations and Related Issues. CRS
Report for Congress 97-1000ENR.
For further discussion see chapter, The Legislated Peace, in Franck, Thomas M. and44
Edward Weisband. Foreign Policy by Congress. New York, Oxford University Press, 1979.
In 1974 the Nixon Administration was pursuing a policy of normalizing trade
relations with the Soviet Union as part of the broader policy of detente. Against the
wishes of the Administration, Congress passed amendments to the Trade Act of 1974
which limited the amount of Export-Import Bank credits to the Soviet Union to $300
million and made the granting of most-favored-nation treatment conditional upon
Soviet adoption of more liberal emigration policies. Subsequently the Soviet Union
stated that because of such restrictions it would not put into force the trade agreement
which the United States signed in 1972.
In early 1976, when the United States was supplying covert assistance through
the Central Intelligence Agency to factions in Angola against an Angolan movement
supported by Cuban troops and Soviet military assistance, Congress prohibited any45
kind of U.S. assistance to Angola unless expressly authorized by Congress. This
provision, known as the Clark amendment, forced the Administration to end U.S. aid.
Congress repealed the amendment in 1985.
Throughout the Reagan Administration, Congress legislated numerous
restrictions and limitations on military assistance to Central American countries. In
1983, for example, it limited the amount that could be spent on U.S. intelligence
activities supporting military or paramilitary activities in Nicaragua. In 1987, after46
the Central American governments signed a peace accord, Congress cut off military
assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras (anti-Sandinista guerillas), and in 1988 permitted
only non-lethal assistance.47
In 1992, Congress prohibited the testing of any nuclear weapon until July 1,
1993, and permitted using funds for nuclear tests after that time only in accord with
strict guidelines and conditions, including a plan for achieving a multilateral
comprehensive test ban.48
In 1993, Congress established a deadline for U.S. troops to leave Somalia. No
funds could be used for military action after March 31, 1994, unless the President
requested an extension from Congress and received legislative authority.49
See chapter, Teaching the President a Lesson: Angola. In Franck, Thomas M., and Edward45
Weisband. Foreign Policy by Congress. New York, Oxford University Press, 1979. p. 46-
See chapter, Congress and the Central American-Caribbean Region, in Congress and46
Foreign Policy, 1983.
See Congress and Policy Toward Central American and Panama, by Taft-Morales, Maureen47
and Mark P. Sullivan, in Congress and Foreign Policy, 1988, p. 51-87.
Section 507, Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 1993, P.L. 102-377,48
signed October 2, 1992.
On March 12, 1996, President Clinton signed into law, H.R. 927, the Cuban
Liberty and Democracy Solidarity Act (P.L. 104-114), often referred to as the Helms-
Burton Act. This legislation, among other things, codifies all existing Cuban embargo
Executive orders and regulations. This law does not provide for a Presidential waiver
of any of these codified embargo provisions. The legislation also allows U.S.
nationals to sue for money damages in U.S. Federal Court those persons that traffic
in property confiscated in Cuba. The President can waive this provision for six month
periods of time. The legislation further denies admission to the U.S. of aliens involved
in the confiscation of U.S. property in Cuba or in the trafficking of confiscated U.S.
property in Cuba. The Helms-Burton legislation has a direct and important effect on
U.S. Cuban policy and was strongly opposed by the Clinton Administration prior to
In 1996, Congress passed H.R. 3107, legislation that would impose U.S.
sanctions on foreign companies that invested in energy production in Libya or Iran,
or sold certain products to Libya. The legislation, the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act
of 1996, was signed into law by President Clinton on August 5, 1996 (P.L. 104-
Often Members of Congress shape foreign policy by providing advice to the
executive branch in informal contacts. Such advice can also be given at meetings
between the President and Members where no formal decision-making is
contemplated, but where general reactions to prospective policy initiatives may be
solicited by the President.
An example is President Eisenhower’s decision not to intervene militarily in
Indochina in 1954. At a meeting on April 3, 1954, Secretary of State Dulles and
other executive branch officials met with congressional leaders including Senate
Majority Leader William Knowland, Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson, Speaker
Joseph Martin, Jr. and Minority Whip John McCormack. Secretary Dulles said a
unanimous congressional opinion developed in the meeting that there should be no
congressional action on a resolution to support involvement until commitments for
support were obtained from other nations. Without assurance of either congressional
or allied support, President Eisenhower decided against intervention.52
Another example is the proposal for U.S.-Soviet nuclear risk reduction centers.
The idea had been advanced by Senators Henry Jackson, John Warner, and Sam Nunn
in 1980, and Congress had endorsed the concept in the 1985 defense authorization
For background see: Sullivan, Mark P. Cuba: Issues for Congress. CRS Issue Brief 9400550
and Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1996, pp. 9-6, 9-7 and 9-8.
For background see: Katzman, Kenneth. Iran: Current Developments and U.S. Policy. CRS51
Issue Brief 93033 and Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1996 pp. 9-5 and 9-6.
For further discussion see: Gibbons, William. The Government and the Vietnam War,52
Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Part I, 1945-1961. Senate Print 95-185
Pt. 1. Washington, G.P.O., 1984. p. 175-227.
act. Senators Warner and Nunn apparently persuaded President Reagan to bring up
the idea at the summit conference of 1985 with Soviet Secretary General Gorbachev,
and the two leaders agreed to negotiations on the subject. An agreement on nuclear
risk reduction centers was signed September 15, 1987.
Congressional letters helped bring about a change in U.S. policy toward
Cambodia. 162 House Members and 26 Senators wrote Secretary of State Baker a
letter on November 29, 1989, questioning administration policy on Cambodia. On July
24, 1990, 66 Senators wrote President Bush taking issue with past U.S. support for
representatives of three resistance groups including the Khmer Rouge to be the
legitimate representative of Cambodia in the United Nations. Congressional critics
also contended that the administration was placing too much emphasis on the need for
compromise by the Vietnamese and the State of Cambodia, and not enough on
restricting the Khmer Rouge. As a result of congressional pressure, administration
officials stressed more their opposition to the Khmer Rouge, and the aid program was
changed from a covert to an overt one which could be more openly debated. 53
Oversight of Policy
Congress shapes foreign policy through regular oversight of executive branch
implementation of foreign policy. This involves such mechanisms as hearings and
investigations. In particular, hearings on annual authorizations and appropriations of
funds for executive branch agencies carrying out foreign policy provide an
opportunity for committee members to question and influence activities and policies.
The Senate Foreign Relations and House International Relations Committees oversee
the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies; the Armed Services
Committees oversee the Defense Department; the Intelligence Committees oversee
the Central Intelligence Agency, and other parts of the intelligence community.
Hearings and investigations may be on any subject within a committee’s
jurisdiction and raise questions about policy for public discussion. Senate Foreign
Relations Committee hearings on the Vietnam War and national commitments in the
late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, contributed to public opinion against
continued U.S. participation in the war. In 1987 special House and Senate committees
investigated revelations that staff of the National Security Council had entered secret
negotiations that linked the sale of U.S. arms to Iran with the release of American
hostages, and that part of the proceeds from the sale had been used to assist the
Nicaraguan rebels known as “Contras.”54
Other frequently used oversight mechanisms are reporting requirements and
requirements that certain decisions or international agreements be submitted to
Congress in advance of the date they would be effective. The Freedom Support Act
of 1992, for example, required several annual reports, including one on the
effectiveness of the assistance provided to each of the independent states of the
See Support for Third World Resistance Movements: Changing Priorities, by Copson,53
Raymond W.and Robert G. Sutter, in Congress and Foreign Policy, 1990, p. 77-107.
See Congress and the Iran-Contra Affair, by Woldman, Joel M. in Congress and Foreign54
Policy, 1987, p. 15-33.
former Soviet Union, an analysis of programs to assist U.S. companies in transacting
business with the independent states, and the activities of the Democracy Corps. It
required semiannual reports on Soviet weapons destruction and numerous one-time
reports. It also required reports of proposed obligations of funds for nonproliferation
activities in advance of actual obligation, and a certification that a state was meeting
certain criteria, such as forgoing excessive military modernization, prior to obligating
funds for nonproliferation and disarmament programs. 55
Since the early 1970s, Congress has used oversight mechanisms to advance
human rights as an important factor in U.S. foreign policy. The House International
Relations and Senate Foreign Relations Committees have held hearings on human
rights in various geographic regions and specific countries, and cases involving
violations of human rights of individuals in foreign countries. In 1975, Congress
established machinery in the State Department to carry out the human rights policy
and required annual reports from the Department on human rights observance by each
recipient of U.S. foreign aid. In 1979 it required that the report cover all members of
the United Nations. Congress has monitored the reports and executive branch
policies toward countries with poor human rights records, frequently inserting in
legislation conditions or restrictions aimed at improving human rights policies. The
foreign operations appropriation act for FY1993, for example, prohibited aid to Zaire56
because of continued reports of human rights abuses in that country.
In the mid-1990s, the Indonesian government’s use of military force to deal with
internal political dissension in East Timor, a province it took over by force from
Portugal in the mid-1970s, led to criticism in the Congress of Indonesia’s human
rights practices. This led to inclusion of a restriction in the Foreign Operations
Appropriation Act for FY1995 (P.L. 103-306, signed August 23, 1994) against the
sale or licensing of “small or light arms and crowd control items” by the U.S. for
Indonesia, pending a report to the Appropriations Committees of Congress by the
Secretary of State that there had been significant progress made on human rights
practices in East Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia. Funding for grant military
assistance training of the Indonesian military was also denied in this legislation. The
restriction on funding for participation in grant military funding for the Indonesian
military has also been placed in recent appropriations acts.57
The practices illustrated in this report show that making U.S. foreign policy is
a complex process. Both the legislative and executive branches play important roles;
the roles are different, although frequently overlapping. Both branches have
P.L. 102-511, signed October 24, 1992.55
P.L. 102-391, signed October 5, 1992. See House Committee on Appropriations Report56
Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Appropriations Act, FY1998 (P.L. 105-57
118, November 26, 1997. Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental
Appropriations Act, FY1999. (P.L. 105-277, October 21, 1998).
continuing opportunities to initiate and change foreign policy, and the interaction
between them continues indefinitely throughout the life of a policy.
The President as the chief spokesman of the Nation, directs Government officials
and machinery in the daily conduct of diplomacy, and has the principal responsibility
for taking action to advance U.S. foreign policy interests. Congress in its oversight
responsibility can affect the course of policy through enactment of legislation
governing foreign relations and through the appropriation or denial of funds.
Experience has shown that cooperation between the two branches is necessary for a
strong and effective U.S. foreign policy.
Appendix: Division of Foreign Policy Powers between
the President and Congress
Excerpts from the Constitution
ARTICLE I. Section 7. All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of
Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other
Section 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts,
and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense....
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations...
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization...
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin...
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences
against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning
Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, ....To provide and maintain a Navy;...
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress
insurrections and repel invasions;....
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the
foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government
of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof....
Section 9. No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of
Appropriations made by law;....
ARTICLE II. Section 1. The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the
Section 2. The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the
United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual
Service of the United States;....
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make
Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate,
and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors,
other public Ministers and Consuls,....and all other Officers of the United States,
whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for....
Section 3. ...he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take
Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the
United States. ....