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Theframers of the current U.S. constitution believed in the need todivide roles among the three arms of government in order to minimizeconflicts and enhance efficiency. However, the constitution createdan avenue for struggles over the process of making foreign policy.The tag war is mainly between the Congress and the office of thepresident. From the constitutional perspective, the president shouldhave the dominant role in the process of formulating and implementingforeign policies while the Congress is expected to oversight theexecutive in order to ensure that all foreign policies developed bythe president serve the interests of the country.

Whythe U.S. president acts as the dominant force in the process ofmaking foreign policies

Theoverall leadership of the U.S. is based on the concepts ofdistribution of powers and strong check and balances. However, theconstitution has the president the dominant power to initiate andspearhead the process of making foreign policies. Article II andsection 2 of the constitution gives the president the powers to actas the chief diplomat, which indicate the president’s powers toinitiate the processes of developing foreign policies (Welch 335).The constitution allows the president to exercise this power byappointing ambassadors, negotiating treaties for foreign governments,and receiving foreign ambassadors. The dominant power of thepresident in terms of foreign policy making is further confirmed bythe fact that the president can initiate and terminate treatieswithout involving the senate. In a classical example, President JimmyCarter terminated a treaty with Panama, with the objective of pavingway for a new treaty without consulting any other government agency(Welch 335).

TheU.S. president also has the responsibility to respond to foreignevents on behalf of the nation. In most cases, the president carriesout this responsibility by evoking the constitutional powers providedto the president as the health of the nation’s Foreign Service andas the chief of the armed forces. The president, while acting as thecommander in chief, is allowed to determine strategies for the U.S.military with regard to events taking place in a foreign country. Forexample, the president may authorize a military attack to a foreigncountry like the case of President Truman, who authorized the use ofhydrogen bombs in Nagasaki (Welch 336). The response of the presidentto foreign events determines the future relationship between the U.S.and affected nations, which in turn determines the direction of thesubsequent foreign policies.

Theframers of the constitution of the U.S. gave the executive arm of thegovernment, which is headed by the president, a dominant role innegotiating international agreements. As the head of state, thepresident represents the country at meetings or conferences that areorganized to negotiating treaties that will affect the nation indifferent ways. Although there are some treaties that require theapproval of the Congress of the Senate, the 1936 ruling made by theSupreme Court characterized the president as the sole organ of theU.S. foreign affairs, which emphasized on the powers of the presidentover any other government agencies to determine the U.S. foreignpolicy (Welch 336). Consequently, the president may make certainagreements with other heads of states without involving other arms ofthe U.S. government.

Inaddition, president’s dominant powers in the process of developingforeign policy may be confirmed by the legal authority to make policystatements that affect the relationship between the U.S. and othernations. The president can make joint statements with other heads ofstates or unilateral statement when addressing issues that affect thenation. For example, the U.S. president engages the heads of statesin other countries through international summits where they discussenvironmental, trade, and economic issues affecting their respectivenations (Welch 335). The president may make policy statements out ofagreements that are reached in these summits. Such policy statementsmay be adopted by the country with being formalized by legislativebodies since it is deemed that the president evoked the implicitdiplomatic authority provided by the constitution.

Actionstaken by the Congress to assert its role in the policy area

TheCongress asserts its role in the process of making foreign policiesin many ways, but two of them are quite common in the U.S. First,the Congress makes attempts to influence the process of policy byclaiming the role of oversight. The Congress summons individuals anddepartments that take part in the process of developing foreignpolicies and question them in house committee meetings, which hasbecome a cause of confrontation between the Congress and theexecutive in several instances. For example, the Congress summonedthe vice president in 2002 to inquire about the U.S. foreign policyon energy, which as part of the Congress’s oversight role, butPresident Bush ordered the vice president and other executives in theDepartment of Energy not to honor the summons (Welch 333).

Secondly,the Congress influences the U.S. foreign policies through itslegislative restriction tactic. The Congress has the mandate to makelaws that are implemented by the executive, which means that it alsohas the powers to regulate the scope of the president and the entireexecutive on matters of foreign policy. The Congress can restrictthrough legislation who should and who should not be involved in theprocess of negotiating international agreements on behalf of thecountry. For an instant, the passage of the Lagan Act in 1799prohibited the engagement of unauthorized persons from negotiatingwith other governments on behalf of the U.S (Welch 336). Similarly,the Congress may deny the executive funds to implement certainlegislation.

Refection:Why Congress should have an important role in making foreign policy

TheCongress represents electorates who may not be able to reach thegovernment to air their views regarding certain foreign policies. Inaddition, the Congress makes its decisions through discussions withthat are held by the members, which mean that the decision made bythe congress represents the opinion of the majority (Welch 338). Thisis unlike the decisions made by the executive where the presidentretains the powers to decide and act, even without consulting otherofficers. Therefore, the decisions of the Congress are more qualityand serve the interests of the country. However, the involvement ofthe Congress should only be within its constitutional mandates ofrepresentation and oversight.


Althoughthe U.S. constitution promotes the principle of division of poweramong the three arms of government, the president dominates in theprocess of making foreign policies. The power of the president andindicated by the authority to respond to foreign events even beforeconsulting other arms, negotiate foreign agreements with foreignleaders, and determine the policy statement on behalf of the nation.However, the role of the Congress to oversight the executive may notbe ignored. The Congress has some avenues to make its contribution inthe process of developing foreign policies. The Congress makes itscontributions through congressional oversight, legislativerestrictions, and informal advice among other strategies.


Welch,Susan. UnderstandingAmerican Government.Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.