Executive and Legislative Role in Foreign Policies

Executive and Legislative Role in Foreign Policies


            The Unites States being a world power is always concerned, and threatened, by emerging global issues that may affect its relationship with other countries. In its goal to maintain relational stability with other countries, US engages in many foreign diplomatic discussions and measures. However, since US is involved in numerous international relationships, both good and bad, it has often been criticized in many of its foreign policies, particularly those which are intrusive to national issues of different countries. During these situations we refer to the president as the primary responsible for foreign policies, as manifested in the war in Iraq which to many has been a failure. But who exactly are responsible? And to what degree? In this paper we will discuss the roles of federal state branches, particularly the legislative and executive, in developing and implementing foreign policies which, through the years, have become a priority of the US in keeping itself where it is now.


            The congress is being crossed out most of the time when it comes to issues of foreign policy, not merely because of the president’s celebrity status but also on its somehow behind the scene involvement in the development of procedures. Current foreign situations have proved that both the President and Congress create foreign policies, but the question of who has the final say and the most influence in shaping policies is unclear. This is probably because both are given equal powers, as dictated in the separation of powers. Both however have the right to initiate the formulation of foreign policies. Whoever starts the process of developing foreign policies, the other is expected to support or change and reverse the resolutions made based on its impacts and the interest that both branches serve. The Congress in particular can initiate foreign policies through resolutions and policy statements, legislative directives, legislative pressure, legislative restrictions/funding denials, informal advice, and congressional oversight. These however may not be as powerful as those made by the President since the the Congress does not execute the legislation it makes. Generally speaking, the President still is more “blamable” due to its top executive role.

            It can be said then that the President is more equipped in shaping foreign policies because it’s more “active” participation in international events. Most of the time, events in foreign countries or change in actions and behaviors of different foreign governments attracts the attention of US. In such provoking situations the President responds and creates foreign policies, where the Congress often support the President, and occasionally seeks to modify the President’s actions. Negotiations give more power to the executive branch since it is has more dominant role in making foreign policies through international agreements. However, the President should still consider the opinion of the legislative since such agreements require the approval of the members. There are however agreements which do not require the Congress’ approval particularly those which are under his authority. The application of policies are still the most evident power advantage of the President. Since the executive are the one who will implement policies, whether it they are initiated by the Congress or not, the President receive most of the credit or blame in its policies.

            Due to the seemingly unbalanced and vague distribution of power and influence in shaping foreign policies, US passed a resolution to ensure both interests are not dismissed and undercut. The War Powers Act of 1973 seeks to balance the power and influence of both branches in deploying the United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement is clear. It restricts the US president to deploy US forces in other foreign conflict areas without prior congressional approval. War Powers Act requires the president to report within 48 hours of having taken an action to the Congress and certain circumstances may prompt the Congress to stop such military actions despite any presidential veto. It is primarily aimed at prohibiting the deployment of US soldiers when there is no declaration of war, which the Congress itself have much to say. In its Consultation Requirement paragraph, the President is required to:

Section 3 of the War Powers Resolution requires the President “in every possible instance” to consult with Congress before introducing U.S. Armed Forces into situations of hostilities and imminent hostilities, and to continue consultations as long as the armed forces remain in such situations.

The President is also required to submit reports of his actions to the Congress which they will review to for approval and support, and some times deny. The law says:

Section 4 requires the President to report to Congress whenever he introduces U.S. armed forces abroad in certain situations. Of key importance is section 4(a)(1) because it triggers the time limit in section 5(b). Section 4(a)(1) requires reporting within 48 hours, in the absence of a declaration of war or congressional authorization, the introduction of U.S. armed forces “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.”

These requirements drew the line between the powers of the president and congress in terms of shaping foreign actions, particularly war. The somehow vague distribution of influence is resolved by this law which was vetoed by President Richard Nixon in his term.


            Foreign policies are indeed fundamental in US interests. That is why many have been affected in its engagements with other countries and in international situations, particularly in conflict areas. Most of them are being criticized for its intrusiveness by the international community, and in the local sense, Americans find that such policies may not really have been assessed by the two independent branches. The Powers Act of 1973 somehow helped solve the vague distribution of power and influence between the two branches. Still, both branches may still not have in mind what their true interest is, the good of the people.