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Current Project: Political Science 489 Final Paper (pre-writing, draft, instructor feedback)

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

April 2013

Defending an Empowered Presidency: A Pacificusian Paradigm of International Relations

Perhaps the most readily apparent feature of the international system is that it is anarchic—there is no natural, unifying structure of rules, limitations, or safeguards by which all nations operate. Following World War II, the major industrial nations organized multilateral institutions to stabilize intergovernmental relations. The resulting world order was in no small way reflective of the interests and ideologies of the United States. How was the U.S. able to exert such a dominant role in international affairs? Specifically, which domestic governmental actors were the most responsible for launching America at the center of its own making, and what mechanisms were used to achieve this end?

In order to examine these questions, the paper is structured as follows. First, an analysis of U.S. governmental institutions vis-à-vis their Constitutional objectives and historical precedents will uncover the branch of government most responsible for building and acting in a governed international system. Second, the paper will provide insight into the tools that U.S. actors use and have used to facilitate a more rule-bound, structured international system. Finally, the paper will discern the natural implications for the U.S. of an international political fabric held together by realism.

Precipitating out of these analyses will be the elucidation of the notion that the President operates at the forefront of international policy not only because both the Constitution and historical case-studies corroborate a powerful Executive with regard to this capacity, but also because the nature of the global security milieu necessitates swift and credible response to threats.

A conception of the federal government, rather than individual states, as the decision-maker in international affairs serves as the tacit foundation of American foreign policy. The specific location of such power within the government, however, is not as clear. A voluminous history of debate exists regarding the proper roles of the branches of U.S. government in carrying out foreign policy and declaring war. The Constitution’s War Powers Clause grants Congress the ability to declare war, as well as provide funding. It also, in Article II, Section 2, entrusts the President as Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces. While Congress has the sole power to declare war, a complementary power of making war is not easily distilled out of the debate. The Constitution inherently provides that the president reserve the right to control troops in order to mitigate threats, as evidenced by the ordering of troops by President Polk in the build-up of the Mexican-American War. The Executive’s broad power to initiate military activity in order to secure the nation is an intrinsic feature of the dichotomy between this branch and the legislative, as formulated by the Constitution.

The President’s plenary foreign policy powers are further substantiated by Congress’s granting of wider latitude to the Executive. Congress has appropriated a vast military to be used by the Executive in its constitutional duties, contributing to its erosion of power in declaring war over the past 30 years (Wolfsenberger). Moreover, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave President Johnson power to use military force without Congressional approval, setting a precedent for increasingly unilateral decision-making by the Executive. Although the War Powers Act (1973) curtails some presidential power in foreign affairs, it permits the Executive Department to orchestrate antecedents to war for 60 days without Congressional declaration of war.

The Judiciary has also greased the skids for a broader conception of presidential war power. For example, the Prize Cases during the Civil War affirmed President Lincoln’s ability as Commander in Chief to administer a blockade. Furthermore, the decision in Curtiss-Wright (1936) recognized the Executive’s prominent, constitutional position in foreign affairs, one that cannot be occupied by Congress.

In addition to the constitutional, legislative, and judicial conception of Presidential power in foreign affairs, the President’s historic role of creating and influencing international institutions and agreements cannot be overlooked. The United Nations, NATO, and agreements with Japan all function to create a liberal democratic world order built around the American political system, one deeply rooted in the American experience and understanding of history, economics, and sources of political stability (Ikenberry). The Executive has used institutions as a conduit for manifesting American ideals on the world scale, aiding in efforts to decrease uncertainty, bind commitments, and regulate conflict.

Within the international system, sovereign states decide for themselves how to cope with internal and external problems, including whether or not to seek assistance from others and , in doing so, limit their freedom by making commitments to them (Waltz). In addition to making treaties, nations realize their sovereignty through diplomacy, declaring war, and concluding peace, all of which fall to the discretion of the federal government. Specifically, the Executive is constitutionally tasked with making and remaking international law. He is the sole representative with foreign nations, and is the primary participant in interacting with the international community (Rivkin). What is more, as famously declared by future Chief Justice John Marshall, the Constitution provides intrinsic latitude for the President to serve as the sole organ of the nation in its external affairs. To exert the international influence that is required and expected of the position, the Executive enters into treaties (which, under the Supremacy Clause, are supreme law), from which he can unilaterally denounce through executive order. Furthermore, the rest of a treaty’s ratification record holds little weight in its interpretation; the statements from the Executive branch carry the most influence (Department of Justice).

The rationale for presidential power in matters concerning foreign policy and war is further grounded in the natural state of international affairs. World actors are motivated by self-preservation and survival (Hobbes). Because survival is a prerequisite to all other goals (Waltz), states strive to increase their relative power and thereby mitigate the perpetual threat of violence in the system. A realist perspective accurately deems the international system as unequal, asymmetric, and suspicious.

To cope with these realities, Hamilton championed a national defense managed with vigor and success (Federalist No. 23). An American political structure embroiled in debate regarding the nation’s policy toward nations in times of exigency runs counter to the requirements of the international system. Congress has recognized the importance of the President appearing as strong, as well as the dangers of a divided Government. Not only would that make the U.S. look weak and create tension with the nation’s stratus as hegemon, but matters of national safety or defense of allies do not lend themselves to protracted internal discussion regarding courses of action. The Executive, by merit of not only the Constitution but as the most powerful actor in a complex and uncertain global structure, is responsible for ensuring national security and (to an extent) international security. Hamilton also argued that circumstances affecting the public safety are limitless and unforeseeable, therefore unlimited ability to cope with them in the President.

Advocates of a limited reading of Presidential power in matters of war and foreign policy might argue that the Constitution is a constraining document, and that the Founders were hesitant to give the President full powers in war. However, the President is relied upon to expeditiously contrive U.S. policy with regard to global exigencies. A threat on an ally border or a conflagration in an internationally strategic location is an emergency that demands the logistically more efficient decision of a smaller body than Congress. Moreover, the President shares some of the exercise of international relation-building with the Senate, which must approve treaties. While many construe the Legislative and Executive as co-equal, Congress occupies a secondary role to the President in foreign affairs, a role in which Congress maintains its ability to declare war and authorization of funding and treaties.

The democratic order implemented by the U.S. to provide structure, credibility, and ultimately peace to the international system were largely the product of the Executive branch. Framers’ intent and subsequent inherent powers granted by the Constitution, the strengthening of the Executive and the weakening of Congress in foreign policy through legislative and judicial decisions, and the practicality and necessity of broad presidential discretion at times of national or global insecurity all defend a reading of U.S. government wherein Congress’s purview is secondary to that of the President in national defense, war, and foreign affairs.

Works Cited

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 23 (1787)

Hobbes, Leviathan. Chapter XIII; Chapter XIV; Chapter XVII; Chapter XVIII

John Ikenberry, “Constitutional Politics in International Relations,” from Liberal Order and Imperial Ambition

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws. Book IX; X; Book XX sections 1, 9, 12

David Rivkin Jr., “Presidential Power to Make and Remake International Law” 99 Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law) (2005)

U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, “Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President.” (2002)

Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (1979), chapter 5 & 6

Donald R. Wolfensberger, “Congress and Policymaking in an Age of Terrorism,” from Congress Reconsidered (Lawrence Dodd, Bruce Oppenheimer, eds.)

489 Paper Instructor Comments & Prewriting


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