Unlike a parliamentary system of government, the U.S. constitutional system permits the U.S. Congress a fairly substantial role in foreign policy. Under the Constitution’s Separation of Powers, the Congress and the President are co-equals when it comes to representing two of the three branches of government. While the support of Congress is not required in many matters of foreign policy, presidents understand they have a much better chance of succeeding with than without Congressional support. The power of Congress to influence foreign policy is made up of formal and informal powers, which this analysis will now review.
The role played by Congress in influencing foreign policy is not felt through any one method or means. Formally, the Constitution mandates that the Senate has the power to approve or reject all treaties the President negotiates with foreign nations. The Senate must also confirm senior foreign policy officials and ambassadors to foreign nations. Congress has two main roles by which it influences foreign policy, particularly in terms of military conflict. All foreign policy funding and the power to raise and equip the military lies in the hands of Congress. So, too, Congress roles in “approving or disapproving U.S. involvement in overseas military conflicts is the most significant issues at stake when considering the Congress’s foreign policy powers” (Biden 1-2).
Many argue that these powers allow for the emergence of a creative tension between the President and the Congress, which results in the formulation of foreign policy that better benefits the American national interest. Congressional involvement in foreign policy may also exist on an informal level. Some members of Congress believe that it is this informal method of influence that often yields the greatest success in impacting foreign policy. Members of the House and Senate a