Legislative Diplomacy: The Impact of Congressional Reform on the Role of Congress in Foreign Policy, 1970-2015

Dukeman, Ryan [Browse]
Senior thesis


Zelizer, Julian E. [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Princeton University. Program in American Studies [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
From the founding of the United States through the present, Congress has continuously battled the presidency for influence on issues of foreign affairs. While the degree of Congress’s influence has traditionally waxed and waned, since the 1970s Congress has enacted a series of congressional reforms, particularly during the end of the Vietnam and Cold Wars, designed to systematically increase its influence in foreign policy and in foreign affairs on a more lasting basis. This thesis explores the impact of congressional reform on the role of Congress in foreign policy and foreign affairs, covering the period 1970- 2015. Its main conclusion is that various types of congressional reforms have actively augmented Congress’s role and influence in both foreign policy in the US, and foreign affairs globally. I present a conceptual evolution of three types of reforms and the specific foreign policy/foreign affairs impacts each has yielded with respect to the role of Congress. In Chapter 1, I present an oversight-influence model for re-evaluating underappreciated impacts of key 1970s reforms such as the War Powers Resolution and intelligence reforms. In Chapter 2, I evaluate the congressional advisory system, typified by the US Helsinki Commission (1976) and the Trade Act of 1974. In Chapter 3, I evaluate 1990s innovations in legislative diplomacy such as the House Democracy Partnership and Parliamentary Assemblies. My findings show that congressional reforms have played an important and direct part in augmenting the role of Congress in both foreign policy and foreign affairs, especially non-traditional reforms like the congressional advisory system and institutions for legislative diplomacy. In Chapter 1, I find that existing scholarship rightly concludes that traditional reforms failed to yield coordinate decision-making authority between the branches on war powers and intelligence issues. However, these reforms ended institutionalized deference to the executive in ways that normalized oversight and impacted policy and political considerations on military and covert operations. In Chapter 2, I find that under the congressional advisory system, Congress has more effectively delegated the formation and execution of policy to the executive branch. It has done so by inserting congressional advisors as a mediating institution into the internal executive deliberations through which substantive policy is made. In Chapter 3, I find that uni- and multi-lateral legislative diplomacy have made Congress a legitimate actor in foreign affairs in its own right, responsible for the direct conduct of overseas operations and substantially influencing the policies of international organizations and foreign governments on targeted issues. My findings hold key implications for executive and legislative branch policy makers seeking to most productively channel future congressional influence in foreign policy and foreign affairs. In relatively niche areas of foreign affairs, well-institutionalized congressional reforms that build on shared policy goals with the executive have proven exceptionally important in allowing Congress and its members to directly impact the formation and conduct of US foreign policy in and outside the United States.

Supplementary Information