Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2010

Congress and National Security

Kay King

November 2010

Council on Foreign Relations


The U.S. Congress is among the most maligned institutions in the country. In July of this year it registered an 11 percent approval rate—below banks, television news, and health insurance companies—and decrying partisan gridlock has all but displaced baseball as the national pastime. Yet while the perils of this institutional failure are obvious for domestic policy, their consequences for foreign policy are under-explored. The Constitution delegates to Congress considerable responsibility for foreign affairs, including the right to declare war, fund the military, regulate international commerce, and approve treaties. At least as important are such congressional authorities as the ability to convene hearings that provide oversight of foreign policy. A failure to perform these functions could have significant results, leaving the United States hobbled by indecision and unable to lead on critical global issues.