A Worrisome Precedent for U.S. Foreign Policy


Rate this post

What impact will President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration have on the creating of foreign policy?

The declaration undermines the separation of powers by enabling the president to redirect funds for products that Congress particularly rejected. Critically, it enables the president to unilaterally choose what is required for national defense, how to redirect funds for his personal defense priorities, and to use the armed forces for these purposes without having congressional authorization. Rising the energy of the presidency and enabling the executive to act without having Congress will most likely set precedents that sooner or later make U.S. foreign policy a lot more volatile, expansionist, and conflict-prone.

My analysis examines the efficacy of the congressional verify on executive energy, obtaining that the president has institutional incentives to deploy U.S. forces abroad – and that Congress can temper that impulse. On the other hand, the emergency declaration’s authorization of military action more than the wishes of Congress creates a unsafe precedent. Without the need of the essential checks on executive energy that the declaration undermines, presidents will be free of charge to define for themselves what is “essential to the national defense” and fund it themselves, with small input from the people’s representatives in Congress. Such input is essential for avoiding wars of selection, a heavier international military footprint, and alterations in alliances primarily based exclusively on the wishes of the president or the president’s political base.

What Does the Emergency Declaration Do?

Trump’s declaration obtains $three.six billion of the funding for a border wall from the military building price range, which amounts to a lot more than a quarter of all military building authorized for the fiscal year. Military building is a thing Congress spends important time debating, authorizing, and appropriating. The building price range gives housing, schooling, and instruction facilities for U.S. forces about the planet.

Notably, this national emergency is only the second ever to authorize military action, with the initially becoming right away right after the 9/11 attacks. All other prior declarations have been made use of to enact measures such as sanctions, trade regulation, or cutting off foreign military sales. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 permits the military action solution to be made use of on building projects required to help the armed forces and necessary to the national defense. On the other hand, the armed forces have claimed no need to have for a border wall to help their operations, nor has the military or Congress determined that a wall is required to the national defense (and of course, Congress’ rejection of the border wall led to the current government shutdown).



This specific emergency declaration enables the president unilaterally to define what is necessary to the national defense, what is required to help the armed forces, and how to use these armed forces, as properly as to use funds particularly authorized for other purposes. This represents a unsafe erosion in the separation of powers and in the regular formation of American foreign policy.

Undermining the Separation of Powers

There is a cause the framers of the Constitution divided energy more than foreign policy and national defense among the executive and legislative branches. Even though they recognized the president’s need to have to act without having congressional deliberation in circumstances of invasion or imminent threats, they also knew the monarchs of Europe had lengthy engaged in warfare for their personal individual purposes, against the wishes of the people today. The capacity of presidents to engage in and finance their personal wars would make them equivalent to these monarchs. Political scientists have shown that Congress can typically quit main wars from occurring. Due to institutional constraints and the ease with which the people today can hold it accountable, the legislature has frequently been a lot more hesitant to engage in conflicts than the president.

Congress’ capacity to stall a president’s agenda is a function of the technique, not a bug. Compromise and gridlock are supposed to be the two accessible solutions, but opposition from Congress is at present cited as cause to bypass the regular constitutional approach.

Earlier presidents have identified basic threats to the United States in the identical way Trump views illegal immigration, but opposition from Congress kept these presidents from acting on their wishes. Through Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, the French requested U.S. help in Indochina, and the Eisenhower administration was sympathetic to the request. He went to a divided Congress for permission to back the French, but lawmakers refused to help an intervention. Eisenhower attempted to supply restricted help to the French to stay clear of ruffling congressional feathers. On the other hand, Congress objected but once again, and Eisenhower was forced to withdraw the little quantity of Air Force personnel he had sent to the area, most likely stopping the onset of a main conflict (for a time).

Congress produced a comparable move in the 1970s to avert U.S. funding of anti-communist forces in Angola, which some feared could turn into a different Vietnam-style conflict. When Congress place an finish to intervention in Angola, it was a disaster for the Ford administration and resulted in the firing of Henry Kissinger. In each circumstances, the U.S. president had important investment in their anti-communist policies, but there was no going about the expressed will of Congress and the regular constitutional approach.

Protracted conflicts like Vietnam and Iraq have also tended to wind down simply because of congressional stress to withdraw funds. As the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular, Congress acted repeatedly to investigate the war work, limit its scope, and bring it to an finish. It particularly prohibited the president from utilizing ground troops in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia in an work to limit the war, and started to pass resolutions demanding troop withdrawals from Vietnam. When North Vietnam invaded the South right after the American withdrawal, it was Congress that opposed a funding package from President Gerald Ford, stopping any re-engagement.

Likewise, right after the Democratic wave election of 2006, Congress right away place additional funding for the Iraq War (and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s job) on the chopping block. New Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanded the president listen to Congress, saying “we are speaking for the American people today. He is not.” President George W. Bush’s approval rating was currently in the mid-30s, but he was unlikely to alter the course of the war without having institutional opposition from Congress.

My analysis shows that, without having a verify from Congress, presidents send a lot more military forces to overseas bases. The institutional incentives of the presidency lead the executive to choose a lot more forces overseas simply because this expands bargaining energy against rivals and in the negotiation of basing arrangements. In addition, these forces are closer to their missions and farther from American shores, enabling the president to use force at a moment’s notice without having the need to have for congressional permission to relocate military personnel stationed at house bases. In contrast, members of Congress have incentives to hold troops in the United States simply because of the financial positive aspects they bring to congressional districts.

Foreign Policy Implications of an Emergency Declaration

The events in Eastern Europe more than the previous 5 years show how the separation of powers operates in debates more than military deployments. Immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, there was a bipartisan consensus that the United States required to deploy military forces to Eastern Europe to help NATO allies. On the other hand, each parties also agreed that no forces would be redeployed from the United States itself. The only solution was to boost the size of the defense price range to enhance the size of the total U.S. military force and spend for new operations in Eastern Europe, but the parties could not agree on how the funding would be managed. The president and congressional Democrats wanted an boost in each defense and non-defense spending, and Republicans (by means of the so-referred to as McCain Amendment) wanted only a defense boost. The ensuing logjam prevented any significant military response to the Russian aggression till at least 2017.

Even though quite a few blamed Congress for the tepid response in Eastern Europe, movement of American forces into Eastern Europe could have made a a lot more unsafe escalatory scenario with Russia. The lack of agreement in Congress indicated that the people today have been not prepared for such a move. If the president have been merely permitted to declare circumstances like this a national emergency and rush U.S. military forces to a worldwide hot spot without having congressional deliberation, the worldwide footprint of the U.S. military would most likely boost and tense circumstances could be permitted to spiral without having purchase-in from the public. Without the need of this verify, and with elevated numbers of forces abroad at their disposal, presidents may possibly be tempted to use military energy a lot more typically and for bigger conflicts without having sufficiently engaging the public. This is specifically correct if there is no need to have to request sources from a hesitant Congress, simply because the precedent has been set that presidents can redirect funds for something they define as required for the national defense. This is special the history of emergency declarations, as Trump’s is the only a single that authorizes  the use of the armed forces for purposes Congress has particularly rejected. It stands in stark contrast to other emergencies, exactly where the use of the armed forces was not authorized, or exactly where (right after 9/11) the emergency declaration was produced ahead of Congress could act.

A different salient region in which Trump’s emergency declaration could lay the groundwork for a a lot more unitary foreign policy is alliances. Trump has currently displayed antipathy toward America’s alliances, from NATO to South Korea. With a lot more capacity to singlehandedly define what is required for the national defense, Trump and future presidents will have a freer hand in negotiating and undermining alliances without having congressional authorization, and additional erosion in the separation of powers will undercut the credibility of U.S. commitments.

This concept is constant with perform on alliances, which shows that alterations in a partner’s policymaking approach are very predictive of that state failing to reside up to its alliance commitments. With the national emergency and its erosion of the separation of powers, the president may possibly be capable to “opt out” of, or otherwise weaken, alliance commitments anytime he or she deems it required for national defense. This could include things like presidents removing U.S. military personnel from allied nations, exactly where forces are stationed to safe American commitment to treaties ratified by the Senate. Such a practice would undermine the credibility of American alliances.

Trump has produced statements about his lack of willingness to back NATO’s Write-up five and reportedly contemplated withdrawing from the alliance altogether, regardless of Senate ratification of the alliance and repeated congressional resolutions attempting to avert the president from abrogating the commitment. If the president can circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency, it is plausible to see him utilizing this energy once again when dealing with NATO or other defense commitments.

Trump is currently carrying out 3 items that collectively undermine the separation of powers and, a lot more concerningly, enable him to conduct an complete foreign policy without having Congress. Very first, he is redirecting revenue that Congress has particularly authorized for other purposes. Second, he is utilizing this revenue for purposes that Congress has currently rejected. Third, he is utilizing the armed forces to achieve this activity. Even though these moves may possibly appear fairly innocuous in the context of creating a wall, they set unsafe precedents for the energy of the president to unilaterally make foreign policy without having Congress, fund it without having congressional approval, and use the armed forces to carry it out.

The separation of powers is essential to a properly-viewed as and steady foreign policy. The framers of the Constitution wanted crucial foreign policy choices to be properly-viewed as by a broad section of the American public by means of their representatives in Congress. Something much less than broad-primarily based help from Congress and the American public is a recipe for a a lot more volatile, expansive, and conflictual U.S. part in the planet.



Andrew Stravers, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in Government at the University of Texas-Austin, exactly where he is also a Clements Center for National Safety Analysis Fellow. His perform has been published in Conflict Management and Peace Science, the Journal of International Safety Research, The Diplomat, Duck of Minerva, and other individuals.

Image: U.S. Customs and Border Protection