Role of the president in foreign policy

Role of the President in Foreign Policy

  • As the head of state and commander-in-chief, the US President plays a central role in determining the country’s foreign policy.
  • The President has both formal and informal powers which contribute to this role.
  • Formal powers include the ability to negotiate treaties, but they are subject to Senate ratification.
  • The President can also implement executive agreements with other nations that do not require Senate approval.
  • As the commander-in-chief, the President has the authority to deploy military forces overseas, though formally declaring war requires congressional approval.
  • Informal powers derive from the President’s position as a global figure and include the ability to establish foreign relationships and set policy agendas.

Balance of Power

  • Although the President leads in foreign policy, the Congress also plays a significant role, particularly the Senate in the treaty process.
  • In theory, the President and Congress share powers in the foreign policy realm (Congress declares war, funds the military and ratifies treaties, while the President makes treaties and acts as the commander-in-chief).
  • In practice, the President often has more leeway in foreign policy matters. The modern era has seen the so-called ‘imperial presidency’ emerge, with presidents often acting unilaterally in international affairs.

Instances of Presidential Influence in Foreign Policy

  • The Monroe Doctrine (1823), under President James Monroe, is an early example of presidential influence, setting out non-intervention principle in the western hemisphere.
  • President Woodrow Wilson also famously influenced foreign policy, with his ‘Fourteen Points’ shaping the post-World War I settlement.
  • More recently, President George W. Bush declared a ‘war on terror’ following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, demonstrating the President’s ability to shape foreign policy in response to critical events.

Limitations on Presidential Powers in Foreign Policy

  • Congressional oversight and the need to fund foreign policy initiatives can serve as checks on the President’s foreign policy powers.
  • The ability to wage war is a constitutional gray area, with the President needing Congressional approval to declare war but maintaining significant military powers as the commander-in-chief.
  • Public opinion and media scrutiny can also limit the President’s actions in foreign affairs.

Compare US and UK

  • In the UK, the Prime Minister also has significant influence over foreign policy, but there are distinctions. Rather than acting independently, the Prime Minister typically must ensure the support of the Cabinet, particularly the Foreign Secretary.
  • Unlike the US President’s global prominence, the UK Prime Minister may share the international stage more evenly with other high-ranking officials, such as the Queen or the Foreign Secretary.
  • Also, the Prime Minister, like the US President, is limited by factors such as public opinion, media scrutiny, and the necessity of Parliament’s approval for certain initiatives, particularly in relation to military deployments.