Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy

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Although the aspirations and goals of states are often motivated by external political pressures, analysis of recent foreign policy decisions demonstrates how internal political forces can play equally crucial roles in the pursuit and execution of these objectives. Thus, it would be invalid to claim that domestic politics and the nature of regimes play minor roles in either the goals a state pursues or the means it employs to reach them. By understanding how the diffusion of power in governments affect policy decisions, one can develop increased awareness of the linkages that exist between the internal pressures of domestic politics and the external forces of foreign politics. Before discussing the impact of domestic politics on foreign policy objectives and their execution, one must first understand the different types of policies that states pursue. The foreign policy of states can be directed toward the protection and enhancement of valued possessions ("possession goals") or intended to improve the environment in which it operates (milieu goals). More specifically, possession goals pertain to national possessions where states aim to enhance or preserve one or more things they value such as territory, permanent membership in international organizations like the UN Security Council, or access to trade areas. And while milieu goals are different from possession goals in that states that work towards achieving them are not seeking to defend or increase their possessions but instead attempting to shape conditions beyond their national boundaries, milieu goals can be seen as an indirect way of achieving possession goals. A nation that pursues a milieu goal—such as the promotion of peace through the signing of international treaties—provides clear benefits for the international community but ultimately serves to enhance its own national security by creating a safer environment where its national possessions are protected from external threats. But for many states, whether their foreign policy objectives assume the form of possession goals or milieu goals, the pursuit and execution of these goals are often constrained by the powers of domestic politics. And in the case of American foreign policy, the Constitution of the United States as well as recent history provides compelling support to this claim. American foreign policy is made through a fragmented and fractured process. The United States Constitution states that the president shares power with Congress in the development of foreign policy. As the commander in chief, the president plays a significant role in shaping foreign policy. The president possesses the power to appoint senior cabinet members, commit troops and conduct high level talks with foreign governments. Congress, on the other hand, has the power to ratify treaties, confirm the president's appointees and approve budgetary measures. And while the president has the ability to commit troops, only Congress has the authority to declare war. Despite criticisms of the American policy making process describing it as inefficient and slow moving, the main purpose and thus benefit of the constitutional separation of power is the framework of checks and balances that safeguard against monopolization of foreign policy decision making. But despite the provisions outlined in the Constitution outlining the separation of power between the executive and legislative branch in the formulation of foreign policy, congressional influence over foreign policy decisions waned after World War II. During the Vietnam War, the Johnson and Nixon administrations became increasingly secretive and monopolized foreign policy decision authority. Ultimately, however, the growing imbalance of influence of the executive branch in foreign policy decisions led to the creation of the War Powers Act. The Act stipulated that the president was required to report to Congress within 48 hours after the beginning of hostilities. The president could...
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