Friday, June 03, 2005

The Pentagon's Report on China: Congressional Oversight of Foreign Policy in Action

The WSJ($) reports today on a draft Pentagon report on China's military power that suggests the Pentagon is re-focusing its energy on China as a possible military rival to the U.S. The report supposedly has been the subject of inter-agency struggles between the Pentagon, which wants to discuss possible global conflict scenarios, and the State Department, which doesn't want to offend or annoy China.

There is a lot going on in this report, which is required annually by Congress, as part of its condition for defense appropriations. As the article notes, the Navy and Air Force have a vested interest in building up China as a threat, given they have very little to do in Iraq these days. The State Department, which is trying to get China to control North Korea, is not happy. I imagine the Treasury Dept, U.S. Trade Rep., and Commerce Dept's, aren't thrilled with China-as-military-enemy scenario either.

But putting aside the substance of this year's report, what is interesting from a broad legal perspective is that the report is required at all, and that it is required to be made public. You can find last year's report here. It should remind us that Congress is not quite the patsy on foreign policy that it is often assumed to be. By requiring this report every year, Congress forces all of the relevant agencies to have a discussion and debate at an inter-agency level, and then gets to review the product of those discussions in public as well. In other words, Congress gets to oversee, and influence at the early stages, the formation of the U.S. government's long-term foreign policy strategy.

The President may be, according to the Supreme Court, the "sole organ" of U.S. foreign policy. But that "organ" gets pushed around -- a lot -- by a Congress when it wields the power of the purse. And this democratic, relatively transparent approach to developing foreign policy, despite its messiness, is almost certainly a good thing.


Anonymous Jeff V. said...

I actually wrote my senior thesis on this issue. I argued that Congress was the driving factor behind arms sales to Taiwan between 1989 and 2001. I think Congress' role in setting China policy is often neglected.

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