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Imbalance of Powers

Constitutional Interpretation and the Making of American Foreign Policy

Gordon Silverstein

Publication Date - September 1996

ISBN: 9780195104776

288 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


The Vietnam War and the Watergate aftermath made it apparent that the increase in executive power which followed World War II needed to be redressed. Congress tried to balance the separation of powers by passing a number of laws that were designed to assert legislative authority in foreign policy. However, the efforts by Congress to achieve its stated objectives consistently failed. Using the struggle over power and control of American foreign policy, Silverstein details the interaction of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and traces the altering of the constitutional touchstone of separation of powers. The book argues that although it is unrealistic to expect members of Congress or the Supreme Court Justices to change their behavior, either toward the executive branch or toward one other, it is in the President's best political interest to encourage a legislative role in foreign policy decisions. Demonstrating the importance of studying both the legal and political process, and the ways in which they influence each other, Silverstein contends that an understanding of American foreign policy requires an awareness of the way in which constitutional interpretation shapes and constrains foreign policy decisions. This volume will be of interest to all students of American foreign policy, constitutional analysis, and American government, as well as to politicians and informed readers with an interest in contemporary politics and constitutional debate.

About the Author(s)

Gordon Silverstein is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.


"Represents a major contribution to scholarship on all three branches of government....This will be standard fare for those interested in how the government of the United States makes -- and should make -- foreign policy." --Lock K. Johnson, University of Georgia

"Imbalance of Powers addresses an important topic -- the balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government -- and makes a substantial contribution to the literature." --James M. Lindsay, University of Iowa

"Gordon Silverstein tackles head-on a constitutional crisis that steadily grows worse: the concentration of foreign affairs and the war power in the Executive. As he demonstrates so well, this shift of power is a threat not only to the framers' intent, Congress, constitutional limits, and public control, but to the Presidency itself. A powerful and constructive wake-up call." --Louis Fisher, Congressional Research Service

"In nine well-documented chapters...the author traces the evolution of the constitutional interpretation of US foreign policy from the traditional interpretation to the appearance of the executive prerogative....Highly recommended for college, university, and law libraries, upper-division undergraduate through faculty. -- Choice

Table of Contents

    1. Constitutional Interpretation and Foreign Policy
    2. A New Interpretation Evolves: Executive Prerogative in Foreign Policy
    3. Why Statues Don't Work: Congress Strikes Back, and Makes it Worse
    4. Political Solutions to a Political Problem: Incentives to Rebalance Power.

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