The United States of America has a clearly defined constitution that states the roles, responsibilities, powers and privileges of each arm of government. Modelled in a liberal ideology, the constitution employs checks and balances to attain the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The executive is tasked with the day to day running and operations of the country. It includes the presidency and all the agencies or institutions under Federal control. The legislature is the representative organ of the government and comprises of elected officials from all over the country. Its role is to provide oversight to the executive on behalf of the citizenry. The judiciary on the other hand interprets the constitution and makes rulings on all manner of disputes as regards the law.
Of late there has been growing debate about the limits of the arms of government as regards the other with most common overlaps and disputes arising between the executive and the legislature. One of the controversial hot topics of discussion is about the control of military action and the powers of the president as regards the operations of the armed forces. Key controversial issues include: whether the President should unilaterally declare war without the consent of congress, whether it is legal to spy using drones, satellites or electronic surveillance and whether the state can conduct arbitrary search and seizure.
Since 1789, the president of the United States has been the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces hence giving them the power to wage war. The president can order American troops to fight when the country is attacked or there is imminent danger of impending attack. Such prerogative gives the president power to assess the threat levels on the country and make the necessary steps to secure the country. Congress on the other hand as the peoples legislative representatives, have a role in this as they are organ that declares war. A declaration of war is an official statement that comes with its own rules and requirements. Hence one has to learn that the president can order troops to engage in combat situations but cannot declare war until congressional approval is sought.
The implication of this is that the president has to get the approval of congress before going into any war and a unilateral decision on their part would be illegal and unconstitutional. Recently President Obamas decision to seek congressional approval to launch a war on Syria has raised questions as to whether future presidents will require legislative accent before the commencement of war. The truth of the matter is that the separation of powers gives the people the ability to make and end war through their elected officials-Congress.
However, the constitution is framed such that after this declaration is made, the power to wage and command the war is placed in a single central command structure under the president. There is therefore no overlap of functions as concerns this matter since both parties have very different clear cut roles to play in the unfortunate incidence of war.
An executive decision to bypass this process is clearly undermining the balance of power between the arms of government. A unilateral decision by the executive to wage war would therefore be in direct violation of the constitution. During previous NATO led military operations in Libya, the consent of Congress was not sought because the military exercise officially was not a war but limited military operation (Council on Foreign Relations, 2011).
Veto power is vested on the president of the United States allowing them to refuse to sign bills passed by the Houses of Congress and return the bills to congress for deliberations. The reasons for refusal should be accompanied by written reason as to why it cannot be passed as it is. Whilst this gives the president a say in the legislation process, the presidential powers and limits are capped by a two thirds majority decision in both houses of Congress. At this point the president is powerless and cannot override that which is regarded as the will of the people. This veto power is therefore limited in nature and the executive cannot abuse it or manipulate the constitution hence strengthening democratic governance and practice (Spitzer, 1988).
In recent times the use of advanced technology has made it possible for the U.S government to monitor individuals with the alleged reason of protecting national security interests. Recent revelations of large scale mass monitoring have been linked to the United States after exposure by former agents of its security services such as Glenn Greenwald and Erick Snowden. Greenwalds revelation is a crystal clear indication of this massive operation with between 15000-20000 documents (Sanchez, 2013). Sharp criticism has been directed at the executive because it interferes with an individuals privacy as protected and enshrined in the constitution and hence this surveillance is illegal (Nakashima & Marimow, 2013).The fact that the government can be able to view all details about an individual is a gross violation of that persons rights and should not be encouraged. However, in a case whereby the nation or another individuals life and freedoms are at stake the government must take this necessary step. Use of drones, satellites and electronic surveillance devices must be accompanied by strict guidelines about the control of these systems. Each agency tasked with surveillance should practice complete accordance with these procedures. If possible, the authority of an institution that is neutral in the matter should be sought. In most instances the authority of a judge is necessary for approval before the state monitors or intrudes into the private life of any individual (Ackerman & Roberts, 2013).
The American Constitution Treaty Clause under article II section 2 gives the president power to negotiate on behalf the government and make agreements. The executive agreements become treaties after an immense majority of the United States Senate ratifies the agreements. The president is however limited to making treaties that relate to foreign policy, military action and strategy or from a prior congressional act. Presidential termination of existing treaties is essentially controversial as was demonstrated when President Jimmy Carter decided to terminate a defense treaty. Six Supreme Court judges ruled that the case could not be heard as it was a political matter (Goldwater v.Carter, 1979). Since then it is unclear whether the president can terminate a treaty without the support of Congress. A loophole of this nature be easily exploited by the President leading to abuse of the constitutional balance between the executive and the legislature.
One can objectively conclude that there exists a fine balance of power between the executive and the legislature in the United States. However, the Presidency sometimes oversteps its mandate and blatantly ignores Congress in its operations especially on defense and protection of the nation. It is in such regard that Congress has to step up and protect the citizens and their best interests. Bold action by Congress will strengthen the separation of powers enshrined in the American Constitution by the founders of the nation and in effect make the United States of America the bastion of democracy it was intended to be.
Ackerman, S., & Roberts, D. (2013, December 16). NSA phone surveillance program likely unconstitutional,federal judge rules . The Guardian.
Council on Foreign Relations. (2011, June 20). Balance of War Powers: The U.S President and Congress.
Goldwater v.Carter, 444 U.S 996 (The Supreme Court 1979).
Nakashima, E., & Marimow, A. E. (2013, December 16). Judge: NSA 's collecting of phone records is probably unconstitutional . The Washington Post.
Sanchez, D. (2013, August 10). Greenwald Testifies To Brazilian Senate about NSA Espionage Targeting Brazil and Latin America.
Spitzer, R. J. (1988). The Presidential Veto Touchstone of The American Presidency. SUNY Press.
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