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Thought Leadership

Foreign Policy

Who makes Foreign Policy?

There are three bodies that make foreign policies in America. They are:

  •   The President
  •   The Bureaucracy
  •   Congress

The President

The terrorist attacks in 2001 greatly emphasized the Presidents role in policy making. The Congress’ first action was an approval that authorized the President to use all necessary and appropriate force. In addition, a 40 billion dollar bill was approved for the reconstruction of home defense. These two actions emphasized that the President is indeed the head of state and the epicenter of foreign policy. Although many foreign policy decisions can be taken without the President’s consent, they must be implemented in the name of the President.

The Bureaucracy

The secretaries of the department of state and defense are the major decision makers of foreign policy. In addition to them are the Treasury, the Joint Chief of Staff and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The secretary of commerce too has become an important person in making foreign policy decisions. A new office was added post 9/11. It was called the Office of Homeland Defense. The purpose of the agency is to integrate all of the intelligence and actions of the 46 agencies such as the FBI and CIA and the National Security Administration. Therefore, it is probable that the office will develop a rather substantial bureaucracy itself.

In addition to top cabinet-level officials, key lower-level staff members have strong influence in the policy making decisions. These include two or three specialized national security advisors in the White house. Their influence is sometimes more stronger than that of the cabinet secretary. The staff of the NSC (headed by the national security advisor) and a few other career bureaucrats in the department of State and Defense has a powerful influence as well.


When it comes to foreign policy, the Congress is subdivided into three parts. For most of American history, the Senate has played the most prominent role in the foreign policy decisions process. However, since World War 2 and America’s increased involvement in international security and foreign aid, the Congress as a whole has become a major foreign policy-maker. Most modern foreign policies require financial aid which in turn requires the approval of both houses. Therefore, the Congress’ role in the foreign policy making process has become more prominent. The Congress has also become increasingly involved in the foreign policy making process because of the increasing use of the Executive Powers by the President.