Congressional Study Group on Foreign Relations and National Security

capitol building
A general view of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington February 28, 2013. Positions hardened on Wednesday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders over the budget crisis even as they arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent harsh automatic spending cuts beginning this week. Looking resigned to the $85 billion in "sequestration" cuts starting on Friday, government agencies began reducing costs and spelling out to employees how furloughs will work. REUTERS/Jason Reed

The Congressional Study Group on Foreign Relations and National Security is a program for congressional staff focused on critically engaging the legal and policy factors that define the role that Congress plays in various aspects of U.S. foreign relations and national security policy.

At monthly study group sessions, participating congressional staff have the opportunity to sit down with leading academics and practitioners to discuss a specific topic of interest relating to foreign relations and national security, ranging from war powers to treaty affairs to international trade. After some opening remarks from these outside experts, the majority of each session is used for comments and questions from—as well as open discussion among—the congressional staff in attendance, which takes place under the Chatham House Rule in order to promote frank conversation. The objective is to facilitate the exchange of ideas between outside experts studying these issues and the congressional staff actually working on them, both to improve policy outcomes and to promote scholarship that is more responsive to congressional needs. Information on several of our prior sessions is available below.

All congressional staff are eligible to participate in the study group, including those working for legislative agencies such as the Congressional Research Service. If you are interested in signing up for the study group’s mailing list, please email [email protected] from your work account, so that we can verify your eligibility. The platform will then allow you to manage how you receive emails, access the program’s calendar, and take advantage of other resources available to participants.

The study group is organized by Scott R. Anderson of the Brookings Institution, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Questions or concerns? You can contact Anderson at [email protected].


Chapter 1

Presidential War Powers

A missile being fired out to sea from a mobile launch vehicle reportedly on the southern coast of Iran along the Gulf of Oman during a military exercise. Iran test-fired a "new generation" of cruise missiles on June 18, the navy said, in the first such military exercises since 19 sailors were killed last month in a friendly fire incident. The armed forces' website published pictures of the exercises in the Gulf of Oman showing missiles being fired from a warship and the back of a truck, and a vessel exploding out at sea. A statement said both short- and long-range missiles were test-fired, some reportedly hitting targets at a distance 280 kilometres (174 miles) away. Gulf of Oman, Iran, June 18, 2020. Photo by SalamPix/ABACAPRESS.COM

On Feb. 28, 2020, the study group convened in person in the U.S. Capitol building to discuss the president’s war powers under Article II of the Constitution. As underscored by the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, the executive branch maintains that the president has broad authority to use military force overseas without congressional authorization. But what is the actual scope of this authority? And what can Congress do if it is used irresponsibly?

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Chapter 2

The Use (and Abuse) of Executive Agreements

Executive Orders regarding trade lay on the Resolute desk in the Oval Office of the White House March 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. .Photo by Olivier Douliery/ Abaca

On April 3, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the executive branch’s use of executive agreements and Congress’s oversight thereof. While the Constitution only identifies one means of entering into international agreement, the United States now uses several—including executive agreements, which presidents often pursue with little to no direct congressional input. But how much does Congress really know about how these executive agreements are used?

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Chapter 3

Nuclear Command and Control

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (not pictured) guides the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated combination photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.

On May 7, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the question of the command and control of U.S. nuclear weapons. At present, the president has the unilateral authority to choose to use nuclear weapons, and many assume that this is a result of his Article II powers under the Constitution. But is this assumption correct? Are there ways Congress can limit when and how the president uses nuclear weapons?

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Chapter 4

Economic Sanctions in the Age of Maximum Pressure

U.S.  President Donald Trump signs an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence look on in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

On June 26, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the use of economic sanctions. Few tools have seen such wide and aggressive use, especially as part of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign on Iran. But should Congress be concerned about the risk of the executive branch using sanctions broadly enough to undermine U.S. global economic power? Or in a way that risks undermining Americans’ civil liberties at home and humanitarian policies overseas?

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Chapter 5

The Insurrection Act and Putting Troops on American Streets

FILE PHOTO: DC National Guard military police officers look on as demonstrators rally near the White House against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

On July 31, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the president’s authority to deploy the military domestically, including through the Insurrection Act. In the weeks prior to the session, President Donald Trump had deployed both the military, National Guard units, and federal law enforcement personnel in response to popular protest around the country, often over objections by state and local officials. But what was the legal basis for the president’s actions? And what might Congress be able to do if it believes that the president’s actions are inappropriate?

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Chapter 6

Trade and National Security Exceptionalism

FILE PHOTO: Container boxes are seen at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, in Shanghai, China September 24, 2016. Picture taken September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo/File Photo

On Aug. 28, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the increasingly complex relationship between U.S. trade policies and national security. In recent years, the Trump administration has used national security-related authorities to impose tariffs and impose other trade restrictions on allies, often as a means of securing leverage for new trade terms or advancing other policy objectives. Several of these efforts have proven controversial among both parties in Congress, with some arguing that they are improper uses of the authorities in question. But are there real limits on how the president can use these authorities? And what can Congress do if it feels they are being used inappropriately?

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Chapter 7

Congress and Control of the Military

U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division soldiers listen as President Donald Trump speaks before signing the National Defense Authorization Act at Fort Drum, New York, U.S., August 13, 2018.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC12B4CBE340

On Sept. 11, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the issue of to what extent Congress is able to exercise control over the military. In recent years, Congress has enacted statutes that seek to set limits on when the president may remove deployments of U.S. soldiers, including from long standing posts in Germany and South Korea. Are such laws valid exercises of Congress’s own constitutional authority over the funding of and establishment of rules for the military? Or do they infringe on the president’s own constitutional authority as commander in chief?

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Chapter 8

Transparency and War Powers

The White House, Washington DC (Shutterstock)

On Sept. 25, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the issue of transparency as it relates to war powers. As the executive branch’s legal views play a dominant role in determining when and how the president believes he may use military force, Congress has made a number of efforts over the past several decades to encourage the executive branch to disclose the legal basis for its uses of military force—at least to Congress, if not to the public. But how effective are the existing reporting obligations? And what can Congress do if the executive branch refuses to comply?

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Chapter 9

Sovereign Immunity: Past, Present, and Future

National flags fly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on April 6, 2021. (Kyodo)==KyodoNO USE JAPAN

On Nov. 20, 2020, the study group convened online to discuss the past, present, and future of sovereign immunity. Recent debates in Congress over the possibility of holding China civilly liable over the coronavirus, allowing people to sue state sponsors of cybercrime, and potential civil liability for acts of terrorism have all implicated core questions of sovereign immunity, meaning the set of key international legal protections that the United States largely, but not entirely, implements through the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”). But what might adjusting these immunities in these circumstances mean for U.S. foreign policy more broadly?

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Chapter 10

Congress and the Convergence of Economics and National Security

A sheet of uncut U.S. 100-dollar bills.

On Dec. 18, 2020, the study group met to discuss the growing convergence of economic and national security policy. Once thought of as separate domains, legal authorities associated with economic policy have often been used to advance national security objectives in recent years–and sometimes vice versa. Should the two areas of law and policy be treated separately? Or as a cohesive whole?

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Chapter 11

The Export and Proliferation of Nuclear Technology

Three large smokestacks at a nuclear power plant stand against a cloudy sky.

On Feb. 5, 2021, the study group met to discuss the export and proliferation of civilian nuclear technology. Over the course of the Biden administration’s first term, the United States will have to decide not only whether to re-enter a nuclear agreement with Iran, but also whether to renew or amend U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with Egypt (2021), Morocco (2021), South Korea (2021) and Turkey (2023), enter into an agreement with Saudi Arabia, and resume or expand nuclear cooperation with Russia and China. But what input does Congress have into these decisions? And how could it choose to structure legal authorities differently if it wanted to expand that role?

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Chapter 12

Legal Regimes Governing Cyberactivity and Cyberwarfare

A FireEye information analyst works in front of a screen showing a near real-time map tracking cyber threats at the FireEye office in Milpitas, California, December 29, 2014. FireEye is the security firm hired by Sony to investigate last month's cyberattack against Sony Pictures. Picture taken December 29.     REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY CRIME LAW)

On April 2, 2021, the study group convened over Zoom to discuss international and domestic legal regimes governing cyberactivity and cyberwarfare. With the recent SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange hacks, questions of cybersecurity are on the front pages and foremost in many policymakers’ minds. This session focused on the regulatory regime governing how the United States can engage in cyber activity, both offensive and defensive—with a focus on emerging U.S. strategies, including “Defend Forward”—and the unique questions this activity presents to Congress in its oversight and legislative roles.

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Chapter 13

Reforming the Authorizations for Use of Military Force

U.S. soldiers from D Troop of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walk on a hill after finishing with a training exercise near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan December 30, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1EACU19K101

On May 21, 2021, the study group convened over Zoom to discuss reforming the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs). Recent discussions of AUMF reform have been critical of the President’s use of both the 2001 AUMF, enacted after the 9/11, attacks and the 2002 AUMF, enacted prior to the invasion of Iraq, as the legal foundation for most overseas U.S. military operations over the past two decades. Critics consider these AUMFs outdated and used in ways that Congress never intended, resulting in legal basis for wars counter to democratic will. The session focused on the possibilities and justifications for reform, as well as the legal and policy concerns that policymakers should consider when crafting such reforms.

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Chapter 14

Congress’s Control Over Treaties

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands after making joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. Damir Sagolj: "It's one of those "how to make a better or at least different shot when two presidents shake hands several times a day, several days in row". If I'm not mistaken in calculation, presidents Xi Jinping of China and Donald Trump of the U.S. shook their hands at least six times in events I covered during Trump's recent visit to China. I would imagine there were some more handshakes I haven't seen but other photographers did. And they all look similar - two big men, smiling and heartily greeting each other until everyone gets their shot. But then there is always something that can make it special - in this case the background made of U.S. and Chinese flags. They shook hands twice in front of it, and the first time it didn't work for me. The second time I positioned myself lower and centrally, and used the longest lens I have to capture only hands reaching for a handshake." REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo  SEARCH "POY TRUMP" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2017 PACKAGES.    TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC1B1E5EF340

On July 1, 2021, the study group convened over Zoom to discuss separation of powers issues surrounding treaty withdrawal and reentry. The Trump administration’s withdrawals from the INF Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, and the WHO Constitution, among other international agreements, and threats to withdraw from NAFTA and NATO focused attention on unilateral presidential treaty withdrawal. President Trump’s actions raised questions about whether the president can withdraw from a treaty without congressional authorization or when Congress specifically bars withdrawal via statute. The Biden administration’s vocal opposition to such withdrawals has also raised questions about the president’s power to re-enter treaties on a similar unilateral basis.

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Chapter 15

Recognition and the Taliban

Taliban fighters stand guard on their side at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. In the current situation of Afghanistan, pedestrian movement has been limited in Torkham border, only stranded people on both sides and trucks taking goods to Afghanistan can pass through this border point. (Photo by Hussain Ali/Pacific Press/Sipa USA)No Use Germany.

On August 27, 2021, the study group convened to discuss the international law of government recognition and its implications for the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. The suddenness of Taliban military conquest in the country and President Ghani’s decision to flee created an immediate question of whether the U.S. should recognize the new Taliban government.

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Chapter 16

Law and Possible Conflict Over Taiwan

Chinese and Taiwanese flags are seen in this illustration, August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

On October 29, 2021, the study group convened to discuss legal and policy issues surrounding a possible military conflict between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over Taiwan. In recent months, China has ramped up its bellicose rhetoric and military activity in the Taiwan straits, leading Taiwanese, PRC, and American officials to increasingly discuss the possibility of a PRC invasion of Taiwan. This has in turn raised questions over the legal authorities and obligations of the U.S. government in relation to Taiwan, including questions of recognition, arms sales, security commitments, and war powers.

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Chapter 17

Arms Sales Policies, Human Rights, and Reform

Afghan collaborators, their families, Spanish soldiers and members of the embassy board a Spanish military plane as part of their evacuation, at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021. Ministry of Defense of Spain/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

On November 21, 2021, the study group convened to discuss U.S. arms sales policies and their intersection with human rights and related concerns. Few areas of U.S. foreign policy have proven more contentious in recent years than U.S. arms sales to foreign governments. Recent arms sales to countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have proved particularly controversial, leading to clashes both between Congress and the Executive Branch and within Congress itself over the shape of U.S. policy in these regards. This session delved into these issues and examined possibilities for reform.

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Chapter 18

Civilian Casualties, Accountability, and Prevention

A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stands with a civilian on the rubble of the Carlton Hotel, in the government controlled area of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki - RC181701B570

On January 14, 2022, the study group convened to discuss the issue of accountability for—and prevention of—civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations. In the months prior to the study group session, there had been a number of disturbing media reports relating to such civilian casualties, including a report that one elite unit may have knowingly or deliberately targeted civilians during operations in Syria. This session examined the scope of this problem and legal strategies that Congress and others might pursue to address it.

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Chapter 19

Afghan Central Bank Assets, Biden's Executive Order, and Victims of Terrorism Litigation

Afghanis banknotes at the headquarters of the Da Afghanistan Bank, the central bank of Afghanistan, in Kabul. U.S President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday Feb 12, 2022 releasing $7bn in frozen Afghan reserves to be split between humanitarian efforts for the Afghan people and American victims of terrorism, including relatives of 9/11. (Da Afghanistan Bank/EYEPRESS)

On February 25, 2022, the study group convened to discuss the controversial new policy that the Biden administration had recently rolled relating to the handling of Afghanistan’s central bank assets and efforts to attach them in order to enforce judgments against the Taliban for the 9/11 attacks. The policy in question implicated several complex areas of law and policy, which led to a great deal of confusion about what exactly it does. It’s also of immense import, given the current economic and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.

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Chapter 20

Sanctions on Russia Over Ukraine

A resident of Bahkmut walks past a destroyed building in the city center. (Photo by Madeleine Kelly / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)No Use Germany.

On March 18, 2022, the study group convened to discuss the broad array of sanctions that the United States and its allies have imposed on Russia (and Belarus) in response to their invasion of Ukraine. Together, the multilateral sanctions being imposed represent the most severe and comprehensive sanctions ever imposed on a major economic power. Yet imposing such unprecedented sanctions also brings with it real—and, in some cases, not entirely known—risks for both the United States and the broader global economy.

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Chapter 21

Supporting International Accountability for Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at a press conference in Lviv, western Ukraine, on Aug. 18, 2022, after holding talks with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Russia-Ukraine war. (Kyodo)==KyodoNO USE JAPAN

On April 29, 2022, the study group convened to discuss the broad array of sanctions that the United States and its allies have imposed on Russia (and Belarus) in response to their invasion of Ukraine. Together, the multilateral sanctions being imposed represent the most severe and comprehensive sanctions ever imposed on a major economic power. Yet imposing such unprecedented sanctions also brings with it real—and, in some cases, not entirely known—risks for both the United States and the broader global economy.

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Chapter 22

Proposals to Seize Russian Assets to Rebuild Ukraine

Buildings of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the State Unitary Enterprise of the National Police and the Kharkiv National University in the Kharkiv, second largest city of Ukraine is struck by a Russia army missile at about 08:10 on March 2, 2022. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine/EYEPRESS)

On June 9, 2022, the study group convened over Zoom to discuss the legal and policy debate taking place over whether the United States and its allies may be able to use Russian assets—in particular, Russian central bank assets—that are currently frozen pursuant to U.S. and multilateral sanctions in order to support and fund the reconstruction of Ukraine. Seizing foreign assets in this manner raises a number of serious legal and policy questions and may have consequences for the broader international system.

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Chapter 23

State Sponsor of Terrorism Designations

Image released by the Russia Ministry of Defense on Wednesday May 4, 2022 shows Russian soldiers conduct self-propelled artillery installations Malka in counter-battery combat against Ukraine. May 4 marks the 70th day of Russia invasion of Ukraine. The total amount of direct infrastructure damage has reached $92bn since the invasion in February at a cost of $4.5bn (£3.6bn) a week as bombs tear through thousands of buildings and public utilities, and miles of road, according to the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE). More than 33,000 sq metres of residential buildings have been hit by missiles, bombs and suffered other damage during the war, worth almost $30bn in total. More than 23,000km of road have been ripped up or pockmarked by shelling, and almost 90,000 cars, worth billions of dollars combined, have been damaged.

On August 19, 2022, the study group convened to discuss the debate over designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism (SST). While there have been increasing calls for designating Russia, doing so brings a number of risks with it, some of which could prove more harmful than helpful for Ukraine.

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Chapter 24

Emerging Issues in Export Controls

FILE photo of gasoline delivery of Russian energy company Rosneft in northernmost well of Russia. United States – seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine – said Washington and its European allies were considering banning Russian oil imports. ExxonMobil, Shell and BP sell out its stakes in Russian oil and gas operations as a result of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Russia controls a sixth of the world's gas and a tenth of its oil. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak warns that a Western ban on Russian oil imports could result in oil prices more than doubling to about $300 per barrel. (Rosneft handout via EYEPRESS)

On September 8, 2022, the study group convened to discuss emerging issues in U.S. export controls. In recent years, U.S. export controls have been used in a variety of new and interesting ways, particularly in relation to China, Russia, and the conflict in Ukraine. Many of these applications underscore the potential value of export controls as a foreign policy tool, but they also bring to the fore a number of challenging legal and policy questions.

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Chapter 25

The 2002 Iraq AUMF: Interpretation and Possible Repeal

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds up a vial that he described as one that could contain anthrax, during his presentation on [Iraq] to the U.N. Security Council, in New York February 5, 2003. [Powell tried to persuade a sceptical world that Iraq is concealing it's weapons of mass destruction and that force may be necessary to disarm it.]

On October 28, 2022, the study group convened to discuss the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force (“AUMF”). Originally enacted to authorize the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the 2002 AUMF has remained on the books for more than two decades and been cited—but not exclusively relied on—in relation to several military actions since. This session explored the interpretation and application of the 2002 AUMF and the potential impact of current proposals for its repeal.

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Chapter 26

Recent Changes to Sanctions Policies and Humanitarian Assistance

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 110th Colonel-General Marko Bezruchko Separate Mechanized Brigade prepares to fire an RM-70 Vampire multiple launch rocket system toward Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, at a position near a front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 30, 2024.
On February 16, 2023, the study group convened over Zoom to discuss recent significant changes in U.S. and international sanctions policies, specifically the creation of exceptions across United Nations and U.S. sanctions programs for humanitarian assistance.
Chapter 27

Outbound Investment Restrictions

On April 6, 2023, the study group convened over Zoom to discuss proposals to adopt outbound investment restrictions–often called “reverse CFIUS” because of its similarities to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”) process for inbound foreign investment.
Chapter 28

Jawboning, Disinformation, and Freedom of Speech

Social media icons logo displayed on a smartphone with disinformation on screen seen in the background, in this photo illustration.

On August 11, 2023, the study group convened to discuss the legal and policy implications of “jawboning,” a term used to describe governmental engagements with social media platforms and other media outlets that are aimed at curbing perceived disinformation, but that critics argue cross the line in terms of leveling threats of coercion that interfere with freedom of speech.

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Chapter 29

Use and Abuse of Non-Binding International Agreements

A general view of the U.S. Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C., on Friday, November 4, 2022. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)No Use Germany.
On October 6, 2023, the study group convened over Zoom to discuss the use and abuse of non-binding international agreements, which recent presidential administrations have increasingly turned to in lieu of treaties and other types of formal international agreements.
Chapter 30

Sunsets and Expedited Procedures in Authorizations for Use of Military Force (“AUMFs”)

U.S. troops from 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division check military equipment after their deployment to Poland for military exercises in Drawsko Pomorskie training area, Poland March 21, 2019.  REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

On October 19, 2023, the study group convened to discuss technical issues relating to the possible use of sunsets and expedited procedures in Authorizations for Use of Military Force (“AUMFs”), both present and future.

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Chapter 31

The War Powers Resolution at 50

US congress

On November 16, 2023 the Congressional Study Group on Foreign Relations and National Security convened over Zoom to discuss the War Powers Resolution and its legacy following the fiftieth anniversary of its enactment on November 7.

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Chapter 32

Regulating the Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the Battlefield

President Joe Biden is reflected in a screen on stage while he speaks during an event on Artificial Intelligence in the East Room at the White House on October 30, 2023, in Washington, DC.
On December 12, 2023, the study group convened to discuss legal and policy issues relating to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in armed conflicts.

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