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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   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - GM1E92S1U0N01
Report

Congressional Study Group on Foreign Relations and National Security

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 csgfrns+subscribe@groups.io from your work account, so that we can verify your eligibility. The groups.io 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 sanderson@brookings.edu.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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