WHAT is the role of a Senator in the formulation of United States foreign policy? The answer to this question depends upon the character of the times, the issues at hand, and the Senator himself. This essay is concerned with the continuing international crisis of our times, a period for which the term "total diplomacy" was appropriately invented. The issues at stake in the present crisis are almost beyond human calculation. Will a tension-ridden coexistence be catastrophically resolved in a nuclear war? Will Western culture and values be swept under by the rising tide of Communist imperialism?

The United States Senate today is a heterogeneous body reflecting the richness and diversity of the American people. It takes all types--conservatives, liberals, dreamers and practical men--to make a functioning Senate. There is no simple formula for taking its pulse or resolving its will. Its decisions emerge from a continuous process of criticism and analysis on the one hand and the necessity for action on the other. A great nation, like a man of action, cannot tarry for perfect answers. It always has to settle for the best it can get under less than optimum circumstances.

The Founding Fathers regarded the Senate as a council of elders which would deal largely with domestic political concerns. Its unique value, said Madison, is that it proceeds "with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom than the popular branch." Federalist Paper No. 64 said "the Constitution provides that our negotiations for treaties shall have every advantage which can be derived from talents, information, integrity, and deliberate investigations, on the one hand, and from secrecy and despatch on the other." Integrity and deliberation were virtues associated with the Senate while dispatch and secrecy were the qualities of the Executive Branch.

Foreign policy was an occasional and tangential function of the Senate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today the mind and will of the Senate are never free from the burdens of the United States in the vast realm beyond the borders of its legal jurisdiction. The old distinction between domestic policies and foreign policies has given way to a new concept of national policies, each of which bears upon the course of events at home and abroad. The understanding of our national character and purposes abroad is deeply affected by laws dealing with immigration, civil rights, tariffs, subsidies and other "domestic" matters. Our capacity to lend substance to our stated goals is determined to no little extent by tax and budget laws.


The interpenetration of the domestic and foreign realms in national policies today is only a reflection of the increasing degree and variety of interpenetration between all nations. Four or five centuries ago the peacetime contact between Western states was largely political in character. Mutual interests were affirmed and conflicting interests adjusted through classical diplomacy or, in the final resort, by war. The aims and policies of states were interpreted to one another by official emissaries. The commercial revolution of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries provided an additional channel for nations to know one another through the face-to-face contacts of international trade.

Our Founding Fathers saw distant England and France almost exclusively through the eyes of diplomats and traders. In the nineteenth century a new pair of eyes was added, those of the missionary, upon whom we were largely dependent for our picture of the exotic lands of Asia and Africa.

The technological revolution of the twentieth century vastly increased the speed, volume and scope of the manner in which nations impinge on and interpenetrate each other. Today nations know one another not only through diplomats, traders and missionaries, but also through soldiers, correspondents, tourists, students, community leaders, intellectuals, artists and members of Congress. Among the Americans officially representing their Government abroad are agricultural experts, labor attachés, journalists and a great variety of other specialists. Direct contacts are supplemented by official and unofficial films, books, periodicals and short-wave broadcasts.

This is a far cry from the time when sovereigns, personally vested with full authority, commissioned ambassadors plenipotentiary to transact their business with other states. The autonomy of the classic diplomatic function has been broken down by the rapid communication and transportation provided by the technological revolution. The old diplomacy, indeed, is as obsolete today as the divine right of kings. And I have few regrets, although I do admit that we in the United States might well give more attention to the central virtue of the old diplomacy--the ability to conduct confidential negotiations confidentially.

The term total diplomacy refers to the new breadth of the diplomatic encounter, which reflects the diversity of interest of entire peoples, as well as to the inclusive nature of the struggle between the Communist world and the free world. In an era of total diplomacy there must be at least some understanding between the various cultures involved if international intercourse is to be fruitful. Cultural interpenetration will not by itself dispel the major political conflicts which divide nations, but it can help to clear the atmosphere of some basic misapprehensions and lower the level of hostility. It can help us define more accurately where our interests are mutual and where they are in conflict. Functional coöperation between American students, educators, scientists, doctors, civic leaders and legislators and their counterparts behind the iron and bamboo curtains can therefore have great political significance.

In a world of total diplomacy where every important political decision at home has an impact abroad and where the picture of our national will and purpose is transmitted to other peoples in a thousand ways, negotiation itself is broader than anything imagined under the classic rules and inescapably becomes involved in the interaction of national egos and purposes rooted deeply in national character and behavior.


The advent of total diplomacy and the new position of the United States in the world have increased the Senate's role in the formation of foreign policy far beyond what had been envisioned by the framers of the Constitution, who regarded participation in treaty-making and consideration of Presidential appointments as its two chief functions. Although still crucial, these two responsibilities today constitute quantitatively only a small part of the Senate's foreign policy responsibilities.

The great increase in the Senate's work in the field of foreign policy is absolute rather than relative to that of the Executive Branch. If the Senate's responsibilities have increased ten-fold, the international responsibilities of the Executive Branch have increased a hundred-fold. The President's power inevitably increases in times of crisis, and we are living in a period of continuing crisis. Furthermore, history has thrust the United States into the forefront of a mighty struggle against a formidable adversary. A century ago it was said, "When Paris has a cold, Europe sneezes." Today Barbara Ward is not far wrong when she says, "America's foreign policy is everybody's destiny."

The power vested in the President to enter into legal contracts with other sovereign governments "with the advice and consent of the Senate" is one of the far-reaching prerogatives of his office. A treaty with another country takes precedence over domestic law if there is a conflict between the two. Under our system of checks and balances, the President shares this treaty-making power with the Senate. Sometimes the Senate has been called the "graveyard of treaties" because of its failure to give its consent to the Executive will or because it compromised the Executive will with restrictions and reservations. Since the Senate's rejection of the League of Nations, and especially since Pearl Harbor, our Presidents have attempted to keep Senate leaders fully informed on negotiations with other nations. In laying the groundwork for the United Nations, the Marshall Plan and NATO, the Executive Branch went beyond informing the Congress, and actually involved the leaders in both Houses and in both parties in extended consultations. These three historic developments gained the overwhelming acceptance of the American people in part because of the close partnership between the Executive and Legislative branches.

The power of the Senate to reject a Presidential appointment for ambassador has never been invoked, although on several occasions Senate opposition was sufficient to induce the President to withdraw his nominee. A growing awareness of the vital importance of our representation abroad, coupled recently with some unfortunate patronage appointments, has produced in the Senate a new interest in scrutinizing Presidential nominees. Many Senators were shocked when a candidate for a Latin American ambassadorial post gave as his chief qualification the fact that he spent his winters in Florida, and there was an outcry when another Presidential nominee could not name the Prime Minister of the country to which he had been assigned. Later it was learned that he did not even know what NATO was. Appointments of unqualified amateurs, which have been made by both Republican and Democratic Presidents as a reward for party contributions, reflect not only upon the President and his party, but also upon the Senate for its failure to establish and enforce minimum qualifications for confirmation.

An Embassy is fundamentally an executive office which coördinates the political, economic and military policies of the U. S. Government. We need ambassadors who combine administrative gifts with the capacity to understand the social and political forces of the area to which they are assigned. No member of the Foreign Relations Committee believes that a patronage appointment is automatically bad, or that the appointment of a career officer is always to be preferred. A list of our most effective ambassadors in recent years would include men from both categories. On balance, however, the trend toward more career appointments to top posts is to be commended. In 1924, career men headed only about one-third of the U. S. missions abroad; the ratio was 18 to 33. On April 1 of this year career appointees held almost 70 percent of the ambassadorships; the ratio was 51 to 23. But statistics do not tell the whole story. Of the 15 choice diplomatic posts in Western Europe, only six are now held by career officers--Athens, Lisbon, Luxembourg, Oslo, Stockholm and Vienna. One reason is that only men of independent means can afford to occupy posts where entertainment requirements exceed government appropriations for that purpose. In 1957 several of my colleagues and I urged Congress to double the $600,000 appropriated for representation allowances at American posts abroad.

It is not democratic, and it does not make for good morale and efficient performance, to bar qualified foreign service officers from the top posts in their profession by requiring that they have the private means to underwrite the necessary expenses of properly representing the United States in one of the large capitals of the world. No qualified American should be barred from serving in a top post abroad because he is rich; no qualified professional should be barred because he is not.

Under exceptional circumstances it is possible for the Senate to go beyond its "advice and consent" function in dealing with Presidential appointees. The recent confirmation of Secretary of State Christian A. Herter is a case in point. Moved by President Eisenhower's failure to say anything good about his nominee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took extraordinary measures to shore up his prestige on the eve of his critical talks with our allies on the Berlin crisis. Breaking precedent, the Committee unanimously voted to suspend its own six-day rule and then unanimously referred the nomination favorably to the Senate. In presenting Mr. Herter's name, Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson said: "I want the world to know that this nation is united behind the Secretary of State whose nomination is about to be confirmed."


In the twentieth century a Senator represents not only his state but also the nation, and under certain circumstances he operates directly in the international arena. If he loses contact with the interests, fears and hopes of the people from whom he draws his power he forfeits his moral and political right to represent them. This does not mean that he should be like a weathercock following the shifting winds of public passion. As Edmund Burke put it, "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." A Senator must at times lead, inform and even educate his constituents.

Informed public discussion is made difficult when the atmosphere is clouded either by cynical or optimistic illusions. When a Senator accuses his opponents of "twenty years of treason" or refers to the Korean conflict as a "Truman war," he poisons the channels of useful debate. On the other hand, if a Senator exaggerates the potential benefits of summit diplomacy (or any other single instrument of foreign policy) he makes the very difficult task of negotiating with the Russians even more difficult. Some of us who recalled the psychological backwash in the wake of the oversold summit conference of 1955 warned our people against expecting too much from new summit talks, at the same time insisting upon the importance of continuous negotiations.

The role of the Senate in dealing directly with international problems is severely and properly limited by the Constitution, which vests in the Executive Branch exclusive power to conduct foreign relations. Even in its restricted role of giving advice and consent to the President, it is limited by lack of adequate information and an understandable disposition to overlook what Charles Burton Marshall has called "the limits of foreign policy."[i] Some members of Congress, says Mr. Marshall, accustomed to dealing with domestic problems by passing laws, tend to forget that the "vast external realm" beyond the limits of our national jurisdiction is not subject to the parliamentary will or Executive fiat. In the international field a national policy objective often is highly restricted or may be entirely frustrated by external forces over which even the powerful United States has little or no control. The effectiveness of our foreign policy is limited by the power, purposes and unpredictability of other nations, whether hostile, allied or uncommitted; by the weight of tradition and precedent; by the facts of international economic life; and by the vicissitudes of history generally.

One of the best ways for a Senator to comprehend both the limits and possibilities of foreign policy is to have direct contact with the leaders and peoples of other nations. Since the end of World War II approximately half the members of Congress have had this opportunity. Well planned trips abroad have given our legislators a more profound and sympathetic understanding of the "vast external realm," and have helped the officials and people of other nations to get a more accurate picture of our national character and aspirations.

My own understanding of Middle East problems, for example, was greatly enhanced during an intensive 40-day study mission to that area several years ago. I talked with prime ministers and foreign ministers, and exchanged views with intellectual, business and labor leaders. Also invaluable to me was my tour of duty as a delegate to the United Nations and my trip last year to Western Europe and the Soviet Union. I believe such face-to-face contacts lead to mutual understanding, which always includes, of course, a more precise awareness of the differences between the United States and the host country.

I benefited greatly by my visit with Premier Khrushchev, and I believe he gained a clearer understanding about the unity of the American people behind the essential elements of our foreign policy precisely because I was a politician and a member of the loyal opposition. A member of Congress is primarily a politician and not a diplomat; he sees things abroad through a different set of lenses and what he sees can make an important supplementary contribution to what an ambassador reports. Visits with foreign officials which do not confuse contact with contract do not presume upon the exclusive Presidential prerogative.


Since Hitler's march into Poland two decades ago, foreign policy has been the dominant concern within the Senate itself. The primacy of the Executive Branch in foreign affairs in no way lessens the moral and legal responsibility of the Congress to work for national policies which come to grips responsibly and realistically with urgent demands of the world crisis. In this connection the Senate's activities go far beyond scrutinizing treaties and Presidential appointments. Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson has correctly observed that in one "aspect of foreign affairs Congress is all-powerful. This is in the establishing and maintaining of those fundamental policies, with their supporting programs of action, which require legal authority, men and money. Without these foundations--solidly laid and kept in repair--even wise and skillful diplomacy cannot provide the power and develop the world environment indispensable to national independence and individual liberty for ourselves and others."[ii] Parliamentary bodies cannot govern, and our Congress is no exception. But with its power of the purse, and through the right to investigate, to criticize and to advocate, the Congress does exert a significant influence on the quality and direction of United States foreign policy, and it usually does so without violating the integrity of the Executive Branch.

The body of fact and insight developed by a committee hearing or study can be drawn upon for informed criticism or for advocating new policies. A case in point was the careful study of the economic aid program conducted by a special Senate Committee two years ago, which helped to lay the foundation for our present more effective approach to the development needs of the politically unaligned nations of Asia and Africa. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Disarmament, I have often used information developed in hearings to raise questions with Administration spokesmen. Some of my questions about the relative position of the United States and the U.S.S.R. in nuclear development and about the detection and identification of underground nuclear explosions proved to be of more than routine interest.

An individual Senator, apart from his committee work, can ask questions and advocate new ideas. The student exchange program is known by the name of its chief advocate, Senator Fulbright. Former Senator Bricker is known for his sustained but unsuccessful efforts to curb the treaty-making power of the President. In April of this year the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution which I introduced in support of our Government's efforts to negotiate an effective ban on nuclear weapons tests at the three-power Geneva talks then in progress.

Naturally Senators of the opposition party are more critical of the Administration than their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. This brings up the subject of "bipartisanship." Last April, Senator Fulbright insisted that "bipartisanship" is not a desirable objective in debate on foreign policy. He is right. What we need is genuine nonpartisan study and criticism, honest appraisal without reference to narrow partisan advantage. In recent years the slogan of "bipartisanship" has too often been invoked to muzzle criticism of Administration mistakes or to reduce the issue to the lowest common denominator to satisfy all but the extremists in both parties. The late Senator Arthur Vandenberg preferred the word nonpartisanship, which he defined as "a mutual effort . . . to unite our official voice at the water's edge so that America speaks with maximum authority. . . . It does not involve the remotest surrender of free debate . . . and the 'loyal opposition' is under special obligation to see that this occurs."

Senator Vandenberg's insistence on free debate is correct, but debate cannot be arbitrarily stopped at "the water's edge." When a national consensus has been reached on a vital issue, and when policies appropriate to this consensus have been initiated, it is right that we close ranks to support them. But changing circumstances produce new problems which require new consideration. Responsible debate must never cease, even in wartime, but it must be carried on with restraint and with the national interest the objective rather than partisan advantage.


If the "unique, deliberate--and, to me, agreeable--disarray of the American Government," to use William S. White's words, is to function properly, the foreign policy committees of Congress must have the resources to enable them to question, review, modify or reject the policies of the Executive Branch. The information, intelligence and insight available to the Executive Branch are vast and continue to expand. This is a natural development in an era of total diplomacy. But in contrast, says Myron M. Cowen in a recent letter to Senator Fulbright, there is "a concurrent scarcity of vigorous and continuing countervailing expertise" in Congress. Such independent expertise is absolutely necessary if the House and Senate are to fulfill their Constitutional responsibility of surveillance and initiative. Without competent independent sources of fact and wisdom they cannot make discriminating judgments between alternative programs and proposals. Faced with an impressive case by the Administration, and unarmed with counter facts and arguments, even a conscientious Senator sometimes vacillates between giving a grudging consent and opposing for the sake of opposing.

This imbalance constitutes a serious threat to the integrity of the Legislative Branch. The main answer is more adequate staffing, particularly for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Foreign Affairs Division of the Legislative Reference Service. At present there are eight foreign policy specialists on the Senate Committee staff, five on the House Committee staff, and 16 in the Legislative Reference Service--a total of only 29 experts directly in the service of Congress in the entire area of foreign relations. If one adds the professional staffs of the two Armed Services committees, the grand total is 35. Upon them falls much of the burden of examining the complex Defense, International Affairs and Mutual Security budgets totalling $48 billion a year. The size of this staff is out of all proportion to its enormous responsibility.

The Foreign Relations Committee needs a much larger and more specialized staff, loyal to the Legislative Branch, and equal in competence to the best talent in the State Department. My experience with the Disarmament Subcommittee convinces me that functional areas as well as geographic areas should be accorded subcommittee status, and that all subcommittees worth creating are worth an independent staff of experts. An adequate staff could perform many services now being performed poorly or not at all. It would have constant access to the facts and intelligence available from all branches of government, from organizations where independent research is carried on and from special Senate studies. Adequate staffing will alone enable Congress to escape from uniformed acquiescence on the one hand and irresponsible obstruction on the other.


The Founding Fathers bequeathed to us a government in which there is a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances. Some critics maintain that such a government is incapable of meeting the fast-moving demands of a technological age or of competing successfully with the dynamic, planned offensives of an expansionist totalitarian system. While I reject this view, I do acknowledge that "government as usual" is not good enough.

Our problem today does not seem to me to be primarily structural or bureaucratic so much as the lack of leadership at the top. Even a loose-fitting and overlapping governmental structure can be made to work if there is a sense of urgency and direction; and this only dynamic leadership can provide.

Even under present conditions there are some things in the area of structural manipulation which would enable us to deal more effectively than we do now with the challenges of the continuing crisis. The Executive Branch and the Congress are fragmented. There are a score of Executive agencies dealing with foreign policy in addition to the State Department and the Department of Defense. One sometimes gets the impression that the Bureau of the Budget is the most important of them all. Theoretically, the President with the aid of the National Security Council is supposed to sort out the priorities and coördinate a great variety of policies in the light of an agreed, long-range strategy. Unfortunately this rarely happens, first because the agreed strategy does not exist, second because the National Security Council is so preoccupied with day-by-day crises that it seldom has time for long-range planning.

The problem raised by the extent of governmental fragmentation is deep and pervasive and there are no easy answers. But I believe that the time has come to consider seriously the creation in the Executive Branch of a permanent research and policy-analyzing agency charged with the responsibility of thinking about comprehensive national strategy, embracing in that term all essential factors of domestic and foreign policy. This agency would relate the total capacities of the American people--military, economic, technical, intellectual and moral--to their responsibilities of international leadership. Without elaborating my proposal here, I want to make it clear that I do not regard such an agency as a substitute for politics--as an alternative to the present responsibilities of the Executive and Legislative Branches. I am not proposing that an intellectual élite be called in to decide our fate for us, but merely that an agency along the lines described could help our Government to develop a better sense of perspective and to integrate and coördinate the many agencies and programs which now often operate at cross-purposes.

Perhaps the Congress could prompt the Executive to put its house in order by itself creating a Joint Committee on National Strategy, to include the chairmen and ranking minority members of the major committees of the House and the Senate. I have recently proposed such a Committee. Its purpose would be to look at our total national strategy--military, political, economic and ideological. This Committee, a counterpart in the Congress of what I have proposed for the Executive Branch, would not usurp the functions of any of the present Committees, but supplement them by endowing their work with a larger frame of reference. The Chairmen of the Committees represented would come away from the meetings of the new Joint Committee with a greater appreciation, for instance, of the relationship between fiscal policy and national productivity and how both factors relate to our defense posture and our negotiating position. Responsible statesmanship consists precisely in the capacity to see complex relationships in a perspective as broad as the national purpose itself.

No amount of structural manipulation can make up for a lack of leadership that is politically wise and morally responsible. But if the essential idea underlying these twin proposals were adopted, I believe it would make a modest contribution toward creating a more integrated national policy; and in the face of the Communist challenge, even a modest contribution toward better strategic planning is not to be brushed aside.

Congress was not created to govern, and it should not attempt to do so. Yet this is no time for Congress to submit meekly to the Executive will. In fact, it could not submit even if it were so inclined, because there is not one Executive will, but a number of conflicting wills which have not yet surrendered to the authority of an over-riding national purpose.

[i] "The Limits of Foreign Policy" (New York: Holt, 1954).

[ii]The New York Times Magazine, January 6, 1957.

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  • HUBERT H. HUMPHREY, United States Senator from Minnesota since 1948; member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
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