Considered Forthwith: Senate Foreign Relations Committee

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Welcome to the 25th installment of “Considered Forthwith.”

This weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies.

This week, I am looking at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Two thoughts before proceeding. First, I am happy to be out of the newspaper business because I can say what I really think without worrying about objectivity. Second, what I really think is that the committee’s website is in dire need of a redesign.  


Here is the full committee membership:

Democrats: John Kerry, Massachusetts, chair; Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut; Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin; Barbara Boxer, California; Robert Menendez, New Jersey; Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland; Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania; Jim Webb, Virginia; Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire; Edward E. Kaufman, Delaware; Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York


Richard G. Lugar, Indiana, ranking member; Bob Corker, Tennessee; Johnny Isakson, Georgia; James E. Risch, Idaho; Jim DeMint, South Carolina; John Barrasso, Wyoming; Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi; James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma

The Chairman

John Kerry is best known for his narrow loss in the 2004 presidential election.Perhaps that is for the best, though. Senator Kerry is now being credited with at least temporarily resolving the political crisis in Afghanistan. Kerry was in the country on an unrelated visit last week when President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got in touch. Kerry ended up convincing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to a run-off election on Nov. 7. The original election was marred by allegations of widespread fraud. His efforts drew praise from the administration, though Kerry is trying to downplay the praise.

The Times of London had this to say of Kerry’s recent work:

The patrician New Englander with the long face and helmet of grey hair has transformed himself over five days of shuttle diplomacy and, he says, “a thousand cups of tea” into Afghan election saviour, and the Administration’s pointman on President Karzai. He professes embarrassment when spoken of as a de facto Secretary of State, but when he speaks on Afghanistan at the Council on Foreign Relations today, Washington will listen as if he were – and with good reason.

Maybe Kerry was so successful because he some experience with shady election results.


Note: Use this direct link for the committee’s statement of jurisdiction. The site’s navigation is terrible and getting to the jursidiction page is difficult, if not impossible, without doing a Google search.

The committee has jurisdiction over pretty much every issue that affects relations between the United States and the rest of the world. This includes acquiring space for embassies, oversight of the World Bank and IMF (some jurisdiction shared with the Senate Banking Committee), non-trade treaties, and relations between the US and organizations like the UN and Red Cross. In addition, the committee is charged with holding confirmation hearings for foreign service appointments. Here is the committee’s statement of jurisdiction:

(Excerpted from Rules of the Committee)

Rule 1 – Jurisdiction

(a) Substantive. – In accordance with Senate Rule XXV.1(j)(1), the jurisdiction of the Committee shall extend to all proposed legislation, messages, petitions, memorials, and other matters relating to the following subjects:

1. Acquisition of land and buildings for embassies and legations in foreign countries.

2. Boundaries of the United States.

3. Diplomatic service.

4. Foreign economic, military, technical, and humanitarian assistance.

5. Foreign loans.

6. International activities of the American National Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

7. International aspects of nuclear energy, including nuclear transfer policy.

8. International conferences and congresses.

9. International law as it relates to foreign policy.

10. International Monetary Fund and other international organizations established primarily for international monetary purposes (except that, at the request of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, any proposed legislation relating to such subjects reported by the Committee on Foreign Relations shall be referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs).

11. Intervention abroad and declarations of war.

12. Measures to foster commercial intercourse with foreign nations and to safeguard American business interests abroad.

13. National security and international aspects of trusteeships of the United States.

14. Ocean and international environmental and scientific affairs as they relate to foreign policy.

15. Protection of United States citizens abroad and expatriation.

16. Relations of the United States with foreign nations generally.

17. Treaties and executive agreements, except reciprocal trade agreements.

18. United Nations and its affiliated organizations.

19. World Bank group, the regional development banks, and other international organizations established primarily for development assistance purposes.

The Committee is also mandated by Senate Rule XXV.1(j)(2) to study and review, on a comprehensive basis, matters relating to the national security policy, foreign policy, and international economic policy as it relates to foreign policy of the United States, and matters relating to food, hunger, and nutrition in foreign countries, and report thereon from time to time.

(b) Oversight. – The Committee also has a responsibility under Senate Rule XXVI.8, which provides that “. . . each standing Committee . . . shall review and study, on a continuing basis, the application, administration, and execution of those laws or parts of laws, the subject matter of which is within the jurisdiction of the Committee.”

(c) “Advice and Consent” Clauses. – The Committee has a special responsibility to assist the Senate in its constitutional function of providing “advice and consent” to all treaties entered into by the United States and all nominations to the principal executive branch positions in the field of foreign policy and diplomacy.

The seven subcommittees have their own jurisdictions and are available at the link above.


We are all familiar with the coup in Honduras, but neighboring Nicaragua may become a new flash point in the region after the country’s supreme court ruled that Daniel Ortega may seek reelection to the presidency. Ortega was the leader of the leftist Sandinistas which fought the US backed government in the 1980s. He took power in 1984, but lost the 1990 election. He returned to power in 2007 and the ruling essentially negates a rule saying presidents may not serve consecutive terms or more than two terms.

While neither the committee nor the rest of Congress has taken any formal action against Nicaragua, Kerry had this to say:

Nicaragua and Honduras are obviously different, but unconstitutional actions are unacceptable anywhere. President Ortega appears to be following the cues of the coup-plotters in Honduras, where the president of the Congress and the military have manipulated the Supreme Court to rationalize a coup d’etat, resist the restoration of democracy, and impose martial law repression.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was just one, but the most important and enduring, alliance set up to oppose the expansion of authoritarian socialism (i.e. communism). It is a formal mutual defense commitment among 28 countries in North America and Europe. (France is even back in the fold.) The key to the alliance’s mutual defense pact is Article V:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the (U.N.) Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Notice the wording “against one or more of them in Europe or North America.” This is what kept the signatories from getting entangled in the 20th century colonial wars. It is also important to note that this article is not automatically in force. Instead, on nation must invoke the article to get help from the other allies. During the Cold War, of course, the assumption was that the theatre of war would have been Central Europe. No one could have foreseen the first formal invocation of Article V, after the 9/11 attacks, would put NATO forces in Central Asia, nor could most people have predicted that the country that invoked Article V would get distracted in the middle of the war and invade a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

At any rate, the committee’s most recent hearing focused on the future of the alliance. (Note: click on the headline hotlink to watch the two hour hearing.) Earlier this year, NATO announced a review of its “strategic concept” and this hearing was part of America’s review.

Kerry had this to say (.pdf link):

The Strategic Concept review is an important vehicle for NATO to evolve-recalibrating its priorities, re-inventing itself and preparing to protect the West from challenges new and old. That is why, even as we grapple with Afghanistan and other present concerns, it remains the right time for a public dialogue about NATO’s future.

Kerry also discussed the possibility of expanding NATO membership in the Balkans and to fast track membership for Ukraine and Georgia, moves that could irritate Russia. He also mentioned the impact that passage of the Libson Treaty would have on the alliance.

Ranking member Lugar had this to say (.pdf link):

The paramount question facing NATO today is how to strengthen the credibility of Article Five. Recent developments have eroded some of NATO’s deterrence value. This erosion has occurred as Members of the Alliance have expressed less enthusiasm for NATO expansion and found an increasing number of reasons to avoid committing forces to Afghanistan. The decline in the deterrent value of Article Five became more apparent with the onset of a string of energy crises in Europe and the adoption by several West European governments of “beggar-thy-neighbor” policies with respect to oil and natural gas arrangements with the Russian Federation.

The Obama Administration’s decision to alter missile defense plans also has implications for Alliance confidence in Article Five. Iranian missiles never constituted the primary rationale for Polish and Czech decisions to buy into the Bush Administration’s plan. Rather, it was the waning confidence in NATO, and Article Five in particular, that lent missile defense political credibility in those countries. The United States must be sensitive to events that have transpired in the broader European security environment since the Bush plan was proposed and negotiated. Our commitment to NATO remains the most important vehicle for projecting stability throughout Europe and even into regions of Asia and the Middle East. It is critical that we re-establish the credibility of these assurances.

Lugar does make some good points, but he ignores the fact that the United States has primary responsibility for the Afghan mission and George W. Bush and the Republicans shirked that responsibility by invading Iraq. It is not difficult to image some resentment from Europe and Canada over the perception that NATO is fighting America’s war.

Other committee news

As I noted above, the committee staff does not do a great job with the site. They do not have future hearings or meetings listed, however, the most recent Senate schedule does not list any hearings of the committee either. However, the committee has recently held some interesting hearings.

Climate Change: The Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection held a hearing Oct. 15 to discuss the climate change crisis, particularly focusing on flooding, drought and refuges. The projected rise in ocean levels from melting ice caps is a serious threat to low lying countries like Bangladesh and island nations like Tuvalu.

Tuvalu is quite literally in danger of disappearing. The nation of 10,000 people is located on low-lying atolls that could disappear if ocean levels rise significantly. In Bangladesh, brackish water from the Indian Ocean is getting into the country’s fresh water rivers and then into its lakes and groundwater. This means less fresh water for drinking and watering crops. That could lead to mass migrations of refuges in search of better land. Of course, the United States and China are the top contributors to Global Warming, but it is the Global South feeling the effects.

The witnesses for the hearing were:

Dr. Jim Ball

Senior Director

Climate Campaign

Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN)

Washington, DC

Mr. David Waskow

Climate Change Program Director

Oxfam America

Washington, DC

Mr. Kenneth P. Green

Resident Scholar

American Enterprise Institute

Washington, DC

Note: You may remember the American Enterprise Institute from their decision two years ago to offer $10,000 to any “scientist” who would debunk a major Global Warming study. Even now, Mr. Green says we should adapt to climate change rather than, you know, do anything to try to reverse it.

Mr. Peter O’Driscoll

Executive Director

ActionAid USA

Washington, DC

General Charles F. Wald (USAF, Ret.)

Former Deputy Commander of United States European Command

Director and Senior Advisor

Aerospace & Defense Industry Deloitte

Washington, DC

Nuclear power for UAE The United States and the United Arab Emirates are close to a deal that would provide the UAE with assistance in building nuclear power plants. The subcommittee on Near Eastern, and South and Central Asian Affairs heard testimony on the deal Oct. 7. Neither the committee nor Congress made any move to block the deal, which includes specific pledges that would keep UAE from sharing any nuclear material with Iran.

Via Reuters:

Congress could have blocked the deal by passing a resolution of disapproval before the end of the 90-day review period last Saturday. Despite concerns some lawmakers raised about the UAE’s relationship with Iran, there was no push in the Senate or House of Representatives for a vote.

The Obama administration calls the pact a model for the region that contains several unprecedented commitments that ensures the UAE will not use American technology to develop a nuclear weapon or to help others in the region do that.

Reuters also tells us that the deal will be lucrative to certain US companies:

The pact, which President Barack Obama approved in May and sent to Congress for a 90-day review period, is potentially worth billions of dollars to General Electric Co (GE.N) and Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corp (6502.T).

Nominations: The Subcommittee on European Affairs held the committee’s most recent round of nomination hearings Oct. 8. Let’s meet the newly minted ambassadors:

William Kennard, an executive at Carlyle Group, to be the US Representative to the European Union.

James Legarde Hudson, Chairman of JAH Development Co. (a venture capital projects company), to be United States Director for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

John F. Tefft, a career foreign service employee, to be ambassador to Ukraine. He has previously served as ambassador to Lithuania and was involved in the START arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1985.

Michael C. Polt, another foreign service officer, to be ambassador to Estonia. He previously served as ambassador to Serbia.

Cynthia Stroum of Seattle to be ambassador to Luxembourg. She is a business investor, arts supporter and major Democratic donor.

Other recent hearings of the committee have focused on Afghanistan strategy, radio broadcasting in war zones, transnational child custody cases, worldwide violence against women, and American policy toward Burma and Zimbabwe.


The committee has seven subcommittees. Their full jurisdictions and chairs and ranking members are listed here.

For more information, see my past work:

House Foreign Affairs Committee

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Joint Committee on Taxation

House Oversight Committee

Conference Committees

Senate and House Budget Committees

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Senate and House Armed Services Committees

Small Business Committees

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

The Committee Primer

House Education and Labor Committee

Senate Finance Committee

Senate HELP Committee

Senate Judiciary Committee

House Energy and Commerce Committee

House Ways and Means Committee

House and Senate Appropriations Committees

House Intelligence Committee

House Judiciary Committee

House and Senate Ethics Committees

House Science and Technology Committee

House Financial Services Committee

House Rules Committee

The Role of Committees

This entry is posted at Congress Matters, Daily Kos, Progressive Electorate, Docudharma, and my own blog.

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